“It’s great fun and I love it, but it’s physically very hard work.” So begins my conversation with Amy Roberts, the owner of the Trailer Made food truck. I have come to meet her at South Melbourne Night Market. It’s 5pm, but the sun is still bright and hot—a typical summer evening in the city. Around 10 food trucks line the street, selling everything from pork sliders to paella to ice cream sandwiches. But Amy’s stands out. The attractive mint-green-and-black trailer is simply designed, more compact and not as high as the others, allowing Amy to have a more personal interaction with her customers.
Amy started her business in August 2013, originally with a partner who used to be a chef at one of Melbourne’s most exciting restaurants, Cumulus, Inc. Although they have since parted ways, Trailer Made keeps going from strength to strength. “I started this business because I love going to music festivals and this is way of incorporating that and having fun,” she says. And, the time was ripe to get into the “game.” There were around 15 food trucks when Amy started; now there are hundreds.
If you have ever been to Melbourne, you would know it’s an absolute foodie heaven. From achingly hip cafés serving ocean trout gravlax with whipped tomato foam (just for, you know, a casual brunch) to liquid nitrogen gelato to hearty pho for a fiver, this is a city where you can get literally anything on your plate. Melbournians’ obsession with food is intense and expectations are at fever pitch. An establishment’s menu—be it a fine dining restaurant, casual café, or even a food truck—is very, very important.
Amy’s menu is undoubtedly her claim to fame. A lot of food trucks are about serving fast (good, but still fast) food and the emphasis is on having a bite to eat with your friends on long summer evenings, rather than on the food itself. Amy’s mission is different. Her focus is on using seasonal, fresh produce to make healthy, filling dishes. You won’t find a deep fryer in her trailer!
The menu, which is Middle Eastern-influenced, changes every three months. When they started, Amy and her partner were inspired by an Ottolenghi cookbook they were given for Christmas the previous year. A trip to Germany, Greece, and Turkey, where they visited many street vendors and hawker markets, cemented their idea for a food truck and the general vibe of the menu.
I was damn excited to find a food truck that has a Turkish inclination. I moved from Istanbul six months ago after living there for a few years and the thing I miss most is the food. Turkish tastes definitely permeate the menu: there are highlights of sweet paprika, pistachios, and rose water. The emphasis is on spices and fresh herbs. And like for me, Amy looks after her customers’ dietary requirements. I am gluten-free, can’t have raw onion or garlic, and avoid dairy. Amy made me a fresh, crunchy salad—hold the red onion—with paprika-spiced halloumi on top (yes, yes, it’s dairy but I couldn’t resist). The flavor of pomegranate molasses, something I have dearly missed since leaving Turkey, stood out in the dressing. I also tried the chicken skewers, which were to-die-for. Good quality chicken mince perfectly spiced and served with a side of sumac-flavored yoghurt. Yummo!
Amy’s food truck also stands out for another reason: she’s a girl. Although there are a few women on the food truck scene in Melbourne (Courtney from Bibimbap and Elle from Cornutopia—one of the first females on the food truck scene, a real “power woman”—are two that stand out to Amy), it is mostly dominated by men. I am curious why and ask Amy if it has something to do with the food scene being dominated by men in general (the top chefs are more often Jamie than Nigella). She shakes her head. “Mostly I think it’s because [food trucking] is so physically taxing.” Driving trucks, using deep fryers, getting into all the logistics tends to attract more men. You have to be comfortable to service a generator and get under the hood if a problem arises on the road, she tells me. “You have to be ready to get your hands dirty.”
The locations—a music festival one day, an outdoor market the next, someone’s backyard the following—are always changing and this unpredictability and flexibility of being able to insert yourself into any situation is another reason why Amy thinks this kind of business is more appealing to men.
Amy tells me that when she rocks up to events, guys take it upon themselves to offer her assistance, with things like reversing or pulling out, you know all those things girls can’t do. “When they see that a woman is behind the wheel of that truck that just did this crazy reverse, they are amazed,” she says. But she laughs these things off. “It doesn’t just take a man to do these things—practicing gets you confident.”
Mostly though food trucking is a supportive scene. It’s different from the café/restaurant sphere because food truck owners see each other at different events all the time, which creates a nice community. “Ultimately we’re all mates who help each other out.”
People start filling into the market and pretty soon I hear someone exclaim, “Ooh, chicken skewers.” And so Amy takes her place in her charming trailer, ready to give picky Melbournian foodies what they want.
Check out Trailer Made’s movements here.
All photos by Victoria Khroundina.