Food Truck Serves Valuable Lessons

May 06, 2016 at 3:11 PM

Preparing students to excel in the highly competitive culinary industry goes far beyond teaching how to create the final product that appears on a plate. Many consumers now have an intense interest in the origin of the ingredients they are eating, how they are produced, the nutritional and health value as well as the practices that are used in kitchens, especially around sustainability. All of these factors and many more have to be considered with an eye on the bottom line, so the economics of the hospitality industry is a vital component of the students’ learning. A hospitality professional who has to encapsulate every one of these aspects is the owner and operator of a food truck, now part of a rapidly growing market in Auckland. To inform how to combine entrepreneurship, food philosophy and catering, the owner of The Little Yellow Food Truck, Trevor Hubbard, was invited to the College to present to food technology students.

Mr Hubbard has worked as a chef in Michelin star restaurants in the United Kingdom and hospitality empire, Hip Group in New Zealand. He has also taught young chefs in the tertiary sector, so was an ideal guest speaker to convey to our students what is required to make it in the industry. The Little Yellow Food Truck is fast becoming a leader in the mobile cuisine scene, with a focus on healthy fast food and sustainable practice. The visit started with a session with the Snapper Club. Anyone who has watched one of the plethora of cooking shows on television at the moment will be familiar with the phrase ‘you eat with your eyes first’ which could also be the motto for the Snapper Club. The students involved meet weekly and work in groups to prepare a dish and then photograph it, with the aim to make the meal look as delectable as possible. On this occasion, the students were spared the cooking process and instead got to photograph one of Mr Hubbard’s creations. They were served a tasty combination of oatmeal pancakes with persimmon compote, mascarpone and vanilla syrup. Mr Hubbard gave the students his reasoning behind the dish, saying he wanted them to have some energy to start the day, but without an abundance of sugar, and that he used persimmon because it is in season. The club members took images of the cooking and plating process as well as the final product, which they all agreed was delicious and interesting to eat.

In his talks to the food technology classes, Mr Hubbard explained all of the elements he has to bear in mind in the day-to-day running of his business. As an owner-operator, he is solely in charge of everything from marketing and legal compliance, to menu design and ingredient sourcing, as well as the preparation and cooking, which he employs a junior chef to help with. He underlined that hospitality is a social industry, so engaging customers on a personal level is crucial to success. He also emphasised the importance of establishing a brand to make a venture or product stand out, with his values of sustainability and healthy eating underpinning every business decision he makes.

The food truck visit and Mr Hubbard’s focus on sustainability are directly aligned with the NCEA Level 2 students’ current project. In this unit of work, students are preparing, planting and caring for a vegetable garden. They are assigned one vegetable that they will develop as the star component of a menu item suitable for sale through a food truck. Using this garden-to-table method of supply as a model, students are evaluating current practice at the College and considering ways that they can be more sustainable in food technology and the campus as a whole. This work will be assessed internally and externally, concluding with a formal academic report.

All of the classes involved had the opportunity to watch Mr Hubbard in action and sample some of his fare, including Angus beef cheeseburgers with poppy seed mayo and Worcestershire mushrooms, Moroccan spiced chicken with hummus and fattoush (a Middle Eastern salad with bread, vegetables and herbs), and grilled banana with salted butterscotch, ganache and oat crumble. He gained a number of converts to his more unusual ingredients and countless favourable reviews! Further visits from other food truck operators are planned to give the students exposure to a diverse range of food philosophies, business practices and product designs.

Food Technology at the College

The College has superb, industry-standard facilities for teaching Food Technology in the Jack Paine Art and Technology Centre. NCEA Levels 1-3 Food Technology is a demanding course structured to scaffold the learning and pressures that students can expect to experience during tertiary study. In Levels 1 and 2, students work with a food technologist to develop innovative new products that are fit for purpose as a result of extensive sensory analysis, market, consumer and technical research. During their final year, students synthesise their knowledge of food design and development in order to engage with an actual client. They are expected to solve problems with critical and original thinking, leaving the course with an extensive portfolio and basic industrial experience.

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