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Quick Bites: Good Food in Tight Places

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Whether your digs are a 1970s-era cabin, a tiny A-frame, or a modern home, chances are you’re probably yearning for more kitchen space. But maybe what you need isn’t a bigger kitchen, but a better use of what you already have? Who better to turn to for tips on cooking good food in cramped quarters than food-truck chefs, the real pros at maximizing kitchen real estate? We rounded up three to hear their suggestions about making the most of small-space cuisine.

Stay Put

On busy nights, Truckee’s Red Truck can have six to seven people operating in the 16 square feet of working space inside the vehicle. Despite the small size, Red Truck co-owner Larry Abney said it’s no different than working in a brick-and-mortar kitchen. He likens it to a choreographed dance.

“The French call it ‘playing piano,’” said Abney. “Everyone is working around the goal of getting food out. You stay in your place and everything just flows.”

Elsa Corrigan, whose Mamasake food truck can have up to four people working inside, has a similar philosophy.

“Each person tries to keep within their two cubic feet,” she said. “You try not to move out of your place.”

Be Organized

All three food-truck chefs said that organization is the key to running a small kitchen.

“Without organization, you don’t have room for anything,” Abney said.

One of the most useful tools in this endeavor is square, stackable containers. (Reno’s Dish Truck uses Cambro’s storage boxes.) Everything is labeled and dated, and faces the same way for quick access. Sara Sims, sous chef for the Dish Truck and Dish Café & Catering, recommends having a good sharpie and masking tape on hand for labeling.

Another piece of advice is that ingredients should be stored in the order that they will be used.

“I stash the last thing I am going to use in the back of the fridge, and the first thing in front,” said Corrigan. “If I do a salad, the meat will be on the bottom, and the salad and appetizer stuff on the top shelf.”

It’s also imperative that you put everything back in the same place after using it.

Staying organized also includes moving stuff out of the way that you’re not using anymore.

“If I’m done with a bowl or pot, I get it out of the way,” said Sims.

Don’t Waste Space

Food truck kitchens are perfectly designed, said Abney, with no inch left unused.  

“There is no wasted space,” he said. “Everything is at your fingertips.”

Inside food trucks, four different levels of space are used for working and storage — counter, under the counter, above the counter, and shelves above that.

To help keep the surface area clear and to maximize counter space, Sims recommends a magnetic strip to keep all metal items, like knives, hung up.

It’s not only what you have that’s important in a small kitchen, but also what you don’t have.

“Only having what you need is big,” said Abney. “There is nothing on the food truck we don’t use. If there is, we get rid of it right away.”

For all you small-kitchen cooks out there, don’t be daunted by your lack of legroom. Instead, remember the words of Chef Corrigan about cooking in a food truck: “It’s not as different as you would think, just humbling.”

Check Out a Food Truck Rally

You can see a bunch of food trucks in one place at Reno Food Truck Fridays at the CitiCenter on E and 4th Streets, held on the first Friday of every month through October. On the other Fridays of the month through Sept. 28, Reno Street Food holds an event at Idlewild Park from 5 to 9 p.m. On Sept. 9 at the Truckee Airport, Red Truck is organizing Flying for Pups and Trucks, a benefit for the Truckee-Tahoe Humane Society featuring eight food trucks. For more information, check out Reno Food Truck Fridays, Reno Street Food, and Red Truck’s Facebook pages.

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February 14, 2019