Drivers Ed: Bay Area Food Truck Chefs Get a School of Their Own

Drivers Ed: Bay Area Food Truck Chefs Get a School of Their Own


The cultification of the food truck has given rise to a whole new category of culinary entrepreneur. Instrucktional, the food truck industry's first-ever dedicated vocational program, aims to give chefs all the tools they need to get their mobile restaurants rolling.


The roach coach of yore is today's trendiest dining experience, with countless Bay Area food trucks conjuring cult followings. For some time now, during lunch breaks all over the region, foodies of every stripe have been lining up for fast-cheap foods that run the ethnic gamut.

But these days, food trucks are offering more than grab-and-go meals that cater to basic necessity. Today's food trucks are helmed by real chefs making real delicious foods (how often we crave the Chairman's bao!). And with the advent of Off the Grid (which returns to Fort Mason for its sixth season this week), they're delivering a full-fledged social experience. Where once a food truck might have been just a precursor to an eventual brick-and-mortar restaurant (witness the epic beginnings of Jon Darsky's Del Popolo), now they are restaurants in their own right that reflect our on-the-go lives...and aspiring chefs want in on the action.

Enter Instrucktional, the first-ever vocational program, based in Mountain View, dedicated to helping chefs get their food truck businesses rolling.

Driving the project is, you guessed it, Off the Grid founder Matt Cohen, whose second venture, The Whole Cart, currently serves as the official mobile food caterer to big companies like Google. It is there on Google's campus that Cohen's teaching arm, Instrucktional, is now taking on aspiring entrepreneurs for hands-on two-year training programs. In 24 months, Instrucktional students will work with mentors—professional food truck chefs from around the Bay Area—to build their businesses from soup to nuts, from brainstorming concepts to crafting the menu to truck design and, ultimately, presentation. 

"The program starts with basic culinary training, moving into management of a food truck and really pinning down what it means to run a truck," says Cohen. "Then it swings into the media aspect, which helps the students create a brand identity—everything from colors, to a name, to graphics. We help the students develop a voice and a message that speaks to the community."

Elizabeth Miranda, an assistant baker at Kara's Cupcakes who studied culinary at Le Cordon Bleu in Sacramento, is Instrucktional's first pupil. Her concept? You're going to like it.

"We have two major concepts for the churro," says Miranda, who believes her idea is fresh to the Bay Area food truck circuit. "One is a churro dog..."

Our brains and stomachs start doing somersaults as we try to imagine it, and just as we're getting distracted, she goes on to show us that, indeed, it's pretty much what it sounds like: a hot dog served on a churro bun. There are condiments too, specifically ketchup and mushroom sauce. We confess it sounds a little gross. But in reality, the churro dog was a delicious marriage of savory and sweet.

(Elizabeth Miranda, left, serves up a round of churro dog prototypes for her instructors to taste.)

"We tried various different recipes to push the boundaries of how we could reinterperet the churro: one with eggs, one with yolk, one with whites, and one with no egg at all." The result is non-sugary take on the classic American treat, just perfect for Miranda's second menu idea: the churro ice cream sandwich. If this latter bite sounds just right, it is—as you sink your teeth into the sammie, the fried dough melts into the ice cream like a magical vanishing act. "I want to get people out of the mindset that the churro is just sugar and dough—it can be more," she promises.

(Elizabeth Miranda's melt-in-your-mouth churro ice cream sandwich)

Currently six months into the program, Miranda is striving to create something new, and she's quick to give shout-outs to her team of culinary teachers, a rotation of pros from Off the Grid's well-known roster.

"Getting mentored by all these chefs, who have so much experience in the industry, and getting paid to do it is an amazing oppurtunity." Yes, you heard right, Miranda is getting paid for full-time work with The Whole Cart, where she's getting hands-on experience in up-and-running trucks while also getting the education she needs to roll out a truck of her own. Once she graduates, she will be given the opportunity to debut her project among some of the toughest critics: Googlers. 

Instrucktional communications manager Meg Napoli says the team is confident they can set students up for succes: "Before they leave our program, they will have a fully constructed business and financial plan, and they will feel completely set on tackling this venture in the real world." 

Instrucktional's first student calls the opportunity "a dream come true." If you, in turn, are inspired to rev up your own career as a chef on wheels, you can apply for the program here.  //

(Elizabeth Miranda in the training kitchen of Instrucktional.)


Still hungry: Chow down on our 2016 Big Eat.

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