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 food truck feature!
Some say “life is a journey, not a destination” and in the case of a certain “racing” cafe, that’s never been more true.
For the owners of Café Racer, this is the true American dream. Taking the Colombian flavors of his childhood, Luis Patino said it was the path to a “real world” job that made him realize his true passion.
He left his career as a paralegal to focus on what really made him happy — cooking from the heart and serving a community he loved.
He built his food truck with his own two hands — earning the name Café Racer — and hit the road, ensuring that everything that came from the truck was truly from the soul.
From the ups and downs of a mobile kitchen on wheels to the incredible payoff that comes from a low-and-slow method with their ingredients, let me introduce you to Café Racer.
Owner: Luis and Christine Patino
Date the food truck opened: October 2012.
What kind of food do you serve? Latin American cuisine inspired specifically from Colombia.
Price range of menu: Around $7 is where we average.
Hours of operation: Lunch in downtown Minneapolis most of the week but on Thursdays we serve at Lunch By The River in St. Paul for the rest of the summer. We also do a lot of catering events.
What was your job before opening the food truck? I was a paralegal. I did a lot of legal research and writing, analysis and corporate compliance — things along those lines. Sat at a desk in front of a computer, had a lot of meetings throughout the day. I spent more time cooking and bringing people food in from home and stuff like that than I did thinking about what I was doing throughout the day so I kind of figured it was time to do what I really wanted to do.
What made you want to open a food truck? It’s kind of a great first step into opening up a business. There’s a clear avenue. A lot of people have done it before. There’s a great environment, almost like a family, the entire food truck community — everybody’s really willing to help you out, give you advice on what to do, what not to do. So that was a great access, especially if you’re into food, it’s a great way to get started with a little bit less risk than a brick-and-mortar.
What made you want to get into the food industry in the first place? I worked in the food industry my entire life through college to kind of pay my way to becoming a paralegal. I’d work in restaurants as a server or in the kitchen. After college, you’re at your regular job kind of thinking, “Oh, wow, I actually loved what I was doing. I figured out what I was doing well before that.” But it was still great having gone through the whole college experience. It taught me a lot … it gave me a lot of information that I needed to be able to open up a food truck with a little less stress.
How is the food prepared? It’s a very long process. For example, our pork is roasted for 11 hours with a lot of different types of seasonings. We do a lot of soufflés, roasted vegetables, vinaigrettes and sauces, so it’s a very long process. It’s a labor of love. Latin American cuisine is one of those things that’s not necessarily spicy but very flavorful. So that’s what we like to do. We like to give people something that’s a very common thing like, ‘Oh, I recognize this, it’s very crunchy or cheesy or melty in your mouth. I can understand this but the flavors are so unique and different.’ That’s how we try to focus our food.
How did you come up with the name? So Café Racer is actually a motorcycle. What it is, is an original, kind of rebellious culture where you would take a motorcycle, take out all of the parts that you didn’t need to make it go and kind of build it up to what you need to just make it go. That really describes what we’re doing with our food and our concept and what a food truck even is. And it’s a nice play on words — a cafe that races from place to place. Really what it describes is a culture of motorcycle rider and I love motorcycles so it just ended up working perfectly. Our logo is very unique … it’s a cool concept and it works out well.
How did you decide on the menu? I would say we built the vehicle ourselves by hand, which was actually amazing. We actually have our own little shop where we’ll do stuff for other food trucks. So I would say concept was about six months, building was about eight months so about a year and a half. So quite a long time.
Is the food something you grew up with? The food is definitely something that comes from my grandmother’s kitchen. That’s how she would … it was like, ‘Let me feed you. Are you hungry? No? Well I’m going to give you some food anyway.’ In any culture, that’s a great thing. I love passing that on and being able to serve others.
What’s your favorite dish that you serve? I would say, it’s all pretty good but a combination entree, where you can get pulled pork or pulled chicken, roasted vegetables or you know, a little bit of all three and then you get two sides with that. We have so many good sides but my favorites are probably the carrot soufflé, a fried sweet plantain or the rice.
Describe your truck in one word: Efficient.
What’s your craziest story from working at a food truck? Just figuring out the electrical grid. You’re basically putting in a water system, a gas system and an electrical grid into a vehicle or into a kitchen that moves 70 mph down the road. So when you’re plugging things in for the first time and figuring out, ‘Oh, let’s test this out,’ you have some fun moments. As long as you built the proper system in place, it’s easy to go back and fix but we’ve had a couple moments where it’s like, everything shuts down and gets really dark and it’s like, ‘Everyone just hang out for a second. We’ll be right with you guys.’ That’s kind of the part of learning and having some very humbling experiences that will get us to where we want to be. It’s been awesome. Literally, the American dream.
What’s one thing you want people to know about your food truck? That we really do put our heart and soul into every single day and we really try to improve our product every time we go out. The response of our customers has been so great that we really just want to say that we just thank everyone for giving us a try and thanks for coming back to us.
Catch the 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!