Reporting Sara Pelissero
With so many new — and delicious — food trucks hitting the streets of the Twin Cities each summer, it’s almost too tough to keep up. Well, fear not, we’re here to help. Here’s this week’s Friday food truck feature!
The 2012 Olympic Games in London has everyone feeling a bit more Brit these days. Lucky for us, we’ve got plenty of places to get a taste of England. But if it’s the English pasty (pronounced past-ee) you desire, there’s truly only one place that’ll tickle your fancy.
Potter’s Pasties and Pies specializes in traditional English on-the-go pies — a solid, yet flaky handheld pastry case, filled with the finest veggies and meats.
Owner Alec Duncan was introduced to these tasty little buggers after leaving the kitchen momentarily to move to the English countryside and become a teacher. And that wasn’t his only introduction — it was also on this journey that he met his wife, a native of Manchester, England.
When Duncan decided to come back to a culinary career, he brought the pasties — and his new love — back with him. Alec and his wife, Fiona, have blossomed their love of pasties into a full-time, two-truck venture. (And a true family affair — Alec recalls Fiona working on the truck up until the day before she gave birth to their adorable little girl.)
Let’s meet the ol’ chap, shall we? (OK, sorry, that’s the last British reference … I promise.)
Owner: Alec and Fiona Duncan
Date the food truck opened: May 23, 2011
What kind of food do you serve? We serve pasties, which are like handheld pot pies originating from Cornwall, England — ours are more the English style. Obviously they’ve developed into different things around the world with the same idea — food inside of a pocket. So whether it’s a calzone or the empanadas. Again, ours are based off that British, Cornish design.
Price range of menu: $5 for rolls, $8 for the pasties themselves. Each pasty weighs about a pound, if not a little bit over. Eight ounces of meat inside, plus vegetables and the dough.
Hours of operation: Generally 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch. We’re both in Minneapolis and St. Paul, so in each city. We also do private events and go to tap rooms and other various events around the Twin Cities. We’re also looking for a store front right now.
Job before opening food truck: I’ve always been a cook within the Twin Cities (at place like 128 Cafe, Cafe Barbette, Osteria I Nonni and others) but I went teaching for five-plus years abroad as an English teacher.
Why did you want to go into the food industry? Basically, I was looking for a way to come back to the Twin Cities and the only thing I know here is cooking. And going the teaching route and having a career change at that point in my life was looking like it was going to be rather expensive. And to be honest with you, I missed sort of the rock-star lifestyle of cooking — having 100 tickets hanging in front of you on Friday night and everyone’s working in rhythm and things are coming out great.
I guess I wanted some of that life again and I didn’t know how to do it for myself. This seemed like the cheapest option to start, especially with a product that I had spent a lot of time researching and developing, while I was living abroad. The opportunity came up with a friend emailing me to let me know they had opened up these laws here and we slowly started saving money, moved back here, opened up our first truck in St. Paul. It went really well so we decided to keep rolling with it, literally, and opened another truck in Minneapolis this year.
How did you decide on doing pasties? Well, my wife and I had done some traveling together, in between jobs. We were up in the northern part of Scotland and while we were camping up there, we just thought to ourselves, you know, pasties are perfect for our entire time up here — if we go on a hike, they stay nice and warm. We can open them up, eat them there and get enough energy to get down. They’re just perfect traveling food — whether it be for camping or if you’re on-the-go between meetings, you don’t need to sit down and hack it up with a fork or a knife. It just comes as is, ready to eat. It was also the thought process of being able to put white-plate food inside a pocket. So all these white plate dishes that I loved to do, or the sort of “finer dining” or the food that takes a little more experience to make, I knew that I could stuff inside of there. So it just sort of made sense.
What made you want to go into the food industry? The work ethic part of it. It’s really where I learned my work ethic. I worked for a guy named Charlie Johnson from the Italian Cafe in Bloomington. I started by washing dishes and doing prep work. He worked really hard and it made me want to work really hard. I had a friend there at the time that also worked really hard — everyone working hard together, I just thought, OK, this is for me. That high volume, high energy, great people, people who don’t mind working 15-16 hours a day and still have a smile on their face at the end of the day. It got me into it. And secretly, there’s this ninja component to it — you’re working around fire and knives, even though you’re not fighting off evil-doers, you’re just getting people delicious food but in a very adventurous way.
How is your food made? Everything we do is made from scratch — from the dough to the filling. We make our food at our commissaries. So every single morning, we roll out dough, stuff our pasties, bake ‘em off and then finish them off on the truck to order. It’s a simple way to get people their lunch as fast as possible and also to minimize on the amount of people that you would need on a truck at any given time. So that a lot of it focuses around the prep — and most people know really good food comes from really good prep. If you have your things organized and done well, it makes it a lot easier for that finished product to come out exactly how you want it.
How did you come up with the name? Well the word Potter, in the verb sense, means to wander aimlessly and that’s kind of what we had been doing together. Then mobile food trucks kind of do that as well. So it fits really well.
What do you think is your best dish? Oh man. My favorite is the pig. It’s a sweet and savory combination. Super slow roasted pork, over 13 hours. A little coriander to help bring out that apple, get the floral flavor but at the same time you get that dark tone of the cinnamon in there. It screams breakfast but really, you can eat it anytime. It’s kind of like dipping bacon into maple syrup. A little more than an anytime dish.
Describe your truck in one word: Adventurous. We’re really trying to pull out all the stops — we’re doing things like wild boar and blackberry. I just did duck confit last week. I did a miso-rubbed rabbit the week before. Anything that you would see at a fusion restaurant on a white plate, we’re really trying to do in our pasties every day, just to define ourselves and say you know, we’re very different from anything else that’s out there.
What’s your craziest story from working at a food truck? I guess when I worked the zombie pub crawl last year in St. Paul. When we got towards the end of the night, we had people who wouldn’t let us shut our awning and they were trying to hold it open so they could keep getting food. And we had officers telling us, ‘You guys have to stop, you have to go.’ And people that just kept coming and coming and we literally had to forcefully shut the windows and say, ‘We’re sorry, it’s over.’ Just that kind of demand, where they’re trying to hold open your awning, I’ve just never seen that before except at maybe a toy rush at Christmas. To see someone doing that with our own business was pretty cool and crazy at the same time.
What’s one thing you want people to know about your food truck? Just that it really is a pasty that you’re not going to get here in the Twin Cities, or Minnesota, or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or really, anywhere within the U.S. We also sell par bakes on the truck, so people can buy those and take them away for whenever they want to eat them. They do freeze and we also give you a cooking instruction card with them.
Catch the Friday Food Truck Feature every week, in the Curiocity column. Know of a food truck you think should be featured? Let us know by leaving a comment below or tweeting your suggestion to @SaraPelissero!