The Dish List: SoCo Farmer’s Market “Farm to Food Truck IV” Competition

Phuc Pham | New University

Challenge accepted. These words may have been spoken by Barney Stinson in “How I Met Your Mother,” but this test was of a different kind. The Farm to Food Truck Challenge IV was an endeavor held at SoCo Farmers’ Market on Saturday, Nov. 17 from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Located in Costa Mesa near The O.C. Mart Mix, the farmer’s market hosted a competition between three food trucks for the grand prize of winning the label of Top Chop Truck. Similar to the Food Network show “Chopped,” the three food trucks, Seabird, Taco Maria and A Bite Truck, used the Certified Farmer vendors to select specific items and create a winning dish out of them. The ingredients? Butternut squash, walnuts, pomegranate, kale and mushrooms.

In lieu of true competitive spirit, the chefs from the three food trucks raced around the market to source the farm fresh ingredients to craft their gourmet creations for the audience to taste. Due to the impending rain, the Top Chop Judges were unable to attend the challenge, but the public was allowed to select their favorites for the first time.

The turnout was impressive, with the event catering mainly to food enthusiasts and connoisseurs eager to offer praise for the Farmers’ Market decadent samplings, but also welcoming to a blend of families present to enjoy the sights and sounds of an organic environment.

Taco Maria, run by Chef Carlos Salgado, won the Top Chop Truck award, with Seabirds runner-up and A Bite Truck in third place. I sat down for a brief interview with Taco Maria’s Chef Carlos, asking him about his previous culinary experience and his inspiration behind Taco Maria.

“Taco Maria is named after my mom, pretty much every woman in my family actually, which is where the idea for the name came from,” Salgado said.

The chef went on to explain his family restaurant and the legacy he strived to continue.

“I grew up in a restaurant family, a little place in Orange, a hidden gem,” he said. “I wanted to come back to savory food and my parents wanted to retire. I thought about opening a new space in Orange County but it was hard to decide where to open. At the same time, we thought food trucks were gaining popularity so that’s where the idea came from.”

When asked about his culinary background, Salgado chuckled and said, “I went to culinary school in San Francisco almost nine years ago now and that was a big waste, but I worked at some pretty great restaurants up north, specifically at Coi in San Francisco and Commis in Oakland.”

What started out as a small vision to continue his family tradition, to gaining recognition as the winner of the Top Chop Truck, Salgado has achieved quite a lot in his career as a chef, and Orange County is lucky to have him.

20 local farmers and vendors, 15 gourmet food trucks, and the three competing challengers came together to celebrate the two-year anniversary of SoCo Farmers’ Market. The appeal for the Farm to Food truck challenge inspired chefs to harvest the freshest ingredients and create a masterpiece. All three food trucks had tantalizing tidbits that left my mouth watering just from reading the menus.

First place winner Taco Maria centered on authentic Mexican food, introducing its eager customers to Carnitas a la Naranja, a rich creation of pork, slow-cooked with cinnamon and orange, avocado and pickled onions, and the Jardinero, an intriguing blend of roasted pumpkin with wilted greens, queso fresco and salsa de semillas.

Seabirds offered an array of vegan American food, specifically Creamy Oyster Mushroom Chowda, Thanksgiving Jack Tacos and Beer Battered Avocado Tacos, while also creating Tom Kha Hed, a Thai coconut mushroom soup specifically for the competition.

A Bite Truck’s motto captivated audience with its catchphrase “Where Simple is Sexy!” and had an exquisite menu of Garlic Herb Truffle Fries as a side option along with five different “bites,” among them the Tatanka Bite of bison chili over sweet potato fries with honey chipotle sour cream and tomato or the Romagna Bite, made of lamb ragu nachos complete with fresh tortilla chips, pecruno cheese and a fennel bulb red onion slaw.

The Farm to Food Truck Challenge IV and SoCo Farmers’ piqued my curiosity for venturing into the foray of gourmet food. Will I learn how to cook gourmet food for myself? We’ll see. For now, I’ll stick with tasting it.