On The Line: Alissa Grenis & Chris Rubinstein Of Bite Me Foods, Part One
Photo by Amanda DeFrancis
We knew about the Bite Me luxe lonchera a long time ago. What we didn't know was that she catered more than she rolled into food truck roundups. Alissa Grenis may be the brains behind the concept of cuisine that isn't deep fried (there isn't even a fryer on the truck), but she insisted on including her primary chef, Chris Rubinstein, in our spotlight as well. So we welcomed a duo of responses this week.
Your earliest food memory: Alissa Grenis: One of my oldest and fondest memories is baking carrot cake from scratch with my grandma Liz. I remember I would make a mess of her kitchen, and my whole family would get stuck eating pounds of cake every time we baked. I still have a problem with portion control. Haha. We were very close, and she passed away a couple of years before I opened the truck. She would be incredibly proud.
Chris Rubinstein:Watching my mom make a cake when I was about four or five. She let me help and I straight up destroyed the kitchen. From there I knew I had something.
Favorite meal growing up: Grenis: I was a vegetarian almost my whole life, so I basically lived off pasta and cheese. Give me a bowl of pasta, and I'm a happy girl. Unfortunately, I have a wheat allergy and am lactose intolerant, so it pains me to say that pasta and cheese are no longer a staple diet for me.
Rubenstien:Honestly anything. My mom was an awesome cook. For years, I wouldn't eat anything green, however. Which was ironic, since later I would become vegan for 16 years.
Your best recent food find: Grenis: Well, chia seeds have got me all love struck. The newest "super food" is the best. My friend/coworker Esther always makes me chia soy pudding. It's just vanilla soy milk and a couple of tablespoons of those little seeds. It's brilliant and so good for you. Costco, my friends. Costco.
Rubinstein:Coco Renos in Long Beach. Total hole in the wall taco joint. As simple as it gets, but it never lets you down.
Most undervalued ingredient: Grenis: Fresh herbs! I understand that sometimes, dried herbs are needed in certain applications, but nothing brightens up a dish like a sprinkle of fresh herbs. No matter where I have lived, I always manage to keep an herb garden. Mint, basil and parsley are my go-to herbs.
Rubinstein:SALT!!!!! It's the most basic thing in all our kitchens, but the most overlooked. People need to stop being afraid to use SALT. More times than not, a dish will be just fine and only needs a little salt, but gets ruined because the cook tries to kill it with more and more flavors.
What is your goal for Bite Me: brick & mortar, more trucks, or stay the same? Grenis: My goal for my company is to become primarily a catering company. My goal long-term is to have a product line in every market in North America. There is a lot of really bad prepackaged, frozen food on the market. There is absolutely no reason why it has to taste so bland or be so bad for you. Even the healthier, organic brands haven't nailed it. I want to change the way people eat for the greater good. After that, Food Network, baby!
Rubinstein:Help people to not be afraid of eating from a pink truck. Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best: Grenis: I love the farmers markets in OC. Every market has a good variety of vendors, with some of the best local farms around. We bring the truck to Orange Home Grown Farmers Market every second Saturday of the month. The nicest place on Earth! Seriously, the people in Orange are amazing and the market has really grown to be my favorite. Great produce and specialty items.
Rubinstein:Honestly, other than working on the truck, I've spent very little time down here. From what I know, it's amazing for getting lost and not being able to make u-turns.
What is your most popular item? Grenis: Our most popular item from the beginning has been our island grilled fish tacos. The number one question I get asked is, "Are they fried or grilled?" Really, people?! Haha. They are super light and have a bit of an Asian twist. Plus, they're gluten free, which is a hit with a lot of people. One of our newest favorites are the crispy Brussels sprouts with bacon and a maple Dijon drizzle. Who knew that so many people loved Brussels?
Rubinstein:Alissa has been serving the island grilled fish tacos since before I came along, and they're pretty damn good. The Thai Chile burger I put on the menu has been pretty popular lately.
Best advice for aspiring truck owners. Grenis: Don't open a truck and thank that it comes with a money tree. This is hard work and long hours. If you have a passion for anything, you can do it! Believe in yourself and your product. Never sell out!
Rubinstein:Be nice. Be humble. Show your personality, but don't be a dick. You're slinging food out a window, not curing cancer. Be confident, but not arrogant. You want people to eat your food, not your ego.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it? Grenis: Coffee. I'm addicted. My mom always made Gevalia coffee at home, and my dad has a plantation in El Salvador. So I guess it's in my blood. I'm not at all a coffee snob, and I hate ordering at Starbucks, I feel so incompetent . . . Tall, soy, extra shot, blah blah blah. I'm out a lot so I usually just grab a cup from Whole Foods in the morning. They have good java.
Rubinstein:Coffee. Grindcorehouse in South Philadelphia. I really need to find a coffee shop in California.
What are your favorites on the menu? Grenis: Chris makes a baked tofu and hummus pita with oven-dried tomatoes and fresh spinach that is seriously the best thing I ever ate. it's RIDICULOUS! I can't describe what it tastes like, you just have to try it for yourself.
Rubinstein:Maple smoked portobello sliders. They're my challenge to the bacon fanatics out there. Everyone knows bacon tastes good. Let's move on.
What differentiates you from the other loncheras? Grenis: We don't fry anything! Don't even have a fryer on the truck. It's kind of our motto. It bothers me that people will cook with awesome fresh ingredients and claim it's good for you, and then toss it in a fryer. It's kind of like eating a cheeseburger with a Diet Coke; what's the point? It's a challenge, but we have stuck to it. Everyone loves fried food, don't get me wrong, but I don't think it's something we need to eat every day, with every meal. Fries are good, but baked potatoes are just as tasty and better for you.
Rubinstein:We don't have a fryer. It presents a challenge sometimes (no fries), but at the same time, I love not having one than having to rely on it. Things taste good fried, that's a fact. But they taste even better when you don't feel like dying after you eat it.
One food you can't live without: Grenis: Tofu. I have been eating meat for the past three years. Loving it, by the way! Yet I still crave tofu! Boring, right?! I love the stuff.
Rubinstein:Kale. It's delicious and great for you. Granted, most of my food I make at home comes out of a blender lately. Kale goes in there, too. And avocados. I don't put them in my shakes, though. Where was your most recent meal? Grenis: Coco Renos Restaurant in Long Beach. It's this tiny taco cafe and I got tofu fajitas. Chris took me here. He's the most amazing chef I know, so when he tells me a place is good, it always is!
Rubinstein:Sushi House in Ventura. It's next door to my place and has amazing sushi. I had an avocado bomb; the name sells itself (This contradicts what I said about fried food. I'm only human.) Best culinary tip for the home cook: Grenis: Experiment. I am a home cook, never had any culinary training! Some of the best creations come from an empty fridge and a sad pantry. Also, I don't care what any "Chef" tries to tell you...Grandma's recipes will blow them out of the water every day! Good food is all about love.
Rubinstein:Make mistakes. Some of the best things I've ever made were by accident. And stop giving Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri ratings, please. They need to be stopped.
Why haven't we seen you at truck gatherings as much as others? Grenis: The truck industry is very political, like most things. I think the fact that I don't conform to the food truck norm, and have a bright pink truck, has scared some people away. Plus, Bite Me appears to be a little cheeky for some places.
Rubinstein:Most organizers are intimidated by a girl driving a giant pink truck. That's why Alissa brought me on, to soften her image a bit.
How did you come up with the concept? Grenis: I wanted to sell food, the same way I would make it at home. I hate when you go out to eat and everything just tastes like you're in a restaurant. Home cooked meals are the best; why people can't duplicate this, I don't know. So I thought, we will just serve good food, using local organic ingredients and give people REAL food. This does not mean DIET food!
What surprised you most about operating a food truck? Grenis: The thing that I was most surprised about is that there are so many people that want to eat bad food. I really had no clue that it would be so difficult to serve normal food. I truly believe that I could take any one of my daily menus to a restaurant and sell the hell out of it; doing so off a truck is a whole different challenge. We don't fry anything, and we're not carnival food. Sadly, that's what a lot of people want when they eat off a truck.
Rubinstein:They handle like hell. Seriously. If I get a semi going by me on both sides down the highway, I just shut my eyes and hope we don't die.
Strangest thing you've ever eaten: Grenis: Hmmmm. I almost ate a tomato worm with steamed broccoli. Does that count?
Rubinstein:Nacto. Basically rotten Japanese soy beans. Apparently, people like them. They're liars. Feels like you're eating snot.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own). Grenis: Love Kappo Honda in Fountain Valley, off Brookhurst. Never disappoints. My grandma Liz was Japanese, and my dad has always told me, "If there are Japanese people at a sushi restaurant, then you know it's authentic and will be good." This place has the best spicy tuna roll.
Rubinstein:Blackbird Pizza in Philadelphia.
You're making breakfast. What are you having? Grenis: I don't really make myself breakfast. My mom makes the best eggs Benedict EVER. Hard to beat it. I like pancakes and coffee, but can't seem to make either very well.
Rubinstein:Everything bagel, hummus, nutritional yeast, avocado, tomato, salt, pepper. I love making omelets, though. It was one of my first kitchen jobs when I was 17. Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?): Grenis. Last weekend we were working at Ink N Iron in Long Beach, and this young girl asked for a gluten free burger. When we told her that bread is gluten and we didn't offer gluten free bread, she was in shock. She replied, "Your truck is organic and you don't serve gluten free bread?" I told her I only eat gluten free, and I'm not paying eight bucks for a loaf of non-bread bread. Crazy.
Rubinstein:We had someone that was in disbelief that our burger buns weren't gluten free. It wasn't the request that was so odd, because it's obviously a very popular ailment these days, and we usually have gluten free options. But it was just the shock and awe they had. I thought she was going to spit on me. Is there a dish that you'd like to learn how to make? Grenis. There are so many things I have no clue how to make. A friend of mine has an old family recipe for homemade raviolis from his grandparents . . .I'm really hoping to learn how to make them one day. Fingers crossed!
Rubinstein:Timpano. Watch Big Night and tell me you don't want to make that thing.
Learn more about Bite Me Foods at www.bitemefoods.biz.
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