They are tipped for success: food trucks. The mobile kitchens drove across the country during this summer and provided their customers with special delicacies. The food on offer has less and less in common with sausage and fries. Which means that it is a novelty in the industry – and one which the public is receiving very positively. That’s the reason why many consumers come to the cities to attend the so-called street food festivals. And they also hope to taste interesting dishes from all around the world, that can’t be found at every street corner. The challenge is to satisfy these culinary demands. But mobile kitchens still have the bratwurst and burger image. You may be surprised to find out that clean label also works here.
Constantin Pinkelnig from Austria, 31 years old and a skilled cook, used to work on a food truck himself, and now works as a consultant in the catering industry. So the man from Munich knows what he’s talking about.
Constantin, are food trucks just mobile fast food stands?
Constantin Pinkelnig: Food trucks are in fashion, but they sometimes have a very bad reputation. Truckers are sometimes seen as mobile providers of fatty fast food that doesn’t taste very good and is too expensive anyway.
What’s your opinion?
Unfortunately there are always some black sheep – but they exist everywhere. There are also newcomers out there that make good, tasty food for their customers, and that without using ready-made remoulades or adulterated fries. More and more food trucks seem to generally lean toward the clean label principles. The number of truckers that use fresh and natural ingredients is increasing. They already use the clean label principle by necessity. Behind the scenes and also directly in front of the customer. Freshly cooked and without artificial and unhealthy frills. That looks impressive on the grill and in the refrigerated counter.
Can you describe that in more detail?
Fundamentally it’s all about transparency on four wheels. It’s hard to fool the customer in a food truck, as opposed to other areas of the gastronomy business. They can basically see everything that you prepare and cook in the truck. Based on my own experience, I also know that more and more people are asking about the origin of the products and their ingredients. The customers aren’t stupid and realize when you cook and serve them garbage.
So the customers can be satisfied without the obligatory bratwurst with fries?
It’s definitely possible. I know this from experience. And most customers like it. There are still some who ask for fries with ketchup & mayo or juicy burgers, of course. But don’t worry. There are very delicious alternatives to the industrial sauces, that everybody can prepare quickly and cheaply. It’s a question of organization and structure. Nothing magical! For example, instead of sugar you can use dates, instead of acidifiers you can use naturally cloudy apple vinegar, and yolk instead of chemical thickening agents. Just to name a few. We also switched to sweet potato chips. People really liked them, because we also cut and fried everything in front of them. The customers could observe the whole process and were very happy about that. Self-made wedges or fries as well as fresh food from the wok and crepes are also popular.
And is this also profitable?
With good logistics and the right purchasing strategies, you can make the dishes cheaply, and still keep the quality high, without having to eventually charge the customer 13 euro for a Thai curry.
What do you have to consider when it comes to the key notion “rationality”? How can you avoid being confronted with a queue of customers waiting for their food?
That is actually not easy to do. You could, of course, hire three or four more employees, but it would get pretty cramped in the already small truck and the cost per meal would rise astronomically. So only a team that can prepare the food quickly would make sense. But even the best crew can’t prevent a queue when there are many customers – especially not if everything is freshly made and cooked. You don’t have to always do everything in the truck. There are many restaurant owners who allow you to use their kitchen.
If we got invited with the truck to a big event, we would already prepare a couple of things the night before. We pre-cut the vegetables, prepared the sauces and pre-cooked the chili. If there were any leftovers, then the restaurant got them from us. Or we relieved the caterer by helping in the kitchen, while we made our preparations there. In return we paid little to nothing for the use of the kitchen. Such mutual support is always nice, even if we, food truckers, are lone wolves. This giving and taking is very precious and is worth its weight in gold.
What does a perfect street food festival look like for you?
Definitely healthy, fresh and delicious! But also sustainable – I think it would be particularly great if food truckers finally woke up and learnt about the principles of the clean label. We live with and due to our consumers; therefore we shouldn’t make them sick with industrially-enhanced stuff, but rather provide them with the opportunity to indulge in valuable, healthy and delicious food. It’s just not possible for food truckers to insist on maintaining their reputation as rolling fries stands. The customer is asking more detailed questions nowadays. There are many possibilities to get by with fresh resources, even in the tightest of spaces. Efficient work and label friendliness aren’t mutually exclusive. The fact that the customer is becoming more critical and making more sensible decisions regarding what he or she wants to buy should makes us think things through. Clean Label isn’t just a minor matter. It’s exactly where the journey has to lead to. This is the case for all food industries.