MIAMI (AP) — Culinary student Solomon Nerio could be slaving away on the line in any Miami restaurant, chopping onions with a dozen other chefs. Instead, he took to the road in a food truck that serves Latin-influenced burgers and tacos.
It's a career path mostly unavailable to young chefs not so long ago. But the recent popularity of food trucks like the shiny black one where Nerio interns (called “the Latin burger and taco truck'”) has opened new avenues for those looking to break out earlier rather than later in their careers.
“One thing that we're doing is we're giving these kids a lot of responsibility and ownership at the beginning,” said the truck's proprietor, Ingrid Hoffman, who also stars in the Food Network's “Simply Delicioso.”
“For me, I don't need to be the star,” she said of her truck business. “It doesn't even carry my name. I don't want it to. It's about these guys.”
Hoffman said she offers truck internships to encourage up-and-comers like Nerio to “dig into their skills.”
Nerio, a 20-year-old sophomore at Johnson & Wales University, said he can see himself running a food truck of his own one day.
“It's an opportunity you wouldn't really expect to fall in your lap,” he said, calling the internship an adventure since he receives immediate feedback from customers. At a conventional restaurant, a young cook could work for years in anonymity before getting that sort of spotlight treatment.
Nerio is one of five culinary students making burgers and three types of tacos on the truck.
Another Miami-based chef said the work is a good fit for students. Known as Chef Jeremiah, he said he plans to hire students for his Gastropod, a 1962 Airstream, once he expands.
“I think it's a smart way to go because students are easy to mold, but it's more for selfish purposes because it's cheap labor,” he said.
There is no count of food trucks operating nationally, but a recent fascination with street and other ethnic foods – as well as savvy new media marketing by some trucks – has helped their number and popularity soar.
Still, culinary educators don't see this new career path changing course offerings quite yet.
“I don't see us running a course on how to run a successful food truck,” said Brad Barnes of the Culinary Institute of America. “All in all, it's not that terribly different from anything else that takes place in our industry.”
Josh Henderson agreed. The chef and owner of the Seattle-based food truck Skillet said that though “culinary schools tend to be a year or two behind,” they already bring in chefs and experts to talk about street food.
In addition, food trucks provide a limited educational experience since they focus on one food group (like tacos or burgers) when students should be learning different styles and cooking methods, Henderson said.
Florida International University offers a hos-pitality management course designed for people who want to start businesses. The students look at trends around the country and decide how much traction they have.
“I don't think this is something I would recommend for someone right out of school,” instructor Michael Moran said of food trucks. “The conclusion we came to in our class was it was an option, if you owned a restaurant and wanted to increase your revenue.”
Still, having a food truck is a less expensive avenue than a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Jim Sturgeon, coordinator of the Johnson & Wales experiential education program, said it might be easier for a culinary student to acquire a mobile type business rather than go through the hassles of rent and permits for an actual restaurant.
Food trucks are a good option for culinary students, he said, if they have the financial backing.
“In taking a smaller unit that is on four or six wheels, and towing it behind you, you are going out and actually looking for your client base, as opposed to the client base trying to find you with all the competition,” Sturgeon said.
AP Photo/Alan Diaz. Richard Pachino, of Palm Beach Gardens, enjoys a lunch at the Latin Burger and Taco lunch truck in Miami.