City Bites

FOOD BUZZ: Self-proclaimed “food truck geek” Kathy Ferguson dishes on the hottest gourmet kitchens on wheels at home and beyond

Ferguson's favourite local truck is Bite This, parked in a private lot on Scott Street.

Kathy Ferguson, a parole officer for Correctional Service of Canada, has a not-so-secret passion: food trucks. After enduring the monotony of french fry trucks in Ottawa, she ventured out to the west coast last June for a vacation and discovered new breed of mobile vendor bringing exciting food options to the streets.

She created an itinerary for the trip around the location and availability of street food, food trucks, and open-air markets from Tofino to Seattle. Along the way, she happened to meet someone from Food Network Canada’s “Eat St.” which is how she came to be a contributor for the show’s blog. She continues to write about her street food adventures as a Special Correspondent for Eat St.

City Bites caught up with Kathy by email. She is currently on the road, eating her way across NYC and Boston and is planning a street food coastal tour from San Francisco to Tijuana in September. You can follow her adventures on twitter: @Street_Eater

How did your commitment to food truck culture get started?
It all began in 2009 when I visited the Kogi BBQ truck during a trip to California. It was my first “gourmet food truck” experience and I created my Twitter account for the sole purpose of tracking this truck. I lined up beside a dive bar in Venice Beach for 2 hours before the truck even arrived. As a solo traveller, it was fun to meet the other people in line for the truck and discuss this fun new food trend. Eventually, around 11pm, the Kogi truck arrived to cheers from the growing crowd. The short rib tacos were amazing and I returned to Ottawa with a new love for street food.

Do you have a hometown favourite truck?
Bite This is probably my favorite food truck/trailer. Their Momo Chow Wow (an Asian inspired egg noodle dish) and the mango curry wraps are unbelievable. But I definitely still have a soft spot in my heart for Stone Soup Foodworks…anybody that sells good homemade tacos automatically is a winner in my books.

When it comes to food trucks, what do you think is holding Ottawa back?
Ottawa’s food truck world can be summed up the same way this government town can be; conservative and unaccustomed to change. Unlike the “in-your-face” style of our cousins in the Toronto street food scene, Ottawa vendors are generally much quieter (in social media circles) and keep to their tight schedule of festivals and farmers markets throughout the summer.

This can be partially attributed to the strict by-laws that regulate “refreshment vehicles”.  In recent years the city has ceased issuing street vendor permits, and food truck owners are forced to find private property to lease in order to set up their business. For this reason, there are several food “trailers” that are scattered around town which stay in the same location year round (or seasonally). While the city is now considering releasing about a dozen street permits under a pilot project in 2013, many of the trucks owners I have met with are not likely to apply for these permits as they are content to keep with their current routine or location. Although all agree that it would be great to see a variety of trucks roaming the streets next summer, once again, many are hesitant to take that big leap of faith.

Furthering the dilemma is our harsh winter. Trucks in Vancouver and Toronto can operate year round, while only one in Ottawa, Stone Soup Foodworks, is brave enough to navigate the slippery streets and the coldest months as they set up throughout the school year on the campus of the University of Ottawa…a sure fire hit with thousands of hungry students looking for alternatives to the typical cafeteria lunch.

While Ottawa is host to a healthy variety of cultures, most street vendors are unwilling to take the chance on serving up a menu that is completely void of the typical “chip truck” dishes of french fries and sausages.

What needs to be done to help expand the local mobile food industry?
I think like any social/food trend, it will just take time to expand the mobile food industry in Ottawa. Everything seems take a little longer to catch on in this town. I think as people see the success that diverse street food is having in other Canadian cities, Ottawa will eventually follow suit.

I also believe that promoting the street food scene through pop-ups or “food truck rallies” would be beneficial and I am trying to organize such events. I’ve gathered a small group of local “foodies” and have the support of Ottawa truck owners, who like me have embraced the street food culture and we’re plugging away at by-laws and locations, as well as trying to find a weekend when all the local trucks can gather. I have no doubt that we will get there, but it’s proving to be quite the task. Whether it’s this summer or next, I am confident that Ottawa will catch up with the gourmet food truck trend.

Do you know of any new food trucks on the horizon that we should be looking out for?
There are a few new vendors who are planning to hit the streets this summer. Be on the lookout for the Trailer Pork Boys, a barbecue food trailer that will be parked at the Macies Best Western Hotel at the corner of Merivale and Carling. One of the owners is a chef at a local cafe on Wellington. In addition, the “Town Fryer” advertises itself as “Ottawa’s Best Streatery” and will likely be opening up along Preston Street in the coming weeks. In the west end, the “Crispy Spring Roll” trailer will serve traditional chip truck fare along with Asian favourites such as spring rolls and Pad Thai. They are likely to open any day now and are located beside the TD Bank on Main Street in Stittsville.