We met Keba Parker less than a month ago while following up on a lead regarding his new luxe lonchera, A Bite Truck. Our initial meeting might as well have been the chef interview, since there wasn't much left to ask. Now that we think about it, most of the conversation was Keba singing the praises of our meal at Lola Gaspar. And he mentioned them often enough in Part One we can't help but suspect a bromance. We don't blame him, though. That wild boar mac 'n cheese was damn good.
Your earliest food memory:
Cooking with my Dad. We were poor when I was little, and he was the one who taught me how to make something out of nothing, and not be afraid to try new things with food. He was very sick when I was young, and wanted to make sure I knew how to take care of myself. By the time I was six, I could cook simple dinners for the family. He passed when I was nine, and I always associate him with food.
Favorite meal growing up:
This one is a toss up between West Indian curry chicken with roti, and lumpia shanghi. I have a very mixed family with recipes coming from the West Indies, Asia and beyond. My mom is half Chinese and from Guyana, and some of my recipes are influenced by food my Mom shared with Dad, and he passed along to me. My heritage is very mixed, and I enjoy drawing the flavors from that mixed heritage. In case you want to know, I'm Black, Chinese, Blackfoot, Cherokee, Scottish, Guyanese and Irish.
Your best recent food find:
This is so hard to answer. It's tough to narrow it down because I have come across some pretty amazing food from some really talented chefs. Chef Austin's short rib flat bread from Itriya is addicting, as is Chef Luis' Frenchie burger, shrimp and chorizo tacos and shrimp head bisque with chicken terrine toast from Lola Gaspar. Both places are great places to eat.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Salt used right. I am not a big fan of using a ton of salt (I want my patrons to have salt on their fries, not fries on their salt). It is an amazing ingredient that can do so much to awaken flavors in almost every dish. Best advice I have been given is that you can always add more salt, but you can never take it away.
Biggest challenge when operating a luxe lonchera:
Storage and refrigeration, hands down. Our first week was challenging, and we ended up having to throw away a lot of food due to an electrical plug malfunction. A costly lesson.
Places you consider chef's restaurants:
I guess I should explain what I meant by chef's restaurants. It is a restaurant where chefs can just shut off their brain and truly enjoy the food without picking it apart. Lola Gaspar, Ramos House Cafe, Itriya Cafe, and Break of Dawn are some of those places.
What should first-timers to your lonchera try?
EVERYTHING!!! Ha. Ok, I know not everyone will want to do that first time around, so I say try the Simple Bite, Rockin Lobster Bite and the Classic bite first, and then come back for more. And try our desserts; they are something that sets us apart from a number of other trucks – we do sweet and savory well.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Sense of community when it comes to food trucks. We all look out for one another down here and do our best to support one another. It shows in our food and our attitudes towards our customers. We greet them as friends, not just another faceless customer.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
Del Taco. Sometimes that is your only option after you have just worked 16 hours, and you need something cheap and filling before you pass out. I get a 99-cent burrito, a chicken quesadilla (no green chiles), and a side of secret sauce. I mix Del Inferno with the secret sauce.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
Favorite drink Trois Pistoles at Lola Gaspar. Nothing quite like working a long week and then going to Lola Gaspar and having my favorite beer and good food. Non-alcoholic: zero carb Rockstar because they keep me going on long runs on the truck.
Cristina (your wife) does some incredible desserts, like the Irish car bomb chocolate wedding cake. Tell us more!
It was pretty incredible. Actually, we have a customer who manages a local restaurant that is getting married in July. Both love mint, chocolate and a good drink; so Chef Stina (Cristina) made a dark chocolate Guinness stout cake with mint Bailey's Irish cream buttercream with Andes mint pieces, and Jameson Irish whiskey ganache for a tasting cake. It was really delicious, from what I hear.
That reminds us . . . . do you eat chocolate?
Sadly, no. Though it's not because I don't like chocolate; it's just that I am allergic to it. I find this funny, since I started in pastry, and I am unable to taste any chocolate desserts. Thankfully my pastry chef has no such allergies and makes one hell of a Mexican hot chocolate buttercream.
I'm supposed to ask about the amount of cheesecake you've consumed.
I would have to say close to 100-pounds at this point. I used to love it as a kid, and would ask for them every year on my birthday. Back when we first got started with perfecting the cheesecake we sell on the truck today, I made a lot of cheesecake and tasted them all. After a while I learned to give them away to friends and neighbors. . . they were very happy, and my gut got a break.
One food you can't live without:
A really good burger with a fried egg and grilled onions. Damn. Now I'm hungry. The Frenchie here is pretty amazing, though.
Where was your most recent meal?
Lola Gaspar. I had the grilled chicken piadina sandwich. It was excellent.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Play with your food, take chances, and be passionate about what you're cooking. If you don't love what you're cooking, don't make it.
What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
Honestly I kinda dig it. I seldom get to go out to eat these days, so I love to see what other chefs out there are doing.
Chef Luis over at Lola Gaspar. He is a damn good chef. And for him, it's all about the food.
Besides the ones you've worked on, do you have any favorite trucks, or ones you've been wanting to check out?
Dogzilla, Tasting Spoon, Dos Chinos, and Burnt (Truck). I am always stoked when I get to work a stop with them because I get to have their food.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
I don't know if I would call any food weird, just not something I am used to. I recently had some sweetbreads and blood sausage that Esteban made for us on Barcelona OnTheGo. I had not until that point had either, and they were pretty awesome.
Time to explain Old McDonald.
Ha! It's what my son calls McDonalds. He will fight you to the death if you try to tell him he is wrong. When he was younger, I took him to Old McDonalds and asked him if he wanted a chicken snack wrap, but ended up just giving him some fries.The next week, while in Oakland with my in-laws, we went to a authentic Chinese restaurant. He sat down and told the server (in a very matter-of-fact way) “Chick-o-nack please” and we almost ended up with a large order of chicken necks.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Fried egg sandwich with avocado, tomato, applewood smoked bacon, havarti cheese, and balsamic mustard. And an Americano with cream and raw sugar.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
Personally I have had some heartbreaking requests from customers, like overcooking the filet mignon to well-done, but I have not gotten any weird ones. My line cook who used to work with me on Barcelona OntheGo had someone ask for a chicken quesadilla with no cheese. Yeah, that's just chicken in a tortilla.