On the road again (+recipes)

By Grant Allen

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Michael Van de Elzen's truck is ready to roll again and Grant Allen goes along for the ride.

Chef Michael Van De Elzen prepares Thai food in the Food Truck. Photo / Getty Images
Chef Michael Van De Elzen prepares Thai food in the Food Truck. Photo / Getty Images

The makers of this old Bedford truck would never have guessed the starring role it was destined to play in a popular food television series.

Nick Ward and James Anderson of the Two Heads Production TV company had a brainwave for a series set in a "food truck", and started a hunt for the perfect vehicle.

They found the Bedford languishing in a farm barn.

TV One bought the idea, the truck was converted into a travelling kitchen, and the show was heading for the road.

But there was one thing missing, a star to cook in the truck. A number of chefs were auditioned, and Michael Van de Elzen of Molten restaurant in Mt Eden was a natural. He took his skills in fine dining and applied them to making fast food in an entertaining way.

The formula for the show was a hit. Who doesn't like the odd takeaway? The Food Truck presented Van de Elzen and the truck on the road, competing with standard-offer fast food and testing the public response. The food had to compete on price, had to be viable as a possible business and had to win public approval.

It had to stand the test of the real world.

The first series was so successful that Nick, James and Mike have revved the truck up again for series two, starting next Sunday.

This time around, Van de Elzen will challenge international takeaway dishes such as Mexican tacos, Chinese dumplings, Thai fish cakes as well as buttery French cuisine and the essential late-night Middle Eastern kebab.

Each week, Van de Elzen samples and learns about a different world food then tries to put his spin on it, trying to put a healthy twist on his offers.

Van de Elzen's cooking experiments are done in public with people from a range of backgrounds taste-testing his results and giving feedback.

The day I visited, the crew was filming a Thai food episode. Parked up outside a Thai kick-boxing studio, cooking a selection of Thai dishes, Van de Elzen planned to check their appeal to some authentic "customers"when training finished.

I did a bit of chopping with him in the truck. It's well fitted out but, in reality, is smaller than most kitchens. There are no special tricks used because part of the challenge is to make dishes that work with what's on hand. I left before the boxers arrived but apparently the Pad Thai passed the test with flying colours.

Chopping up some lime leaf and lemon grass with Mike reminded me how long it was since I'd eaten any Thai food. It seems to have gone under the radar a bit of late as other world cuisines come to the fore. We've taken to it with gusto over the years; there would be very few kitchens that didn't now stock sweet chilli sauce.

Thai food is sophisticated in its flavour balance - hot, sweet, sour, bitter and salt bounce around the mouth as we eat it. It's fresh and fast to make and its chilli content makes it a winter warmer. Revive a bit of Thai food at home, here are some well known dishes to try.


Recipes
Michael's pad Thai
Thai beef salad
Thai fish cakes
Tom yum soup with coconut milk (tom kha)


The new series of The Food Truck starts next Sunday, June 9, at 8pm on TV One.

- Herald on Sunday

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