You may have heard the news that Danielle Custer, director of TASTE Restaurant, has left her post at SAM's culinary work of art to take her talents on the road in the form of (swoon!) a gourmet grilled cheese truck.
In a chat I had with Custer the other day, the chef-turned-manager-turned-consultant-turned-chef-again told me a bit more about what she envisions for her new truck, Monte Cristo, which has really been seven years in the making.
"My girlfriends are so glad something is finally happening, since I've been talking about it for so long," Custer jokes. "My creative juices from not being able to cook are just really flying." With up to 100 employees to manage at TASTE and several degrees of separation between her and her guests, she says, "I really missed the personal connection to food."
The catalyst finally came when she was working with Bon Appetit Management Company (which runs TASTE) to redesign three corporate cafes for Starbucks at their SoDo headquarters, and the coffee company had arranged for a regular food truck presence in the parking lot to feed employees during the remodel. Custer's own mobile food ambitions resurfaced in conversation with Bon Appetit CEO Fedele Bauccio, and before she knew it, she had secured the use of a prep kitchen, as well as funding from Bon Appetit, for her own cheese-filled dream.
She's currently on the hunt for the perfect grilled cheese vehicle (and by that I mean an automobile, not tomato soup). By spring Custer is hoping to be serving daytime lunches around town and at farmers markets, which she says are a perfect fit, as the ingredients going into a cheese sandwich can easily be sourced 100 percent by local producers.
Some will have meats like pancetta, pork belly, short ribs, bacon and smoked salmon wrapped in their melty middles, along with different jams or krauts. And of course she plans to go all mad professor on us and experiment with different cheese combinations. There will also be cheese-centric dishes like mac' n cheese, fried cheese curds and various tomato soup creations. "At the end of the day options are endless," she says.
What's more, Custer has been working with the Liquor Control Board to realize Grilled Cheese Dream Part Deux: she would like to offer bottles of perfectly-paired wine for sale along with pre-made, un-cooked sandwiches you can take home and grill yourself. "I basically just want to do everything lovely, gooey, melty and all things cheesy," she says. Amen to that, and here's hoping the liquor license and food truck stars align so this dream can become a reality for us all very soon.