Chatty crowds line outside The Lime Trucks’ windows. Many are regulars at the two bright-green gourmet food trucks.
They know Jason Quinn’s culinary talent.
They’ve tasted the ever-changing menu, everything from Ahi Poke Nachos to Carnitas Fries, Lamb-Tzatziki Sandwiches to Crisp-Cooked Fresh Shishito Peppers.
They are hooked on the flavor-packed dishes that are executed, miraculously, in a cramped space with one fryer, one steam table and one flattop grill.
Quinn, 25, The Lime Truck’s co-owner and consulting chef, grew up in Irvine and realized his passion and talent for cooking in his late teens.
We spoke early one morning outside The Lime Truck. It was parked at the Irvine commissary where several gourmet food trucks overnight. Where they prep and receive provisions.
I had a hundred questions. There’s fire behind Quinn’s ocean-blue eyes, a kind of heat fueled by culinary passion and insatiable curiosity. Our discussion made me hungry. Here is a little sample.
C.T. You worked at a variety of restaurants before starting The Lime Truck. How did the truck come about?
J.Q. Daniel (Shemtob) called and asked me if I wanted to do a gourmet food truck. At the time, we didn’t know all that much about it. So we did what we knew how to do and hoped for the best. Daniel, the co-owner, is the business end of The Lime Truck. And since we started, the business has changed a lot. Now there are thousands of new food trucks across the country.
C.T. The Lime Truck is one of the gourmet food trucks featured on season two of the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” that launches on August 14. I heard you were filmed running through the streets of Memphis carrying a whole hog.
J.Q. The show was one of the best experiences of my life. I got to meet so many amazing people across the country, from Malibu to Miami. It was so great to get a real slice of American pie – we drove and cooked through everything for seven and a half weeks.
C.T. You describe your cuisine as ingredient-driven? Fresh fruits and vegetables play a big part in that, right? You have a Melissa’s Produce logo on the side of your truck?
J.Q. Yes, our produce is from Melissa’s. It gets delivered here, but once a month or so I visit Melissa’s warehouses in L.A. It’s better than Disneyland. I get someone to walk around with me and point out new seasonal produce. Often I take a new member of the staff with me. We walk, cut up produce and take bites. The last time that meant three new types of melon: Honey Kiss, Gaya and French Kiss. And the best corn I have ever tasted. And Rich Lady Peaches, yellow-fleshed peaches that were so good it changed my life.
C.T. Talking about changing your life, you are opening your own brick-and-mortar restaurant? A Santa Ana eatery called Playground that will open soon?
J.Q. Yes, shooting for late August or early September. Daniel and I want to take different paths. I see the trucks as chef-driven, but he wants to syndicate. The trucks limit the kind of food that I can produce. Playground will feature burgers … the best burgers with ingredients not seen before: Parmesan pretzel buns, homemade mayo, Kobe patties, red-onion marmalade with sherry vinegar to wake it up a little, a mix of Gruyere, Mozzarella and St. Agur (double-cream blue) cheeses. Arugula dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice. A little yellow mustard. Oh man, it’s good. Our job as chefs is not necessarily to create new combinations, but to look at things that already work and theoretically make them better.
The Food Network’s second season of “The Great Food Truck Race” launches on August 14. Hosted by Tyler Florence, eight of the top food trucks in the country battle for a life-changing $100,000 grand prize, double the cash prize awarded in season one. This season’s competitors include two Orange County-based food trucks, The Lime Truck (Irvine) and Seabirds (Costa Mesa). Other trucks include Café Con Leche (Los Angeles), Devilicious (San Diego), Hodge Podge (Cleveland), Korilla BBQ (New York), Roxy’s Grilled Cheese (Boston), and Sky’s Gourmet Tacos (Los Angeles).
The seven-episode series premieres on Sunday, August 14th at 10pm ET/PT.
Here are two of Jason Quinn’s Lime Truck recipes. They are written in his words. One of his goals is to give your creative side and taste buds a little nudge, instructing you to add ingredients and/or toppings to suit your taste.
Lime Truck Crab, Scallop and Shrimp Ceviche
Yield: 4 appetizer servings
1 pound cooked blue crab meat
1/2 pound tiniest bay scallops you can find (usually 80-120 per pound)
1/2 pound cooked (chilled shrimp) of your desired size (we use 250-300 but if you want to impress your guests use 20-30)
Sriracha hot sauce, to taste
Sugar, to taste
Salt, to taste
Lime juice (fresh or I’ll come after you with my chef’s knife), to taste
Fresh cilantro, chopped, to taste
Optional add-ons: Raw corn kernels (simply cut off the cob), Avocado, diced, Tomato, diced,
Cucumber, diced, Mango, diced, Pineapple, diced, Macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped, Marcona almonds, coarsely chopped, Bell peppers, diced
Garnish: tortilla chips
1. In a non-reactive bowl, such as glass or ceramic, gently toss seafood. Add Sriracha, sugar, salt, fresh lime juice and cilantro to taste. I can’t tell you how much Sriracha because I don’t know how spicy you want yours, likewise with all others. Keep adding until it’s balanced and you like it. That’s when it’s done.
2. Add add-on ingredients to your own contentment, but use no more than 4. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
3. Serve with tortilla chips and although it keeps well in refrigerator for 2 days, it’s best after 30 minutes. Also, feel free to add lemon, orange or grapefruit juice. This is by no means the only way to do it, just the way that works for us.
Source: Jason Quinn, Consulting Chef, The Lime Truck
Nut-Crusted Goat Cheese
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 cup nut of your choice (almond, walnut, macadamia, pecan, cashew) ground up in a food processor
1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs, mixed with the ground up nuts
About 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs beaten
1 pound log-style fresh goat cheese, frozen, then cut into 4-6 equal pieces depending on how many portions you need.
Coarse salt to taste
For serving: pita chips
Garnish: salsa of choice, such as mango-bell pepper, pineapple-tomatillo, nectarine-red onion or beet-mint
Cook’s notes: For mango salsa, combine 2 cups finely diced mango with 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, 1/ 2 minced jalapeno (seeded), juice of 1 lime and salt to taste. Gently toss with 1/ 4 cup finely diced red onion and, if desired, a splash orange juice.
1. Place nuts and Panko in shallow dish, such as a pie pan, and stir to combine. Place flour in a similar shallow dish. Place eggs in shallow dish. Dip each slice of goat cheese in flour, then eggs, then Panko mixture.
2. Either deep-fry the coated cheese slices or bake them. To deep-fry, in a large, deep pot bring 4 inches of peanut oil (chances are, if you’re making this, your guests won’t have a nut allergy) to 350 degrees. Use a thermometer to check the temperature. Place goat cheese in and cook until golden brown and delicious, about 2 minutes. OR, if baking, preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place large ovenproof skillet on medium heat, and get it hot. Place a thin layer of oil in the pan and add coated cheese slices. Wait until it colors nicely and turn the slices over. Once flipped, place in oven. Wait 4 to 5 minutes and you’re done.
3. Although goat cheese is salty, the breading will need some salt, especially if it has been fried, so season with salt to taste. Although this is good on anything, we usually serve it with pita chips and a salsa of some kind. Here are salsas that we have done, but feel free to make your own: mango-bell pepper, pineapple-tomatillo, nectarine-red onion, or beet-mint. The sky is the limit. Feel free to experiment here, seriously the goat cheese would be good on cardboard so you can’t really mess it up too bad. Good luck and eat well.
Source: Jason Quinn, Consulting Chef, The Lime Truck
Chef Jason Quinn owns the Santa Ana restaurant, Playground..
Hey, I wanna try those Rich Lady Peaches!