IN THE VAN WITH: ANNA MAE’S MAC N CHEESEMay 3, 2016
Having been in the street food business since 2011, Anna and Tony of Anna Mae’s Mac n Cheese are the connoisseurs of one of our favourite dishes. Serving up giant pans of bubbling mac n cheese with an array of delicious (and unusual) toppings, they’re a firm favourite in the London street food scene. On a sunny spring day, we caught up with Anna and Tony to take a tour of the van and find out their story so far.
UO: Tell us a little about your story so far
We quit our jobs in 2010 and decided to take a foray into the world of street food. Who knew that five years later we’d be hawking mac n cheese out of a big gold mac truck?! Our friends still ask us when we’re going to go and get a proper job!
UO: What prompted you to start your own food truck business?
At the time, street food was really fledgling and not hugely popular like it is now. We were obsessed with eating from markets and spent most of our spare time and holidays seeking out the best curb-side food, so we saw it as a chance to try it out for ourselves. American food beyond burgers and hotdogs was also pretty unknown – pulled pork on the menu would get funny looks and sniggering – but it gave us an opportunity to be really creative and try out something brand new.
UO: What is it about a food truck rather than restaurant that appeals to you?
We didn’t have the cash or the experience to start a restaurant, but starting a street food business meant we could begin very small scale, learn as we went along and build up gradually. The small amount of money we made went into buying better equipment or improvements and we slowly built up to buying and converting our mac truck, Burt Reynolds. Now, five years down the line we know our business inside out, and are in a much better position to think about a bricks and mortar place.
UO: Can you tell us a little about how your cookbook came to be?
We have so many ideas and riffs on the mac thing that we’ve put together, we always thought a book could work! When we were approached by Square Peg, part of Random House, we jumped at it and already had a strong idea of the kind of book we wanted it to be. A bit of blood, sweat and tears later and we’re super proud of how it’s turned out – both of us have huge grins on our faces whenever someone posts a picture of a recipe they’ve made from the book.
UO: What does a typical day look like for you?
No day is that typical! You have to be prepared for the unexpected in this job. Generally though, we’ll be booking in and planning for events coming up, ordering stock, prepping for specials and coming up with new recipes to try out at different events, sign writing, fixing things (something always breaks), making sure we keep people up to speed on where we’ll be and what we’re doing on social media, working out our festival schedule for the summer, and so it goes on!
UO: What does the creative process look like when pulling together new mac n cheese recipes?
We get ideas from all kinds of places; sometimes we’ll be eating out and there’s a flavour that hits you which would work amazingly and you can build a dish around that. We try and push people to get into the fun of experimenting with us as mac n cheese is so versatile and working with unusual ingredients means you can be super creative. We did a BBQ short rib, sprout kimchi and black sesame topping which was lush; people generally avoid sprouts at all costs but it worked really well and went down a storm.
UO: What is your ultimate favourite creation to date?
We have loads of favourite flavour combos but our take on the Big Mac, the Mac Tribute is such a fun one to take out to an event and the look on people’s faces when they try it is brilliant!
UO: What is the biggest struggle you face operating a food truck?
Probably that there are so many elements that are out of our hands which is very stressful, the weather being one of them. You need an unwavering positive mental attitude and quick thinking nature to keep the show on the road when things get tough.
UO: What do you love about the growing street food scene in London and why do you think it has become so popular?
There’s so much variety on offer now and people doing some fun and interesting things with their food, it’s always inspiring. Everyone involved just wants to serve the best food they possibly can and have some fun with it and that really shines through with every trader.
UO: What do you love most about your job?
Many things! The chance to be creative and flexible and take things in whichever direction we want to, working with some amazing and talented people, being lucky enough to be a part of some awesome events, festivals and experiences and being a part of other peoples experience, building something from scratch which people enjoy and want to be a part of – it means a lot to us when we see happy faces!
UO: Where do you hope to take Anna Mae’s next in 2016?
We are back on the festival circuit this summer like the travelling band of mac dealers we are, which is loads of fun. We’ve also had a few international gigs come in this year too which has been exciting!
Shop: Anna Mae’s Mac n Cheese: Recipes from London’s Legendary Street Food Truck