Renaud Ceccotti-Ricci - 2012-03-28
The first gourmet food trucks appeared in 2008 in the Big Apple. Thanks to the fierce competition between chefs, New Yorkers and tourists alike enjoy a very broad range of epicurean street food options.
‘We had to wait a year and a half for New York City to give us a license, but today we’re the happiest guys around.’ Danny and Albert opened their Bongo Brothers Cuban food truck just a few months ago, but they’ve already made quite a splash. Every day the queue of customers who come to sample their famed Cuban sandwiches and fried plantains grows a bit longer. ‘My brother’s been a cook for about ten years now and I worked as a waiter in different restaurants,’ Danny explains. ‘We always wanted to open our own business, but the economic situation wasn’t very encouraging. And then the gourmet food truck trend hit the streets and we jumped right in.’
The idea behind the gourmet food trucks is to offer customers fine food at reasonable prices without requiring a journey to the other end of the city. The ‘phenomenon’ has been gaining momentum in the Big Apple since the economic crisis of 2008. In a city which is already replete with pizza shacks and sandwich shops of all genres, many new restaurant projects were left dangling because of increased rent and skittish investors.
Then a group of talented chefs who found themselves unable to open their own establishments had a brilliant idea: they would transform the greasy pizza truck or bland burger van into a proper mobile kitchen where they could sell their gourmet dishes to the good folk of New York for practically nothing. But to be able to survive in the ultra-competitive street food universe - there are so many demands for food truck permits in New York City that a lottery system has been organised to allot spaces – new arrivals had to offer something better than the fare available in nearby fast-food joints.
Cupcakes made with salted butter, waffles with speculoos spread, wasabi ice cream, Kobe beef burgers and more: the trucks serve hundreds of specialities from every continent. ‘Food trucks have broadened the American culinary experience. Tastes and flavours that used to be considered exotic are increasingly widespread,’ says Kazia Jankowski, whose job is to track the evolution of her compatriots’ eating patterns. The affordable prices and diversity of the menus make it possible for everyone to discover specialities from such faraway places as Korea, Brazil and Africa.
‘Competition is a good thing; it pushes us to offer the best products. That’s why nothing compares to New York in terms of innovation and diversity at lunchtime,’ says Ali, whose ‘Frites ‘N’ Meats’ truck serves Angus and Wagyu beef burgers that keep delighted customers coming back for more.
Frank of Cupcake Crew says, ‘With a food truck you may not make a fortune, but you can make a decent living without having the frenetic schedule of your colleagues who work within a traditional restaurant structure.’
With the success of their ice cream trucks, the owners of the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck have decided to open a shop in the East Village. ‘The problem with trucks,’ they say, ‘is that when it rains a lot or snows in New York, nobody comes and lines up in front of a truck. But as soon as the weather improves, we’ll take them out again.’
Whatever the season, we forecast that the future of the gourmet food truck will remain sunny and bright for quite some time.
A few food trucks worth hunting down in New York.