When chefs escape the basement


Nick welcomes the street and beach food of a British summer. 

This is the time of the year when restaurants, or at least their chefs, come out of their shells. 

Or should I say come out of their basement kitchens. Despite the rise in the number of open kitchens and the emphasis of many younger front-of-house managers on integrating the kitchen staff more fully into the service of the customers – as was perfectly exemplified at Le Soufflot in Meursault, reviewed last week – there are still too many kitchens tucked away out of sight in basements where the sun never shines.

And sunshine is what in theory we enjoy from now on, in the northern hemisphere at least. With no guarantee, of course, but June, July and August are certainly the sunniest months. This phenomenon is recognised by the vast increase in the number of outdoor activities – music festivals, sports events, open-air cinema, family trips to the seaside, Test cricket matches, Wimbledon – where food has become a sine qua non in our enjoyment of the event itself. All this serving of food also provides an extra source of revenue for the landlord.

The notion of eating breakfast, lunch or just a snack from a transportable plate of cardboard soon to be drenched in the most appropriate sauce has become increasingly popular over the past decade. Now there is not a single food seller at London’s Borough Market that does not devote part of its sales area to a cooked takeaway meal that incorporates its principal ingredient. KERB offers a wide range of cooking styles, with 34 food trucks in all, of increasing spiciness, from its collection in Camden and King's Cross (see below). Then there are the long-time practitioners in London's Exmouth Market.

These stands are invariably manned by hearty folk, able to take the British winter along with the British summer. Then there are those who come out principally for the summer season and whose appearance on Polzeath Beach in Cornwall I first imagined as a mirage.

That was certainly my brain’s first impression of The Taco Boys food truck located on the deserted Baby Beach. Having said that, I was pretty tired. Seven of us had just completed the two-hour walk around the coastal path known as The Rumps, a delightful walk that had taken us from a car park by an abandoned tin mine round the two headlands and an Iron Age settlement and brought us down the steep incline to the beach. I, and my six pals, were all pretty hungry and thirsty.

And there was the young but well-travelled chef, Felix Craft, standing inside the pristine food truck that he owns with his partner Will Price. A couple of blackboards listed their mouthwatering offerings. It all seemed too good to be true. 

As Jennie Foleys' photograph top right shows, their food truck is brand new and very politically correct. They draw their power from four solar panels that are fitted into the roof and will provide enough electricity to power not just the griddles and cooking equipment but also a coffee machine. The two dustbins to the right are clearly marked Compost for the stuff that can be recycled and Trash for that which cannot. Just above, is a container marked Trays into which customers can put the metal trays that they have eaten off, which are cleaned and reused.

Their tacos are excellent. Most of us plumped for the Full English breakfast taco, which came topped with a fried egg and was absolutely delicious – someone [me – JR] was heard to mutter that this was ‘the best taco that they had ever eaten’ although this may have had something to do with their appetite as well as the location in which they were eating it – at a table constructed by Craft’s father, on the beach, by the sea and under the hot Cornish sun.

It is these conditions that persuaded the talented Craft and Price, both 22, to establish their food truck here. Price is from a service background while Craft is the chef – an obviously talented one as his CV includes stints at Gordon Jones in Bath; AnnaLena, one of the top restaurants in Vancouver; and most recently as head chef at the St Enodoc Hotel, just round the coast in Rock which is where these two met.

Craft used to come down for a drink after work to the pub/restaurant where Price worked. They got on and when the pub did not have enough shifts for Price, he started working at the hotel and the seeds of the idea for the Taco Boys were sown. Their van will have required a significant investment – I would guess over £30,000 – but it's considerably smaller than an investment in bricks and mortar. So once again they will not be in this business to get rich quick. But Craft and Price are happy.

And they are principally happy because they are cooking what they want to, they can watch their customers relax and enjoy their food and because their surroundings could not be more spectacular. 'Rather than being cooped up in a basement kitchen', Craft explained, 'we are out on the beach, under the sun and within a stone’s throw of the sea. What could be nicer?'

These surroundings are obviously not guaranteed. As well as the risk of inclement weather, there is the prospect of the spring and neep tides that bring the sea water up to where their truck is situated and requires the truck to be taken off the beach at low tide and driven around the headland to safety every fortnight. Not a problem for these adventurous young businessmen.

By this stage in our conversation, more customers had begun to arrive. It had just turned 1 pm so Craft moved from his breakfast to lunch menu and offered us some of his excellent fried chicken with sesame mayonnaise as well as his cookies, based on a recipe his mother had learnt while working in a local delicatessen. All were first class.

I wish Craft and Price all the best for their forthcoming hard work over the summer months. The physical exertion of bringing all the raw ingredients down to the beach, as well as clearing up after their customers, plus standing all day – not to mention smiling – will take its toll. But whether that will be more or less than the pleasure they receive from cooking what they want in a pretty wonderful situation, well that is a question only they, and all the other chefs who will follow their brave example over the coming months, can answer.

Taco Boys Baby Beach Lane, Polzeath, Cornwall PL27 6UQ