Atilla Yilmaz was once in the police force, and now he’s running a food truck. The Al Carbon trailer on hydraulics, to be exact.
Quite a career change some might think, but we find out it’s really a dream he’s had for quite some time. We have a chat to Attila about growing up around his father’s kebab van, Mexican culture, the best way to have tacos and why Sydney is long overdue for the street food scene!
What’s the idea behind your truck?
I’ve actually had this idea for about 5 or 6 years and it all came from my father. As a kid, my dad had one of the first kebab vans getting around in Canberra where I grew up most of my life. I just remember the feeling and the atmosphere of being at those markets and festivals, and of my dad and the pride he took to produce a really good quality product. He used to make them with love and care and pride. I just remember having the line-up and the people – it was kind of just this party atmosphere that used to kick off around the food van when I was a kid.
That was part of the inspiration, but I’ve also been watching what’s been happening in the States for the last 5 or 6 years very closely. I kind of dreamed of doing it. I was in the police force for 12 years, and was unfortunately injured a couple of years ago and no longer able to continue with my duties. The necessity came for me to create an income and I knew immediately this is what I wanted to fall back into.
Do you have a star dish on your menu?
I do. I’m basically doing soft-shell tacos. I’m doing Carne Asada, which is the traditional taco of North Mexico and the Sonora region of Mexico. So I’m paying homage to what they do, and we’ll be cooking over charcoal, hence the name Al Carbon which means cooked over charcoal in Spanish. Our star dish, I guess, is the Carne Asada tacos, which is the beef, and our Al Pastor, which means “shepherd-style”, but that’s the marinated pork tacos cooked over rotisserie over charcoal.
What do you need to think about when putting together a food truck menu?
You need to make it simple, it needs to be able to be cooked quickly, and it needs to be tasty. They’re the three really important things.
I’ve always had a very close association and a love of Mexican cuisine, but I’ve known that no-one’s really doing authentic street tacos here in Australia. For me, the taco’s always been very complicated here – people over-complicate it and they put too much on it. With a taco, less is generally more, so we use really good quality meat, marinated and [pair it] with a really nice range of homemade salsas you can choose from, depending on what heat you want on it.
Where will your produce come from?
I try to keep things as local as possible. I’m an inner-west boy so I like to use the providores and businesses close to me. I use market gardeners for a lot of my herbs. A lot of the chillies we will be growing ourselves, but many of them we unfortunately can’t grow here because our climate isn’t suited to it, so we have to import them in. There’s a Mexican importer here that I go direct for my dried chillies, but most of the other stuff we make fresh to order. All of our tortillas we make ourselves, and we make fresh to order on the truck, right in front of everyone.
What’s the hardest thing about setting up a food truck?
Wow… you know what? It’s been the design process! It’s been huge. Not being a trained designer, I started drawing up plans about 18 months ago. So drawing and fabricating has been the hardest thing, and just making sure everything works. You’ve got things to consider like weight limits and where you’re going to be able to park the thing, functionality, compliance with council requirements… all those sorts of things. So I reckon for me that’s the toughest thing – fabrication.
How are we going to find you?
Sydney Council currently has development applications in for 13 different locations. Word on the grapevine is some of the major parks; some of the city streets will be available as well. They haven’t actually given us a complete list yet, so it’s depending on the DAs to come through.
[The food truck app] will be excellent. Social media is the way to go with this; it’s going to be huge. People like The Taco Truck from Melbourne – they’ve proven that to be the case. They’ve got 11 000 people following them on Facebook in less than 12 months. It’s huge. I mean I’ve got close to (at last count) 350 people following on Twitter and we haven’t even sold a taco yet! It’s fantastic. As soon as we launch, it’s going to get bigger.
Do you think Sydney is ready for food trucks?
I think we’re long overdue for food trucks. I started working on this before Sydney Council even brought this out. I was already constructing mine and I was just going to pitch it to Council and go out there on my own and hopefully build a street food scene in Sydney, so this is a bit of a dream of mine.
I think it’s very sad that for such an international, culturally-diverse city, we do not have a street food scene. I think we must be one of the only countries in the world that really doesn’t. I mean you travel anywhere through Europe, Asia, South Americas, even the US, and it’s booming. As the economy gets tireder, people still want to eat great food but they don’t want to pay the restaurant prices, so there’s definitely a market for it.
Look at what’s happened in the US in the last 6 years – it’s been the boom industry, and they’ve gone through the worst economic times in almost in it’s history. I think we’re long overdue; we really need it.
What can you eat after 10pm in the city that’s good quality? I think it’ll draw a different crowd into different city areas, and will utilise areas that aren’t usually utilised at nights. Talking from a police perspective, it was always my pitch that it’s actually a crime prevention initiative as well. If you can put a couple of great food vendors in a park at night that creates life, creates light, you’re less likely to have a crime occur in that area. It doesn’t solve crime but it kind of displaces it.
When it comes to food, what are you and your team most passionate about?
I am most passionate about paying homage to the Taqueros of Sonora and Baja Mexico, and just doing what they’ve done for the last hundred years and not changing it up, and not modernising it, and not putting a special twist on it. Just doing what they do and doing it well.
Millions of Mexicans and Americans can’t be wrong if that’s what they’re crying out for. When I travelled through Mexico and LA, the best tacos I had were the simplest – done with quality ingredients and handmade, not using anything artificial and that’s what we’re going to be doing: everything’s fresh, cooked and made to order.
Who or what inspires you?
It’s making people happy. It’s seeing people enjoy my food that really drives me. Yeah, it’s a business and it’s about making money, but really, I think the most pleasure I’m going to get out of this is when we roll out and people see the huge barbeques, the hot coal burning, all the food cooking, and creating that party atmosphere around our trailer is going to be what motivates me hugely.
For me, always the best parties I’ve been to are parties in the kitchen… parties always end up in the kitchen for some reason! That’s what I’m trying to create, that kind of vibe. We’re very interactive with our trailer, which is on hydraulics so it lowers down to ground level. With food vans and trucks, you can never see what’s going on inside, you’re always looking up and they’re always looking down. Ours actually lowers right over the ground, it’s all standing on the same level and it’s like a big open market stall kind of thing.
What’s your top tip for cooking on the go?
It’s just being organised and being prepped and ready. Having all your preparation done beforehand makes a huge difference. Preparation is the key.
Where did you learn your culinary skills?
My father was a chef, so I learnt from him. Then I went on to cook in other cuisines, largely self taught and learnt from other chefs that I worked with. The Mexican stuff is self-taught – as well as from when I went over to Mexico and spent a lot of time with the guys from there, and learnt from the best!
If you had just three ingredients to cook with, what would they be?
Just three? Wow, that’s a really, really big one. If I just had to do a really basic thing, good quality Angus beef, fresh limes and sea salt and you’ve got a good barbeque right there.
What food trends are you most excited about this year?
Mexican’s huge – it’s really starting to take off. But I think people are now swaying towards more authentic Mexican - that excites me. Actually, you know the real trend I’m starting to see are people cooking with charcoal. Cooking over natural hot coals, that’s becoming a trend. And I like it, because that’s what we do. You don’t get the same sort of flavour any other way.
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