When I heard about the Food in Film Blogathon, the first movie that popped into my mind was Chef, starring Jon Favreau. My husband and I have always loved food trucks; our first date was a visit to the Kogi BBQ truck, and it meant so much to us that we had them cater our wedding.
Later, as part of his Master’s degree program, my husband wrote a paper about the influence of food trucks on American culture. He focused on Chef and Kogi BBQ, the truck that brought us together and inspired the film.
Today, I am sharing a portion of his paper as a guest post. I hope you enjoy! Thanks for reading.
Food Trucks: A Multicultural Fusion of Food and People
by Paulo Leite
Throughout the movie Chef, meals become a multicultural experience to be savored, rather than an opportunity for quick energy. With his friend and sous chef Martin and his son Percy by his side, Carl creates a delicious rendition of traditional Cubano sandwiches. As they begin their trek across the American south, they stop in Miami, where the food appeals to all populations, but especially the Cuban-American population. As their journey continues, Carl uses local ingredients as inspiration, and their dishes adapt to reflect the culture of each stop. In New Orleans, they make they po’boy sandwiches and beignets to incorporate local flavors alongside their cubanos. In Austin, they go to the local Texas Barbeque restaurant to buy some traditionally smoked meat to give their cubano sandwiches a Texas twist. Thus, the food being sold by the El Jefe truck becomes a representation of the culture around it.
The Kogi BBQ truck offers a similar multicultural experience to real-life customers in Los Angeles. They fuse Korean food with Mexican food. For instance, their signature beef short rib taco looks at first like an ordinary Mexican street taco, but it consists of a warmed corn tortilla with finely chopped pieces of marinated short rib prepared in the traditional Korean barbeque tradition, topped with sesame-chili salsa roja, a lettuce and cabbage slaw with chili-soy vinaigrette, and a cilantro-onion garnish. The result is a contrast of flavors that are sweet, salty, spicy, and sour all at the same time (Wang 80). Mexican food and Korean barbeque are very different, yet the Kogi taco melds them seamlessly together into what Roy Choi, the founder of Kogi, has called his “representation of LA in a single bite.” He said “These cultures–Mexican and Korean–really form the foundation of this city,” and, like Carl’s Austin barbecue cubano, the Kogi taco showcases the culture of its surroundings (Romano).
In addition to late night eats, many people are eating breakfast from gourmet food trucks. The reasons for this development also involve the Asian and Latino influence. The first reason people are eating breakfast from food trucks is because all the items from food trucks are hand held items that are easy to carry. The second and third reasons according to the research compiled by the American egg board are the Asian flavors and Latino American and Southwestern inspired foods (Hennessy).
Food trucks like the fictional El Jefe and the real-life Kogi also provide multicultural experiences by bringing people of different backgrounds together simply by standing in line. Author Oliver Wang was waiting with thirty to forty people in line at the Kogi food truck outside the Golden Gopher Bar. He eavesdropped and on and interacted with his fellow customers. He said the two men in front of him were twenty something African-Americans who both were working in marketing. Ahead of them were two forty-something white gay men, and behind him were two twenty-something Asian-American women, each holding a small lap dog. He said he could not remember spending even fifteen minutes on an L.A. sidewalk talking and mingling with complete strangers, in downtown L.A. at 10 pm, yet the Kogi truck line brought him together with an incredibly diverse group with a shared love for the truck’s unique food (Wang 80) (Jacobs,Wang 69-70). Personally, I have experienced this many times. In the past five years of attending the Kogi food truck, I have had the unique privilege of meeting various people from different backgrounds. I have talked with (and eavesdropped on) many people in line. Despite our differences, we all have two things in common: we like Kogi, and we are willing to stay up late for the opportunity to enjoy it. Food Trucks have been a wonderful addition to bringing conversation to people of many different backgrounds or ethnicity. Sometimes people have routines that do not really allow them to meet with people of different race, gender, orientation, or religious background.
I never thought something as mundane as waiting in line for a food truck would be something that could take me out of my own cultural bias. Sometimes informally standing in line and making “small talk” is all you need to do. It has personally allowed me to not only appreciate my background and culture but also others. After standing in line with people I have become more appreciative of people and learning where they come from. In some ways, it eliminates distinction because we have the common ground of talking about our favorite food items that we enjoy. It is a starting point. If people show up regularly every week , you made an acquaintance just by standing in line. Sometimes friendships are forged. Once that has happened it then becomes “worth the wait” for food. In the movie Chef, Carl Casper had Mexican friends, Caucasian friends and he enjoyed African-American culture with the musician in Austin, Texas. He made friends with an Indian police officer in Miami. He never really just associated with people strictly from his own race. The multicultural themes of the movie made the harmony of races look enjoyable. It reminded me of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, even though his speech talked about his children. The movie Chef and the modern food truck do not focus on skin but the “content of character” of making good food and enjoying the company of others. As a regular customer of the Kogi food truck in my town, I feel the same way. I just want to eat good food and enjoy the company of others.