IN THE VAN WITH: TACO TRUCKJune 1, 2016
The bright red fire engine turned taco truck is a Mexican dream. Serving up an array of delicious tacos all summer long, from re-fried beans and fish fillets to chicken and chilli con carne, it’s a Mexican-lover’s heaven. We caught up with Taco Truck about menu inspirations, yearly tasting trips to Mexico and their ‘four oven’ chilli sauce.
UO: Can you tell us a little about your story so far?
Taco Truck has been going from strength to strength. We started off real slow in a quiet little London market, doing a few festivals here and there while keeping a day job as a safety net. Slowly but surely we became busier and busier until finally it was impossible to keep a separate day job. So here we are now after eight years of progress, fully independent. It still feels quite odd sometimes not working for someone else any more. It feels like doing a full time hobby.
UO: What prompted you to start your own food truck business?
I have had a passion for food and cooking since my late teens and had been working in the food industry for quite a few years. It was my last two jobs that really got my juices flowing to start my own little business. First was running and serving for at a 10-seater wild smoked salmon and Champagne bar in the wonderful Fortnum & Masons food hall. Second was working for Brindisa, the Spanish food importers. I worked at their stall in Borough Market and their flagship deli in Exmouth market. The creative energy revolving around food in both of these amazing companies magnified my own inspirations.
This fuelled a natural progression towards starting up something of my own. I pondered on many ideas for starting some sort of street food business. I made a pleasure trip to Mexico and instantly fell in love with the street food culture there and in particular – tacos! I came across a Citroen H van around 20 years ago which I knew would be a wonderful vehicle to do something with. My creative process for setting up the whole idea was quite insular in relation to what was out there, and the funniest coincidence within this was my choice of name for the business. I never knew that Taco Trucks were a popular business in the United States and that “Taco Truck” was the intrinsic name for them. If I had known, it’s likely I wouldn’t have chosen that name.
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UO: Can you tell us a little about your van and where you found her?
“Her” is actually a him! You can tell by the deep chocolatey sound the exhaust makes, a little like Barry White. He is a short wheel base 1973 Citroen H van. This model of van was used in France for practically every mode of business – butchers, bakers, florists, horse boxes, Police service etc. In France they are called ‘Le cube utile’ meaning ‘the useful cube’. I am proud to say, mine was originally a fire engine. I have kept it as a fire engine as it has heaps of character in this context and it suits the fiery connection with Mexican food. I found mine in Normandy – it was owned by a lover of Citroen H vans who by luck, was selling this particular one from his collection. I wasn’t so sure how good the engine was so I had it carried over by pick up. I purchased it a few years before the big food truck trend and got it for a fifth of of the price of what they are going for now.
UO: What is it about a food truck rather than restaurant that appeals to you?
In all honesty, if I had plenty of cash, I may have opted to set up a restaurant. The costs for running a restaurant are massive in comparison to a food truck. That said, the food truck lifestyle is pretty fun and varied. You can go anywhere with it and end up doing all sorts of crazy stuff. It’s always a bit of an adventure. The risks are also much higher with a restaurant, you are fixed to one location, if you get that wrong then you’re doomed.
UO: What does a typical day look like for you?
I get up 6am, drink a half-pint of good coffee while checking emails, go to the market and buy fresh limes, tomatoes, leaf coriander etc. I collect free range chicken from the butchers and head back to base to prep tomato salsa, guacamole, salsa verde, chicken or beef marinade and other various toppings. Then I load Taco Truck and head off to the day’s trading location. I set up for trading and cook batches of beef or chicken recipes or whatever recipes we’re doing on the day. Then I’ll serve a crowd of lovely people until we run out of food.
UO: What does the creative process look like when pulling together new recipes?
The most important and rewarding creative process is booking a flight to Mexico, spending two weeks locating the best taco stands and then eating tons of them while asking as many questions as possible – without getting annoying – about the recipes and techniques of cooking. These trips are done once a year during our quiet period around January. This January trip focused on the town of La Paz and surrounding areas, specializing in seafood tacos. I try to recreate as authentic recipes as possible in an attempt to live up to the very overused word “authentic”. If I ever play with my own ideas, it will incorporate combinations of typical Mexican ingredients, and may use the basis of an old traditional recipe as a starting point.
UO: What is your ultimate favourite creation to date?
Our “Horno 4″ (translates as Four Ovens) chilli sauce is pretty good. It contains four types of Mexican chilli + roasted garlic and an array of other ingredients. The process of how it is made has been played with over the years, but fundamentally it has remained the same. It’s not insanely hot but has a fair kick and more complex flavours than many plain hot sauces.
UO: What is the biggest struggle you face operating a food truck?
The long and often late hours. The sheer physical work, lugging gas bottles and heavy loads of ingredients in and out of the truck – I’ve strained my back quite badly a few times and on occasions my hands tingle in bed after a day of lugging heavy stuff around. Bad weather can also be a killer of pleasure and business. Keeping the truck well-serviced is obviously crucial. Breaking down on the way to a major festival is rather stressful.
UO: What do you love about the growing street food scene in London and why do you think it is so popular?
The street food scene adds to London’s already amazing dynamism and feels like the creativity and spirit of a new generation finding a new niche. The good food scene has been booming in London for at least two decades now. London is also naturally multi-cultural and full of creative people. The street food scene is just one new manifestation of this type of energy here. Places like Borough Market and “rock star” chefs such as Marco Pier White and Peter Gordon have helped trigger this too.
UO: What do you love most about your job?
Putting heart into creating something and having the reward of people loving it. Meeting masses of interesting people along the way. Belonging to a free-spirited subculture which creates a great sense of community between like-minded people.
UO: Where do you hope to take things next in 2016?
We are almost ready to launch our new mini-project. This will be Taco Truck’s baby sister: the Mexican “Paleta” ice lolly cart. The cart is being decorated street art style and will be ready in a week or two. The ice lollies are made with 100% fresh squeezed fruit and are delicious.
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