Culinary Arts: The gourmet food truck movement has rolled into town

Literary Arts: Chuck Taylor on poetry & Chad Scott on Mic Check and Poetry Slams
August 31, 2012
Music as Art: Sunday Jazz Jam & Grand Stafford Theater
August 31, 2012

Chefs Heather Taylor, Charles Stover & Tai Lee. Photo by Crystal Littrell & JP Beato III

Chef Tai’s Mobile Bistro

With four gourmet food trucks now rolling around Aggieland, it’s appropriate to begin this story with the chef who has driven this culinary art form from its local launch all the way to “America’s Favorite Food Truck.” Chef Tai Lee recently added a second truck to Chef Tai’s Mobile Bistro operation when Chef Peter Madden decided to sell his food truck to focus on his casual gourmet restaurant in Downtown Bryan. Chef Tai, who also owns Veritas Wine & Bistro, jumped at the opportunity. As the forefather of the local gourmet food truck movement, Chef Tai talks about his both his second gourmet food truck and his plans for the future. 

What are your plans for the second gourmet food truck?

“We are going to have one truck focus more on an $8 to $10 menu that we’ve been running, and the second truck will have more of a $5 to $6 menu. It will be a little more on the casual side.”

The new truck will cater to those looking for quality, well-known foods such as tacos and Angus hamburgers but at a lower price point. “We want to be able to cater to those who say food trucks are supposed to be cheap,” says Chef Tai. “The underserved will now be served. Now we can visit more places and be more fluid between Bryan and College Station.”

How do you feel about competition with new gourmet trucks in this market?

“If there was an apple-to-apple identical menu, then you could hurt yourself,” says Chef Tai. Luckily, all of the local food truck owners are good friends and discuss what type of food they will offer that day so that each menu compliments the other and minimizes overlapping menus.  “We don’t have to torpedo each other’s businesses that way,” says Chef Tai. “The market is still small, so it’s not a problem.”

As the innovator of street cuisine in Bryan/College Station, how are your food truck creations related to your restaurant creations?

“It was an extension of Veritas from the start,” says Chef Tai. “We are using the same ingredients that we use in the restaurant minus the fancy china.” Because there are no servers and lower utilities, the same delectable food served at the Veritas is available at a lower price on the truck. “That’s the whole concept – bring the food to people at a more affordable price – bring gourmet to the street level.”

Chefs Heather Taylor, Charles Stover & Tai Lee. Photo by Crystal Littrell & JP Beato III

Chef Tai’s Mobile Bistro

With four gourmet food trucks now rolling around Aggieland, it’s appropriate to begin this story with the chef who has driven this culinary art form from its local launch all the way to “America’s Favorite Food Truck.” Chef Tai Lee recently added a second truck to Chef Tai’s Mobile Bistro operation when Chef Peter Madden decided to sell his food truck to focus on his casual gourmet restaurant in Downtown Bryan. Chef Tai, who also owns Veritas Wine & Bistro, jumped at the opportunity. As the forefather of the local gourmet food truck movement, Chef Tai talks about his both his second gourmet food truck and his plans for the future. 

What are your plans for the second gourmet food truck?

“We are going to have one truck focus more on an $8 to $10 menu that we’ve been running, and the second truck will have more of a $5 to $6 menu. It will be a little more on the casual side.”

The new truck will cater to those looking for quality, well-known foods such as tacos and Angus hamburgers but at a lower price point. “We want to be able to cater to those who say food trucks are supposed to be cheap,” says Chef Tai. “The underserved will now be served. Now we can visit more places and be more fluid between Bryan and College Station.”

How do you feel about competition with new gourmet trucks in this market?

“If there was an apple-to-apple identical menu, then you could hurt yourself,” says Chef Tai. Luckily, all of the local food truck owners are good friends and discuss what type of food they will offer that day so that each menu compliments the other and minimizes overlapping menus.  “We don’t have to torpedo each other’s businesses that way,” says Chef Tai. “The market is still small, so it’s not a problem.”

As the innovator of street cuisine in Bryan/College Station, how are your food truck creations related to your restaurant creations?

“It was an extension of Veritas from the start,” says Chef Tai. “We are using the same ingredients that we use in the restaurant minus the fancy china.” Because there are no servers and lower utilities, the same delectable food served at the Veritas is available at a lower price on the truck. “That’s the whole concept – bring the food to people at a more affordable price – bring gourmet to the street level.”

Why is it important to keep the arts in food?

Although Chef Tai notes there are a plethora of “culinary arts” definitions, he describes food as an edible art because of the “great aroma and sensation on your palette.” Fast food values efficiency over quality and dilutes the art, but our fast-paced world still creates a huge demand. What to do? “It is the responsibility of local chefs to bring quality, fast food to the next level,” says Chef Tai. With a new food truck offering cheaper food without compromising freshness, Chef Tai is driving the mission forward.

“Yes, it is harder to make gourmet food because the ingredients must be fresh,” says Chef Tai, “but it pays off in the long run.” 

STOVER BROS SOUTHERN COMFORT ROAD TRIP

Chef Charles Stover and Jim Lewis have decided to hop on the gourmet food truck movement. Lewis offers some insight into this newest venture for Stover Bros. and Village Foods Grocery Store.

“The idea was that we wanted to figure out how to bring the food options to more people,” says Lewis. So he and Stover visited with Chef Tai Lee of Veritas and Chef Peter Madden of Madden’s Casual Gourmet about the experience of running a gourmet food tru

What is one element Stover Bros. is particularly proud of?

Stover brings his own personal style to the food truck business – traditional southern comfort food with a twist. One of his signature items is Mac ‘N Cheese. “Stover created an amazing White Truffle Mac ‘n Cheese,” says Lewis. “It definitely isn’t the stuff coming out of the blue box.”

Does the rise of fast food restaurants concern you?

“I think that the whole fast food culture is ruining people’s taste for quality food. Everyone is so used to eating processed junk that’s full of salt.” Lewis says the great thing about food trucks is combining the speed of a fast food restaurant without compromising the quality and great taste associated with their stationary restaurants. “It’s being done by people who are actually chefs and who are doing really quality food and art. Hopefully it will result in a better food culture in College Station.”

What are the benefits of a food truck in this market?

By their mobile nature, food trucks can cater to a variety of people all over Bryan/College Station. “There are a lot of businesses over in Bryan with a lot of employees with not many options,” says Lewis. Regarding lunch spots, it isn’t easy to find quality food without having to go to a sit-down restaurant, which takes time. That’s something busy-bee workers lack. “A neat thing about the mobility of a food truck is that you can try a location and if it’s great, awesome. If not, you just pick up and move to another location,” says Lewis. Instead of the customer coming to the restaurant, the restaurant comes to you.

Because each local food truck brings a different vibe, the trucks actually feed off of each other’s business. The Stover food truck will offer a different combination of foods than Chef Tai’s and Cake Junkie’s. “We are trying to make menus to support theirs as well,” says Lewis.

CAKE JUNKIE

Since Cake Junkie joined the food truck revolution a year ago, customers all over the area may be finding it harder to escape the delicious temptations of sweets and treats. Owner and Pastry Chef Heather Taylor talks about the experience.

Why did you decide to add a food truck to the bakery? 

“We can bring the truck closer to campus and the students without having to change store locations. Our most well-known items are probably the cake bites or cupcakes.

Creativity is a major part of the Cake Junkie vibe. How do customers tap into that?

“You can custom make your own cupcakes,” says Taylor. All of the preparation is done in the store, but customers can pick and chose among icing flavors and fillings for a custom taste experience.

“For me, I’m in competition with the grocery stores where you can go get a dozen pre-made cupcakes for two bucks,” says Taylor. There’s no originality in that. “We offer more creativity, we prepare it correctly, and you can talk with the decorators and custom design your own creation.”