ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If Central New Mexico Community College student Holly English feels like it, she can leave her accounting class, step a few hundred feet outside, buy a freshly made Cubano, a duck confit taco, or a chipotle barbecue roasted pork shoulder sandwich, and be back in her seat in 10 minutes.
A food truck from the Santa Fe-based Street Food Institute is now pulling up on CNM’s main campus twice a week around lunchtime, parking at the northwest corner of the Smith Brasher Hall parking lot, and putting CNM Culinary Arts students to work on it, preparing and selling gourmet-quality fast food to faculty, students such as English and anyone else who might stop by.
“It’s been a great experience for the students,” said instructor Scott Clapp, who before starting to teach culinary arts at CNM six years ago, had a catering company that included two mobile restaurants. “It’s given them the
opportunity to have the academic side, and then literally walk out of the classroom and apply what they’ve been learning.”
In January, CNM’s Culinary Arts department launched the three-credit elective lab-style course, Mobile Food Operations, as well as an optional hands-on, paid internship, where students work on the food truck.
The courses are offered by Clapp and David Sellers, the truck’s executive chef and a program director of the Street Food Institute, a nonprofit organization that gives technical support and business education to young under-served adults with culinary entrepreneurial goals.
“We thought this would be a good starter truck,” Sellers said. It parks on Tuesdays and Thursdays at CNM’s main campus to provide students the opportunity to learn while working for minimum wage. “A big part of what we’re doing is creating a wholesome alternative to fast food,” Sellers said.
The price of lunch on the truck (everything is $7 or less) is comparable in cost to a fast-food burger and fries. “Part of our thing is to bring the food truck so they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t have to go to McDonald’s every day,’ ” Sellers added.
How it works
The classroom component of the course is a lab in which seven students do some prep work for the truck. For example, they cook the meats served on the truck in CNM kitchens. They also learn from speakers, including one from a farming network and another from finance group that provides small business loans, Clapp said.
The internship portion, also a three-credit elective, is held on the truck – a $60,000 model the Institute purchased from a Placitas woman who was returning to work as a private chef.
The six enrolled interns slice, heat and otherwise assemble food to order on the truck, which has a grill along its short end to give the sandwiches a fresh finish. They take students’ orders. They pickle their own cucumbers and bake their own chips. And they even take plastic.
In the truck
Joslynn Gutierrez was one of four students working inside the truck recently, wearing the required white chef’s jacket and black and white checked chef pants.
She leaned over the open window when Holly English showed up, on a break from her accounting class.
English perused the choices, which range from green chile turkey stew to winter grain garden salad. She asked for her go-to sandwich, a Cubano, to go.
Gutierrez asked what sides and beverage English wanted, and took her name. “OK, I’ll call you when it’s ready,” she said.
The other three students busied themselves toasting and preparing the bread with spreads, ham, pork shoulder and Swiss cheese, and sprinkling on toppings and grilling the whole thing to melt the cheese. English’s sandwich was ready in about five minutes.
“I thought it was an awesome idea,” English said of the food truck on campus concept. “Perfect. Cheap,” she said. “Downtown, I spent 10 or 15 dollars. Here, I spend five or six.”
At the start of the semester, 50 customers came every week; now close to 70 show up weekly. “It started off kind of slow; it was very wintry,” said Sellers inside the tight space of the truck, whose shelves contain plastic bins of cilantro, as well as avocado, red cabbage, lime wedges and a vat of cranberry lemonade.
Classmates report benefiting from the experience of working on the truck.
“I really like what I got myself into,” said intern Jake Morgan, who plans to open a food truck at some point. “It’s nice seeing customers’ reactions.”
His classmate Erik Newlander pointed out that it would be easier to open a food truck than a restaurant. “It’s a lower entry cost,” he said. The cost of a food truck could be as cheap as a few thousand dollars, while the cost of opening a restaurant could be several hundred thousand dollars, Sellers said.
Robert Oakley, the oldest intern of the bunch, with a head of white hair, said he’s considering food truckery as a retirement option, because start-up costs could be low and he could work independently wherever he decides to go.
Gutierrez said she has already run a food truck, the Pink Lady, which served New Mexican food, but she realized she needed more information to make it run optimally. “I’m learning a lot here every day, especially purchasing and costing,” she said. “It’s hard to distinguish how many people in the public are going to come to us.”
According to Sellers, besides training students to run food trucks, another goal of the partnership is to support local vendors. The truck uses produce, including arugula, baby beets, radishes and mixed greens, purchased from Agri-Cultura Network, a South Valley farmer-owned brokerage that markets and sells locally grown organic produce year-round. They also purchase about 100 tortillas every day from a South Valley tortilleria.
In the short-term future, one of the truck teams’ goals is to add picnic or folding tables so people can sit down to eat nearby; another is analyzing how successful the pilot program has been in students’ eyes and tweaking it if necessary.
“It’s the first semester of our pilot, so like any other class that I’ve ever taught, there are a lot of modifications that I’ll make from semester to semester,” Clapp said. “At the end of the class, they will write a paper telling me what worked and what they’d like to see changed in the future.”
The long-term goals of the project at CNM: adding two additional trucks and expanding it to a certificate-yielding three-semester program that would end with students test-running their own food truck concepts – desserts only, or just hot dogs, for example – for several weeks. “It’s one of those things that we’re all talking about,” Clapp said. “On the curriculum side, we’d like to see it expanded where they develop a business plan,” he added.
But for now, says Gutierrez: “It’s our baby, you know what I mean?”
Thai Duck Salad
1 tablespoon long grain rice
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons roasted chopped peanuts
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Juice of 3 limes
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
2 tablespoons dried shrimp
2 Thai chiles, minced
8 ounces rice vermicelli noodles
8 ounces green papaya, julienned
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
2 shallots, julienned
2 duck legs, roasted and meat shredded from the bone
10 sprigs cilantro
¼ cup mint leaves
To assemble vinaigrette, toast the rice in a dry pan until lightly browned and puree in a coffee grinder. Combine in a food processor with the dried shrimp, garlic, chile and peanuts. Pulse into a paste. Combine other ingredients for vinaigrette in the food processor and mix until well-incorporated. Taste and adjust seasoning. It should be a balance between bright acid, heat and sweet.
For the salad, soak the rice noodles for 10 minutes in water and then quickly boil for 60 seconds or until just tender. Transfer to a bowl of ice water, allow to cool, drain and reserve.
Combine the papaya, carrot and shallots with the vinaigrette.
Quickly sear the shredded duck meat in a non-stick sauté pan until well caramelized. Garnish the salad with the hot duck and extra cilantro sprigs, mint and peanuts.
Cubano (Cuban Sandwich)
2 egg yolks
2 jalapeños, grilled until blackened, then chopped
1 clove garlic
Juice from 2 limes
1 cup canola oil
2 pounds pork shoulder, roasted and shredded from bone
12 ounces high-quality Virginia ham, sliced
6 six-inch sub rolls
6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
12 slices Swiss cheese
2 tablespoons butter
Combine egg yolks, jalapeño, garlic and lime juice in a food processor. Purée for 30 seconds. Then add canola oil a little at a time until mixture has the consistency of thick mayonnaise. Season with salt to taste. Set aside.
On a flat top grill or large sauté pan, sauté the pork shoulder and the ham until crisp. Slice the sub rolls in half and spread 1 tablespoon mustard on one side of each roll and 1 tablespoon of the jalapeño aioli mixture on the other side. Slice the pickles thinly and layer 3 or 4 slices on 1 side of sub roll. On the other sides, place two slices of Swiss cheese. Add the pork shoulder and the ham and close.
In a clean sauté pan or flat top grill, melt butter and sauté the sandwiches, pressing down on the tops with sandwich press or a small sauté pan to flatten them slightly. Cook them slowly on each side until warmed through and the cheese is melted.
12 fresh six-inch corn tortillas
24 ounces pork shoulder, roasted and shredded from bone
12 ounces salsa arbol (recipe follows)
6 ounces queso fresco or Cotija cheese, grated
6 ounces red cabbage, sliced thin
2 limes, sliced into wedges
12 cilantro sprigs for garnish
10 tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 scallions, whole
2 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
8 dried arbol chiles
5 cloves garlic, whole
Juice of 3 limes
¼ cup chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
To assemble the salsa, toss the tomatillos and whole scallions in canola oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill on a hot grill until well-blackened. Tomatillos will just be starting to break down and look like they are going to pop. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.
Toast the arbol chiles and the garlic in a dry sauté pan until starting to blacken but not burned. Transfer the arbol chiles to a bowl of warm water and let stand for 10 minutes Remove the chiles from the water and puree in a food processor with garlic until it forms a paste. They should be very fragrant. Combine lime juice, cilantro and sugar and season to taste. If it is too thick, thin with a bit of the chile water.
Warm the tortillas on a flat-top grill or dry sauté pan. Sauté the pork until crisp. Garnish the tacos with the pork, arbol salsa, cheese and shredded cabbage. Top with a cilantro sprig and a slice of lime.