Food Truck Owner With Drive: ‘Chef Driven Culinary Craft’

Owner’s Classical Training Meets the People
By MARIA SCANDALE | Sep 04, 2018
Supplied Photo

When word of mouth sends folks tripping over things running toward the food truck, the specialty sandwiches must be that good.

Kristopher Greene’s Chef Driven Culinary Craft food trailer is more like a restaurant on wheels.

He’s a classically trained, award-winning chef with 20 years of restaurant experience in Maryland, Pennsylvania and the Jersey Shore. Now, as his own boss, the hours are less grueling and he is driven to re-invent his name in the LBI region, closer to families of his and fiancée Lily Kuti.

The esteemed Culinary Institute of America honed his ability to create a memorable menu. A brand new 2017 food trailer presents the element of surprise to events and catering.

The menu echoed the beer that the brewery showcased when Chef Driven came to Manahopkin, the recent craft beer festival held at Manafirkin Brewing Company on East Bay Avenue, Manahawkin. Reaction was so welcoming, and the social media so blown up, that they were invited back to Manafirkin for Sept. 7 (3-10 p.m.) and Sept. 8 (noon- 9 p.m.) along with Sept. 22, Oct. 7 and Nov. 21.

“With me working in several microbreweries in Maryland, and having experience with different microbrew beers, and learning about beers and wines in school, I was able to realize the flavor profile and then reduce the beers to more of a syrup or reduction, which I would fold into my barbecue sauce or make a sweet soy sauce out of,” Greene elaborated.

“So, we did a crispy pork belly with their mystery porter meat-soy sauce; and seaweed slaw with purple cabbage and spicy mayo and fresh cucumber.”

For the smoked brisket Reuben served at Manahopkin, beer flavored the sauerkraut.

“On the menu, we paired ‘this sandwich is good with that beer.’ So it was something that no other food truck ever did there,” added Kuti. “And the response was amazing!”

The name Chef Driven is a clever play on mobile food delivery, but it means more.

“It’s the art of the craft, driven by a true chef,” Greene stated. “It’s the industry pushed forward by somebody who is leading it.”

He speaks with passion at the age of 38, when experience is equaled by years left of possibility.

“I want to drive the industry forward. I don’t want to sit and stagnate. I want to always learn, always push forward. I want to be better every time I make something else.”

Innovative, simple and exploring the modern variations of continental fusion with a preference for fresh, seasonal ingredients utilizing local herbs, vegetables, hand-cut meats, fresh fish and simple sauces is what Chef Kristopher Greene’s cooking style is all about.

Culinary craft does not all take place in a 7x12x9-foot vehicle with a three-foot flat top grill, two-burner propane stove, fridge/freezer and sinks. Food trucks need a certified commissary – theirs is the Spray Beach Yacht Club.

Pork belly preparation, the Chef Driven way, is a three-day process: it’s Chinese five-spice cured, roasted and pressed.

One man close to the food industry told Greene the pork belly taco left him “speechless,” and then he came up with, “It’s the best thing I ever put in my mouth!”

Recalled Kuti, “One guy was running because he thought we would run out, and he tripped over the door trying to run out to the truck.”

Why such reaction?

“Technique,” Greene answered, “and I have a passion for the food. This is what I wanted to do.”

At his fiancée’s urging, he went on. “I know that the joy that I get out of making the food, I can make you feel that when you taste it.

“When I make the pork belly, when I see it once it’s cured, and I see that the skin is right, and then I cook it and I see after three hours how tender it is and I can smell the five-spice, and I know that when I rest it overnight and I slice it the next day it’s going to be tender but tight together and uniform, and I know that when I sear it on the flat top and somebody eats that piece of pork – they’re going to smile inside, like I am when I’m making it.”

Culinary Institute of America standards weed out aspiring chefs from those who suppose “maybe I’ll be a cook,” Greene remarked.

“I got into it to make food the right way, and the way it’s supposed to be made.”

Of 1,800 that applied with Greene, 68 got accepted. Only 10 graduated.

“They want to produce, like, the Navy SEAL of cooking,” Greene suggested an analogy. “I went to the school that all the chefs that are the best chefs in the country went to.”

He grew up in Leonia, the same hometown as the late Anthony Bourdain, also a Culinary Institute of America alum. Chef Greene has been recognized with several culinary awards for his talent. Those he values most are two first-place achievements of the International Chefs Night Out; and his induction into Best Chefs America, which is based on peer nominations.

“Best Chefs America had a huge – I guess you could say a net – thrown out to everybody who cooks and is a chef. And they said, ‘who amongst the peers that you know is the best in the industry?’ And our own peers shot back to them. There were only 5,000 people that made the list. Thomas Keller, who is, in my opinion, the best chef in the whole nation – he owns The French Laundry in Napa – he’s on the same list as me: a kid from Jersey, who went to CIA, came back to Maryland, then moved back to the Jersey Shore. And I’m on the same list as Thomas Keller. It’s amazing!”

By the age of 23, Greene was the youngest executive chef in Frederick, Md. when he accepted the position at Barley & Hops Grill and Microbrewery. He had started in restaurant kitchens in the historic city at age 12.

He relocated to the Jersey Shore in 2005 and continued his career working at several premium restaurants and hotels. Among them, he was executive sous chef at daddyO Boutique Hotel and Restaurant in Brant Beach; executive chef of the renown Mansion Inn at New Hope, Pa.; and executive chef at Atlantic Bar and Grill in Seaside Park. In 2013, Greene accepted the position of chef de cuisine at the luxurious Water’s Edge on Barnegat Bay, where three years later he was promoted to executive chef. He lives in Barnegat.

Owning a food truck, as with a restaurant, means knowing resourcing, pricing, staffing, menu control, seasonality – and you’re the plumber if something breaks. Unlike many other food trucks, he does not specialize in one item and run with that only.

Knowing the science, the hows and whys of preparing all kinds of food, means all the difference in the taste.

Greene will explain about brining chicken and pork (using salt, sugar and an acid such as vinegar, wine or lemon juice) to lock in moisture and transfer flavor at the cellular level. He’ll talk about the science of ripening to explain why they buy their fruit varieties on separate days to insure that every piece on the fruit platter at a catered party is the same vibrant ripeness.

People ask him why he doesn’t work in Philly or New York, making $150,000.

Because he doesn’t want to, he says, referring to the “grueling” schedule.

So he’s here, getting his name re-known, working side-by-side with his fiancée, who is studying to be a registered nurse. His own destination restaurant, possibly in partnership with friends, is on the agenda in the next decade.

“I would like to maybe eventually open a gastropub where I could confit a whole suckling pig in duck fat and serve it as a dinner.

“Or something else that no one else is doing.”

For the food trailer’s schedule, watch their Facebook page, Chef Driven Culinary Craft. For “Sky’s the Limit” catering, find the contact info on their Facebook page, follow them on Instagram, or e-mail chefdrivenculinarycraft@gmail.com.

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

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