FROM OAHU TO VEGAS, ELENA'S WINS FANS
Beautiful, lush Hawaii is a siren call heard around the world, one Theo and Elena Butuyan found impossible to ignore. In 1969, they left behind the comfortable life they had built for themselves and their two children in Dagupan City, of the Pangasinan Province in the Philippines, where Elena was a teacher and Theo an accountant. "We had read in the newspapers and heard from other people who left that Hawaii was the paradise island of the United States of America," Theo Butuyan says dreamily. "So we left the Philippines for greener pastures."
The Butuyans settled in Waipahu, Oahu, where they opened Elena's Home of Finest Filipino Food, a small lunch counter with six seats, and served home-style Filipino cooking. "You want to know why we named it after Elena?" Theo jokes. "So she would work hard."
Work hard they both did, quickly building a steady and loyal stream of customers – the majority of which were not, as might be expected, from the Philippines. Theo explains: "Filipino immigrants like to cook their own food at home [so] we cooked for the local people Japanese, Chinese, Tongans, Americans, Samoans, and Filipinos born in Hawaii."
DESSERT TRUCK: BRINGING GOURMET SWEETS TO THE STREETS
America is a country of pioneers, and Jerome Chang, born to Taiwanese immigrants, can justifiably be considered one of them. In 2007, Chang became one of a handful of trailblazers forging the way for a new class of gourmet food carts, with Dessert Truck. The now-iconic vehicle, painted with the brand's whimsical logo, serves delicious, epicurean sweets of a caliber typically found only in top-tier restaurants.
A mouth-watering sampling of the sophisticated desserts offered on the truck includes Warm Molten Chocolate Cake with an olive oil ganache center, roasted pistachios, and vanilla ice cream; Goat Cheese Cheesecake with rosemary caramel and quince; and Espresso Panna Cotta with coffee-lavender ice cream, Nutella, and caramelized almonds. The crowning achievement, though, is the Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bacon Crème Anglaise, recently featured on an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Dessert Truck's version was declared the winner in a blind taste-test by the public.
FROM ENFANT TERRIBLE TO CHEF INSTRUCTOR: CHEF ILIANA DE LA VEGA
We had a beautiful life. It was like magic," Iliana de la Vega says, remembering her family's charmed life in Oaxaca City, Mexico. There, de la Vega and her Chilean-born husband Ernesto Torrealba owned El Naranjo, a restaurant serving modern Oaxacan cuisine to an international following, carefully built over eleven years. With their two daughters, they enjoyed the cultural vibrancy of Oaxaca, until political unrest, stemming from a teacher's strike in 2006, threatened their happiness.
The strike, punctuated by violent clashes with the state militia, disrupted both their business and family life. Schools were suspended. Tourism trickled to a standstill. The local economy veered toward the edge of collapse, while the national government faced a widespread civil rebellion, which erupted after the 2006 presidential election. So when the opportunity arose, de la Vega and her family decided to leave their home and start anew in Austin, Texas, where they reopened El Naranjo ? this time, in the form of a food truck parked at the site of what they hope will one day be the future home of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
The truck serves Mexican dishes from across their native country (Oaxacan dishes remain El Naranjo's specialty), and de la Vega is proud of her authentic preparations. "What people know about Mexican food is still very limited, even though we are so close and share a huge border. So I chose to showcase traditional foods, and the reception has been good." The menu selection is not extensive, but changes regularly, with offerings such as Salpicón de Res Taco (a cold beef salad taco), and Swordfish Escabeche (a pickled fish popular in Veracruz). De la Vega also prepares signature moles, traditional dishes composed of complex sauces made by blending many ingredients and served over meat and rice.
HOME STYLE COOKING IN A CART, CZECH STYLE
For many, the road to becoming a professional chef is a long and arduous one. For Karel and Monika Vitek, owners of the Tábor food cart in Portland, Oregon, the journey was much longer and more unpredictable than most.
"We would not be in the food business if we had remained in the Czech Republic," says Monika. "But being immigrants gave us an advantage."
It was not an easily earned advantage. Karel first attempted to escape from the former Czechoslovakia, then under Communist rule, in 1984, by applying for a one-day tourist visa to Turkey. He was foiled, however, by the presence of undercover police in the region, and forced to abandon his plans.
WHERE KOGI GOES, LA FANS FOLLOW
part2 of "Keep On Truckin'!- Immigrants Keep Food Trucks in High Gear"
It's easy to dismiss food cart dining as just another trend, one that will soon burn out on the flames of its own popularity, as trends inevitably do. But consider the fact that Kogi, the popular Los Angeles-based fleet of trucks, has more than three times more Twitter followers than the Council on Foreign Relations, and, all told, more social media supporters than some small countries have citizens. Trend or not, there is something astounding in Kogi's reach and resonance.
It's Kogi's tasty Korean-Mexican fusion fare that has its legions of fans clamoring. Using Twitter and other social media outlets to announce locations and specials, the trucks cruise the streets of Los Angeles serving up fusion dishes such as Kogi Kimchi Quesadillas, tacos stuffed with Korean barbequed short ribs and spicy pork, and their signature Kogi sliders.
Keep On Truckin'!- Immigrants Keep Food Trucks in High Gear
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my visitors and EOL Community members a very happy holiday season and Happy Thanksgiving.
One thing that this season brings to mind is that we are all immigrants here in the US (unless of course you are 100% American Indian which is highly unlikely) and I would like to combine that fact with one of my pet themes here on EOL- Food Trucks.
I was approached by Joyce Li from the Vilcek Foundation to publish these articles on how immigrants have contributed to the Food Truck movement and there is no better time to start adding them to the site than now, just before Thanksgiving.
This first piece is written by Zach Brooks of the NYTimes who was a judge in last year’s Vendy Awards.
I will also be publishing a link to all the recipes from this series.