On Friday morning, the east-facing side of the New Mexico Roundhouse became a launching pad for something both sides of the aisle tend to agree on without much heated debate: great food.
The Street Food Institute (SFI), an entrepreneur-based, for-credit culinary program with one-year-old roots at Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque, took advantage of the New Mexico State Legislature's current session to show off its two new hands-on-training food trucks, which will allow the institute to train more students in Albuquerque and expand its educational program to Santa Fe.
One of the new trucks will be stationed at Santa Fe Community College, where, through SFCC's culinary program, students can apply for scholarships from the Simon Scholars Program. A project initially developed through the Simon Charitable Foundation, SFI hopes to grow the state's local food economy while producing solid culinary leaders with the skill sets necessary to succeed in a contemporary business environment.
"The program at CNM is a two-tier program," says SFI program director and chef David Sellers (you might remember Sellers' name from local restaurants such as Santacafé and Amavi). "Students get three credits for an internship on the truck, and three credits for labs, which consist of lectures and classes on everything from sanitation and safety to basic food-cost and labor accounting." The program in Santa Fe will initially start as a three-credit, internship-only program.
Although the SFI truck in Santa Fe will be anchored at SFCC, Sellers says he has procured permits from the City of Santa Fe that allow the truck to moor at the new Higher Education Center at Siringo Road and Yucca Street, as well as the Santa Fe Brewing Company off Hwy. 14. Still, Sellers expresses a familiar frustration among food-truck entrepreneurs trying to do business in Santa Fe.
"You wouldn't believe the number of special permits one needs just to be flexible for patrons and stay legal on the street," Sellars says. "You either get a special-event permit, an itinerant vendor permit, a separate catering permit for doing events at private homes…We're bidding on five weddings right now, and permitting can get costly. In Santa Fe, you can't just roll up to a business with your food truck and park on a public street. It's been discouraging in the past, but I know Mayor Gonzales and the city council are trying to untangle the ordinance mess that's been in place for far too long.
"Hopefully, our presence, experience and knowledge will be of some help to them. They've really been great with us."
Santa Fe city Councilor Signe Lindell is taking on the burdensome task of trying to reevaluate ordinances along with some city staff to see if food-truck and food-cart businesses can be made more attractive and accessible to established and emerging food entrepreneurs. In the meantime, SFI and SFCC have serious students to school in one of the most state-of-the-art food trucks ever to roll through the 505.
Procured through a $300,000 grant from Bernalillo County, the new Albuquerque and Santa Fe food trucks are brand-spanking new, top-to-bottom, as required by Bernalillo County statute (no used equipment is allowed to be purchased with grant money for projects such as SFI). Manufactured by a company in San Antonio, Texas, called Cruising Kitchens, each of the unleaded-fueled, six-crew trucks is equipped with two on-board 40-gallon propane tanks, an ultra-silent generator that can run for up to 200 hours, a four-burner professional range, plancha grill, griddle, two small-capacity refrigerators, a freezer, a large upright refrigerator, heat, air conditioning, Metro shelving for dry storage, a specially designed cold-holding station and more prep surface per square foot than most average one-bedroom Santa Fe apartment kitchens.
Sellers designed the trucks' glistening interior layouts, while the colorful vinyl "wraps" (exterior graphics, including the SFI logo) were designed by Santa Fe graphic artist Bob Brady. Both trucks are designed specifically to provide students with the space and equipment necessary to safely run a food-truck business, Sellers says.
With an eye toward sustainable business practices; local and sustainable agriculture; delicious, healthy food; educational opportunity and strong community involvement, SFI partners with a number of organizations that speak to its core mission and values, which include becoming a sustainable and effective catalyst for local economic revitalization in underserved areas through its educational opportunities and food practices.
"The cilantro in that pork slider you're eating right now comes from one of our partners, the Agri-Cultura Network," Sellers tells me as I bite into a juicy mini-burger with spicy ketchup. The Network is one of the few community-run farmer collectives in Albuquerque to sell their produce to Albuquerque Public Schools cafeterias year-round. Other SFI partners include the South Valley Economic Development Center, the Albuquerque Downtown Action Team and Accion New Mexico (a community-development financial institution).
The intentionally affordable food offerings from SFI will vary based on seasonality, availability, freshness, the chef's lesson plan and, of course, budget, most or all of which, Sellers says, will now stem from food sales on the trucks. But don't worry about getting a dull meal. Sellers and his crews are well versed in Korean barbecue, Oaxacan cuisine (he took students on a trip to the Mexican state last year for a hands-on tutorial), ramen, Thai favorites, and more. SFI's Roundhouse visit included succulent and healthy grilled-fish tacos, falafel tacos, mini-Rueben sammys on marbled rye with chipotle-kissed Thousand Island dressing and those pork sliders descended from heaven above.
There are no plans for a field trip for SFI students this year, but a fundraising effort is on the drawing board to make way for a spring 2016 student adventure to a place yet to be determined.
The best way to keep up with the Street Food institute and its progress in Santa Fe is to sign up to their Facebook and Twitter pages through their website. Progress on embedding the truck in Santa Fe is moving fast. SFI hopes to serve hungry diners at SFCC on March 5, and the Santa Fe Brewing Company on SFBC March 11.