FUDIS Gourmet Food Truck Festival @ St. Regis
Situated at the foot of El Yunque National Forrest, the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort is a study in understated luxury perfectly suited to host the 3rd annual FUDIS Gourmet Food Truck Festival.
The tree-lined path that leads to the property’s entrance is an enchanting corridor that builds anticipation with each passing ceiba and almond tree towering overhead. For this year’s event, the grounds of the property were transformed into a foodie food truck park paradise meets charming secret garden. It struck a perfect balance between sophisticated and unassuming.
Upon entering, guests were met with complimentary mojitos provided by Bacardi Rum, included in the $25 price of admission. The refreshing cocktail was the perfect antidote to the Caribbean humidity lingering all around. It also underscored the brilliance of planning this event at night. Held on Saturday, October 3 from 5pm and Sunday October 4 from 3pm, the event began late enough to avoid the blistering sun, but early enough to include a pre-dinner cocktail hour. We took this very approach, first stopping at the Veuve Cliquot champagne cart for another tipple and to engage a quick study of the festival map. It allowed us to scope out which trucks purveyed beverage, savory or sweet fare.
Stopping at the St. Regis Pod, the resort’s gourmet wagon hitched on this day to a silver Bentley, we spoke with Gustavo Sanchez, Executive Chef at St. Regis Bahia Beach. Sanchez described the tone of the event, brainchild of general manager Terry Bechtold, as a blend of high and low culinary styles. Ultimately they aim to introduce the resort’s clientele to Puerto Rican cuisine and to encourage local sourcing. “The approach is: What is food truck food? How can we take it to the St. Regis level? Very classic from food trucks are the Cuban sandwiches. So how do we make it St. Regis? Well, we make our own bread, roast our our own pork, make our own ham, and then we put foie gras inside of it. So, pork and Foie Gras, what’s more luxurious?”
Chef Sanchez also highlighted the importance of supporting Puerto Rican agriculture, sourcing the hotel’s produce from all organic farms such as, Frutos del Guacabo. Eventually, the hotel itself strives to be more sustainable, “We have our own farm coming soon. We already have peppers coming and it’s all grown here all on property. Eventually this hotel will be very farm to table. We will have some pigs and chickens. It is a project we look to unveil in the coming years.”
Over at the Blue Fin truck, local sourcing was also a principal focus. Their menu was very beef-centric and the staff were happy to inform us that it had been sourced from a farm in Juncos. Offerings included: A premium 6 ounce filet mignon beef plate served with yukon gold potato salad and topped with truffle blue mac & cheese, beef tartare served with fried capers and wontons over sushi grade rice, truffle mac & blue bacon sliders, and filet mignon sliders topped with chicken liver pate.
Chef Chango of Serenata Fusion Grill described for us how local sourcing even fuels the fires of his kitchen. Adopting American slow smoking techniques and pairing them with Puerto Rican flavors, Chef Chango collects local driftwood and coconuts as the wood base to smoke his incredible 6 hour smoked ribs and 12 hour slow smoked pork butt. This delicious smelling smoke emanated from his smokers that thankfully led us straight to him. Usually parked in Humacao, his truck is available for private hire. He’d recently catered a wedding for 18 inside the truck and an 85 person wedding on a nearby ranch. Using all fresh ingredients, Chef Chango limits himself to a clean eating ethos, making everything fresh and eschewing the use of anything from a can. His tender ribs were served atop a surprisingly light and fresh 3 bean salad that was absolutely delicious.
For us, the ability to speak directly to chefs is what made this event so enjoyable. Over at Yummy Dumplings, chef Xoimar Manning shared her perspective on the future of food trucks as we happily took down her signature pork and scallion dumplings with ginger sauce. After years of cooking dumplings for co-workers, Manning was finally inspired to strike out professionally when watching a food program featuring the Chirba Chirba dumpling truck of Raleigh, North Carolina. She has been operating for 3 years from her Hato Rey location in front of the US Federal Courthouse on Calle Chardon and hopes to soon open in Miramar.
In Miramar, Chef Manning hopes to establish a permanent food truck park. Securing permits and challenging the preconceived notions of what a food truck park will look like have proved difficult. “When you talk about a food truck park they think you might do it in una plaza publica instead of thinking this [motioning to the property]. This is exactly what we want to do. I rented this place in Miramar. So far it’s been a year since I rented it and I haven’t been able to open. So now maybe in November it will be just the two of us.” The “us” to which Manning refers is sister Yareli Manning, owner and operator of The Meatball Company. The Manning of meatball acclaim was called to open her food truck after walking the Camino de Santiago in northwestern Spain. The sisters hope to establish a presence in Miramar and foster participation from more food trucks.
It is precisely events such as the FUDIS Gourmet Food Truck Festival that will help to change ideas about what gourmet food is and where it can be served. Hopefully this helps to popularize the movement at large. It is of tantamount importance right now – Puerto Rico desperately needs more small businesses, more local agriculture, more local products in order to foster commerce on the island at large. Food trucks satisfy all of these needs – independent operators are sourcing from their locality to serve high quality products to their communities at reasonable prices.
So go support your local food trucks! Trucks at the event included: Yummy Dumpling, Bella Pasta, Cosechas, Dondesea, La Preñá, El Camper, Pico & Hocico, Señor Paleta, Thon Thai, Serenata Fussion Grill, Acai On The Go, Bluefin, Crazy Sushi, Café Pa’Ya, La Chilanguita, Lemon Submarine, TAKO, Safari Gyros, The Meatball Company, and El Kono.
The winner of the FUDIS III ‘Best Truck’ Award was voted by participants of the event. The winning truck was awarded 6 months free parking in the AIG parking lot on Calle Chardon in Hato Rey as well as access to a location on Ashford Avenue for one weekend a month.
Congratulations to the winners:
1st Place – EL Kono
2nd Place – Cosechas
3rd Place – Dondesea
Be sure to follow all of the participating food trucks on social media to catch them when they roll into town.
By Caroline Johnson
Images provided by Kroma