“When we bought our Citroen vans we knew instantly which was Percy and which was Lily. Percy was definitely the food van and Lily was definitely the drinks van. The only slight problem is that Lily was actually teetotal. We have, however, asked her forgiveness.”
Trudi and Justine, who met back in 2001 while working at Sheffield Hallam University while studying for a PGCE in education are among the growing number of foodies who in the last two years have brought restaurant quality food to the streets of Yorkshire. Most have no formal training, but all are blessed with a passion for good food and some of the best in the North are being celebrated in The Street Food Cook Book.
“Ten years ago Justine and I decided to travel the world and that’s when our idea for the business was born,” says Trudi, who had previously cooked at the Leadmill for their Sunday lunch jazz sessions. “When we came back we had stacks of ideas for menus and that’s when we launched Homemade in Sheffield.”
While many people have the romantic idea of running their own restaurant, when Homemade opened its doors the pair were armed with a five year plan which they were determined to stick to. While Trudi admits the hours were long and the learning curve was steep, they did just that, selling their business and going mobile last year.
“Our accountant thought we were mad. He told us we should keep hold of the restaurant for another couple of years, but we thought it was better to sell when it still had potential to grow and we also knew that we might miss the opportunity to make a mark on the street food scene.
“With a restaurant there is much more of a pattern, you get to know that say Tuesdays are quiet, but Friday lunchtimes are busy. When you’re mobile, every day can be different and the one thing you can never control is the weather.
“However, it’s also really exciting. We now have eight different menus, inspired by street food from Asia, India, America and the Middle East which gives us the opportunity to choose food which suits a particular venue or audience. As part of our new five-year plan we’ve also taken a lease on a warehouse which we are calling The Hide.
“In catering you always have to move forward and while we were still be doing the usual markets and festivals, this gives us an indoor space in which we are planning to run a Street Food Friday event. Justine and I are now in our 40s and while we still fit into the street food scene which is young and vibrant, we will probably want to be doing something a little different in our 50s.”
Kate Starkey and Morgan Boyles, who are the brains behind York-based street food company Smokin’ Blues were also inspired by their travels abroad. “We met when we were both living in London,” says Kate. “Morgan was a fine-dining chef and I had an office job, but quite early on we realised that we wanted to work for ourselves. When we decided to go travelling all our destinations were focused on our love of food, which meant we spent a lot of time in the southern states of America. We loved their relaxed attitude to food, about slow cooking and big flavours.”
Returning to Kate’s home city of York, the pair began experimenting with menus and developing a smoking system which could travel with them. In 2014, Smokin’ Blues was born.
“If you want to smoke food properly, there are no shortcuts. To do it right takes time and great quality produce. We spent a lot of time making sure that we could keep the temperature constant. There are so many different street food companies competing that you have to be able to offer something unique.
“Five years ago when people bought takeaway food from a van they had very low expectations. They expected it to be overpriced and poor quality. Now the bar has been raised significantly. People want restaurant quality.”
Smokin’ Blues have just one trailer and are not yet planning on an expansion. “One of the reasons we set up this business was because we wanted to spend more time together. As a chef, Morgan worked long unsociable hours and I barely saw him, but now we’ve gone to the other extreme. For some spending 11 hours working with their partner in a confined space would be their idea of hell, but it works for us.”
Like many street food business owners, Oliver Reynolds is currently enjoying a short break before the main foodie season starts in March. Last year was busy for Pizza Loco, which he runs with business partner Paul Bulmer, and their 2016 calendar is already packed. “We have really noticed in the number of wedding bookings. People are always something a little different for their big day and street food seems to be really popular. If you want the word of mouth to spread though you have to be good.
“A number of pizza street food companies used precooked bases, because it’s much more convenient, but to be honest they don’t taste great.”
Instead, the night before a booking, Oliver can be found kneading vast quantities of dough, which is then allowed to cold rise in the fridge, with the rest of the proving process taking place on route.
“The only problem is if you get stuck in traffic,” says Oliver. “Dough is incredibly temperamental. People don’t believe me when I say you can tell if it has been kneaded by someone in a bad mood but it’s true. It ends up really tough.
“Like a lot of the successful street food companies our principle is traditional but with a modern twist. The wood burning oven is based on a centuries -old Italian design, we import the flour for our dough from Italy and it’s topped with San Marzano tomatoes. However, when it comes to toppings it’s good to experiment. While our most popular is probably chorizo made in Teesdale we have specials like duck with figs and brie which have also gone down well.
“People are much more prepared than ever before to experiment with flavours and the best street food is about great produce, fantastic flavours and just occasionally pushing a few boundaries.”
The Street Food Cook Book, priced £10, is available from amazon.co.uk as well as a number of bookshops, including Waterstone’s.