On February 15, I attended the Food Truck Panel put on by the Campus Events Commission. Mediated by the acclaimed food critic Jonathan Gold, the panel consisted of food blogger Cathy Chaplin, Roy Choi, the chef and originator of the food truck Kogi, Erik Cho and Brook Howell of the food truck Frysmith, and Natasha Case and Freya Estreller of the food truck Coolhaus. During the panel, the panelists answered questions from Jonathan Gold and discussed a variety of topics pertaining to the current food truck movement.
The panel started off with Roy Choi, the man credited with starting the modern Food Truck movement in L.A, explaining how he got the concept and inspiration for his Kogi food truck. He explained that as soon as he first created the Korean taco that his truck is famous for, something inspired by the Korean barbeques his parents used to put on while he was growing up in East LA, he knew that it was going to be the foundation of something special. He called himself “overwhelmed” by the feelings inspired by the dish, and said his taco probably would not have become as successful had he analytically thought about what he was creating because the dish would have become too constructed and over-thought.
The other food trucks also explained their backgrounds, with Coolhaus’s owners wanting to bring the field of architecture to the public through the form of ice cream sandwiches and Frysmith’s owners basing their food off of the chef’s childhood and wanting to create something accessible to everyone. The panelists also discussed the difference between street food in America and street food in other countries, where food stands have been selling the same food on the street for generations. Cathy Chaplin explained how street food here is so different from street food abroad that she had never really made a connection between the two. She called food trucks in America much more ambitious than the street food abroad. She also said that because the food truck movement here is so new, it lacks the tradition associated with street food elsewhere and thus is not thriving to the same extent as street food abroad.
Another interesting topic discussed by the panelists was the social aspect of food truck culture, which to the food truck owners is just as significant as the actual food provided by the trucks. Roy Choi said that the camaraderie of the trucks has become an “integral part of his life”, and that social network mediums such as Twitter have really changed the way food trucks are operated and are followed. Twitter in particular has become so important to the running of a food truck that Natasha and Freya of Coolhaus said they even hired a social media management consultant to help fully take advantage of the medium.
The talk ended with the panelists discussing how they see the food truck movement evolving in the future, with most panelists saying that they see food trucks going through a “natural selection” process where only food trucks with creative concepts and delicious products survive in what is quickly becoming a difficult industry to be successful in.