Monday, May 23, 2011

New Food Truck Recruits, Kimchi Tacos and a Mission Aborted

How does the NBA draft manage to pull it off? Finding new recruits is darn stressful. It had become painfully clear to me that I needed to reclaim my place in life’s lunch line, and the only way was to recruit a new food truck team. No more wallowing in self-pity and Marshmallow Fluff. Zany and Mad had moved on, and I needed to do the same. Spring had arrived and there were new trucks to chase.

And so, with the help of Marie Antoinette, I launch a major recruitment drive and identify two worthy candidates. First there is “Zak.” We like his bravado. He’s got chutzpah. He’d make a good shock jock. In his interview, he tells us, “I’m always hungry. I’m a food fanatic. I do not use the word foodie (the word drips sarcastically off his tongue) to describe me, but I’m a nut about food. I’ve been a midtown resident for 10 years. This food truck thing was about three years behind me. I’ve been eating at food trucks forever.”

"That’s not credentials, that’s an impressive CV,” says Marie Antoinette. “I’m just trying to step up my game. I want to dish it without having to take it all the time.”

“Buzz” is a pint-sized powerhouse. Her resume says she’s “an avid consumer of all foods from the street.” Her wedding favors were custom-made by the Treats Truck, and last year for Christmas, her mother-in-law gave her a Leggo version of a street food vendor. Best of all, she has the legendary distinction of having eaten one of the last burgers sold by Frites and Meats before the truck blew up. This plays in her favor. Timing is critical on this gig.

Food truck veteran Mad Me-Shell offers some sound advice to the new recruits via email:

1. Do NOT under any circumstances order the ‘healthier’ options listed on the menu. That’s for losers.

2. DO try to abide by Zany’s fail-proof ‘order one of everything’ approach. DON’T say this is too much food. It’s not.

3. DO try to order some of the zaniest (pun intended) items on the menu. They’re on there for a reason!

4. Do NOT be late! The food trucks wait for no one!

If only we had listened! Things are about to become one hot mess. Prior to noon, I find myself caught up in a meeting with my boss, and I’m late for the scheduled lunch rendezvous with the team. I wrap the meeting and hurry back to my desk. The women are pacing like hungry panthers, and apparently Zak has gone rogue. He’s left without us, and is already on line down on 52nd Street at the Kimchi Taco Truck. We grab our umbrellas and head out in hot pursuit.

“He doesn’t play well with a team,” Buzz mutters under her breath.

“He can’t do this,” fumes Marie Antoinette. “This is grounds for immediate dismissal!”

While we catch an elevator to the lobby, a word about the planned menu. The Kimchi Tacho Truck has this to say about their signature dish: Kimchi is the superfood of Korean cuisine and is served with every meal. This tasty, spicy and healthy dish of fermented vegetables is low in calories and fat while being high in fiber and nutrition…There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi, which differ by main ingredients, regions or seasons. The most familiar forms are usually made of napa cabbage, radish or cucumber."

Now, back to our adventure. It is a miserable day outside. Remember all that gorgeous Spring weather? No, neither do we. We arrive on the street, and Zak is already paying for his lunch. He joins us at the back end of the line – make that dead last – clutching a steaming bag of tacos.

Before you can say “parking ticket,” we notice a commotion up front. I think I spot a police officer. Somebody says, “No more orders – we’re shutting down. Check Twitter to find out our next location.” A hungry midtown power broker who has braved the rain in his Thom Browne suit is unceremoniously sent away. We are left standing on the street – almost – empty handed. Three pairs of hungry eyes fall on Zak’s bag of tacos. Suddenly, his roguish behavior is not nearly so egregious. He is the man of the lunch hour.

We return to my office where Zak graciously offers to share his lunch with us. Zak ducks into his office and produces a set of matching placemats from Crate and Barrel.

I raise an eyebrow. “You keep placemats in your office?”

“Yeah, what’s your point?” asks Zak. I have to admit, it does add a touch of refinement.

We divvy up the Kimchi Tacos and try to savor every bite. Zak has chosen three varieties - beef, pork and chicken – all served with fresh Kimchi, and green onions on toasted corn tortillas. They have a vigorous kick. The clean, sharp bite of the Kimchi blends perfectly with the rich savory flavor of the meat, and there’s a nice residual heat.

While we love the taste, three tacos for three hungry adults is not exactly a banquet. Buzz leans back in her chair and says, “That was just a really mean tease.”

We’re hoping to run out and get a few more. The Official Explanation of the shutdown comes via the Kimchi Taco Truck Twitter feed: “Midtown woes... Sorry, being forced to shut down and move by NYPD, giving us the blues.” They promise a new location shortly, but no new coordinates are forthcoming.

I think I hear somebody’s stomach rumbling.

“Refresh Twitter!” demands Marie Antoinette frantically. “I’m still hungry and I’ve only got 30 minutes before my next meeting.” But the Twitter feed is quiet.

Buzz suggests we go see if there are any trucks on 50th. The mere suggestion has Marie Antoinette careening out the door.

“Hey, wait. What about my umbrella?” I insist.

“Forget it!” snaps Marie Antoinette. “I’ve only got 13 minutes. LET'S MOVE!”

Buzz leads us on a power walk in the rain to 50th Street, but we only manage to locate three FedEx trucks. We are out of time, and out of options, and are forced to stop at a Halal cart for something to eat. The women order some kind of street meat. I order the falafel special. I’m not sharing pictures. You don’t want to see what we ended up with or the conditions in which it was prepared. Some of it wasn’t exactly appetizing. Buzz’s description isn’t quite as kind as mine. The falafel is very spicy. I share some of it with Zak, but it’s not the type of high cuisine we’ve become accustomed to. All this happens in a mere 57 minutes. I thought they called it a “lunch hour?”

So that’s the unvarnished truth about my first venture back into the food truck game. Not exactly a stellar maneuver. In the end, I’m feeling just a little over-seasoned, but perhaps the thrill of the hunt has returned. I’m thinking this team of new recruits may be a little unconventional, and they may need a little bit more basic training, but they could have the right stuff. And, maybe we’ll even get to stuff ourselves on Kimchi Tacos some day.

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Sounds like your new truck food team has potential!

Julia said...

I agree with Lydia -- I think the new blend of personalities will reinvigorate the hunt!

I'm kinda bummed out about the Kim Chi Taco Truck... that's just wrong to leave you hanging that way.

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

I've never known anyone with a more exciting lunch hour T.W. I agree with Lydia too. It think your new team has good potential. Who said chasing trucks is easy.

alfred p said...

A number of years ago, I lived in Japan. One weekend I decided to take a last minute trip to Seoul (it is a fairly short flight). I brought along my manservant, Kim, just in case I needed help. The only dog I saw all weekend was a hairless chihauha being walked on a leash in the vicinity of the old emperor's palace. It excitedly nipped at my feet as I passed by. I confessed to Kim that I suddenly felt strangely hungry for sausage.

Mad Me-Shell said...

T.W., I knew this was going to be good as soon as you used the phrase, 'hot mess!' That in and of itself is phenomenal. Now, while I normally wouldn't support leaving the team behind, Zac really saved the day! Though, I certainly wish I had known about those placemats while I was there. I would have had to have had a little chat with him about those (and by chat, I mean make fun of!).
I'm sorry the adventure was cut short, but I admire the team's gumption! Hope is not lost!

Anonymous said...

I never did like that truck. Those Columbia students have cursed it, I swear - it never leaves Morningside Heights! Also, I think MA may need a new name...something along the lines of "General." She's writing a rule book about foodtrucking!

veron said...

it was like reading a black comedy. Uhm, I don't blame Zak, I think I have a tendency of going rogue too when it comes to matters of the stomach. That's why I rarely organize groups to high-demand eating establishments...too many delays could happen... ;)
Nice mix of recruits!

Barbara said...

I'm exhausted just reading this.
And I'm also suspicious of Zak...who objects to the epithet "foodie" when he clearly is one. Especially since he has placemats at the office. Geez. And he went rogue on you.
Oh well, time will tell.

Mary said...

Placemats? What a guy! Keep him happy T.W. :-). That kind of talent is hard to find. I hope all is well. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Ford M. said...

BTW-no one wearing Thom Browne would ever consider ordering kimchi, curbside, in the rain. It must have been Black Fleece or some other knock-off

Kalyn said...

You're definitely having more fun lunch hours than I ever did (when I had a lunch hour!) I'm impressed with the place mats.

Jennifer (Savor) said...

Tom, after our time together on Thursday, I would not expect to find the words 'hot mess' in one of your posts. Now, I like you even more than I already did.

Hot Mess on Camera.

tasteofbeirut said...

Masterfully written as always; I feel like you in front of your food truck. Hey, I like the idea of kimchi and tacos; very clever. Let's make some!

~~louise~~ said...

I'm so proud of you T.W. for getting back on the band wagon. I'm a bit skeptical though. Sure, Zak cutting out did save the day, sort of. However, that all for one, one for all spirit is crucial when chasing down food trucks or tornados for that matter.

Yes, yes, time will tell.

Velva said...

Your new new food truck team is in place, and it's going to be fun. I am trying to decide which posts I like better your farm posts or your food truck post....BOTH!

Tallahassee finally has started Food Truck Thursdays-where the local food trucks park, a band plays, and you can enjoy dinner. I died and went to heaven.

I will be heading to NYC for a few days. I would love a few tips on how to find some great food trucks.

Until later,