For a city so frequently compared with the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, it’s a wonder Sydney took so long to steal that city’s culinary craze: food trucks. Don’t think soup kitchens or Woolies-vans: think tasty, mid-priced street food cooked by skilled young chefs from restaurants like Tetsuyas.
And the two trucks currently operating under the City of Sydney’s trial are keen to arrest Sydney University’s hunger pains: you will find them regularly in Victoria Park throughout second semester.
Cantina Mobil is run by Stephanie Raco and Rode Vella, who previously ran Manly’s In Situ for nine years. These days their chefs are dishing out traditional Mexican burritos, tacos, chipotle beef, and achiote chicken from the back of a truck.
Ms Raco said they wanted to be part of an exciting period of change in Sydney’s dining scene.
“The food truck movement really focuses on having a f
antastic meal but not having to sit in a swanky place and pay exorbitant prices,” she said. “Just down to earth and really satisfying.”
Eat Art Truck, meanwhile, is serving classic street dishes such as pulled pork buns, chicken wings, and spatchcock prepared by Stuart McGill and Brenton Balicki, who herald from the kitchens of Tetsuyas and Quay respectively.
Mr McGill said he faced a choice between top-billing at arguably Sydney’s most famous restaurant or taking his career in an experimental new direction: he chose the latter. “When you take over a place as a head chef and you’re responsible for the day to day managing of things, you sort of stop learning,” he said. “For me this is a whole new challenge.”
On that point, one of the most challenging aspects of the food truck caper must be the red tape in which it is presently clogged. This is no organic movement: it is very much a marketing program being run by the City of Sydney, and as such, it is governed by their rules.
“We were invited in for a cook-off,” said Ms Raco, explaining how the aspiring food truck operators had been summoned to kitchens at UTS to cook for a panel including food writers Jill Dupliex, Terry Durack, and TimeOut magazine’s Myffy Rigby.
“It was our first time ever having to cook for judges.”
The carefully controlled trial means the trucks have to follow strict guidelines as to where and when they can set up operations. To protect the trade of other vendors nearby, the trucks can only use the site outside Customs House, at Circular Quay, from 9pm onwards: “you can’t even attempt to enter that site prior to 9pm,” said Ms Raco.
It’s a far cry from how the industry works in L.A, where some 7000 mobile taco vendors are estimated to be in operation. Only around 3000 have even registered.
Both Cantina Mobil and Eat Art Truck expressed interest in being closer to Sydney University itself – preferably on-campus – but recognised there would be obstacles. “[We’re] very concerned with respecting the establishments that do pay rent,” Ms Raco said. “But a bit of competition never hurts.
“Anyone who can provide information on how to get closer will get a swag of burritos.” The offer remains.
Cantina Mobil will next be at Victoria Park on Monday 6 August, 12-3pm
Eat Art Truck’s schedule is posted on its website weekly