I was delighted to receive an invite for a special lunch prepared by Charles Slonaker of the Go Chew Gourmet Food Truck. The tweet I received asked, “Would you be interested in coming to a 3 course tasting menu in Koreatown this Saturday at 1?” He later said that there would be two “seatings” available and I selected 11:00am.
I first met Charles at Wine Expo in Santa Monica back in February of this year and while I thoroughly enjoyed his Korean fusion rice bowls (you can read my review here), I was somewhat skeptical about his long-term success. He ran the truck by himself and after I ordered two rice bowls, he asked me whether I would be willing to wait 30 minutes for the rice to cook. I told him that I needed to get home and so he provided both on a bed of lettuce.
Charles has an impressive resume as a chef. He has worked at Michelin rated restaurants such as Noma in Copenhagen Denmark, Comerc 24 in Barcelona Spain, Nobu 57 in New York City as well as Valentino in Las Vegas. He decided to launch a pop-up food truck serving organic rice bowls mostly to learn from the experience and grow as an individual.
I arrived a few minutes early and was relieved that the Go Chew truck was already there. Charles came walking up to the truck and warmly greeted me. He told me that I was the only person that RSVP’ed for the 11:00 timeslot and so he asked if I would mind having my lunch aboard his truck. I jumped at the chance to have a private lunch with Charles.
I had no idea what to expect for lunch, but was looking forward to the adventure. Charles is deadly serious about his cooking and unlike some chefs that take short cuts, he prepares everything to order. He told me that I was his guinea pig as he had never made any of the dishes before. Making them for me would help him for the second “seating” in two hours.
The first dish Charles provided was a mixture of Campari tomato, diced mangos and watermelon with Thai bird chili. He finished it off by squeezing some limes and added some Korean sea salt. As you can see, the colors were amazing and I really enjoyed the taste of the Campari tomato.
The second course was oyster with fish ball. The sauce surrounding the combination was made out of dashi (Japanese sea soup stock) and lime juice. I grew up on Japanese udon with dashi and never thought about using it as a base for fresh oysters.
Coconut crab topped with thinly sliced cucumber, avocado, mango and kimchi was the third course that Charles prepared. As you can discern from the image, Charles painstakingly creates both visual works of art that are to be slowly enjoyed with every bite.
Charles laughed at me on the next item. He asked me, “If I serve you a shrimp head, will you eat it?” I responded “Of course!” He then added that it’s very difficult to make anything interesting as he referred to his truck as a “hot dog truck”. Since he didn’t have a deep fryer, he took the steel container that normally holds chopped items like peppers or onions, placed that on the griddle and used that as his deep fryer. The deep fried shrimp head with ceviche and a shrimp chip ended up to be my favorite dish. The crunchiness and favors were a delight to my taste buds. I still think about that dish today.
I thought to myself that Charles advertised this as a 3-course meal and that the shrimp was dish number 4. I don’t know if he lost track, but Charles was really excited on making his version of the “PB&J”. In fact, he said that he’s never used Nutella before. The dish ended up being quite colorful: lychees with a single green grape and Nutella spread topped with powdered honey granules.
Throughout the meal, we talked about various challenges he faced in running his own truck. He recently was involved in an auto accident and now his truck is his only vehicle. Charles remains homeless and he is not ashamed to admit it; in fact he wanted me to mention it. He frequently parks his truck near The Brig in Venice and has a friend nearby where he can take a shower.
It was nearing 1:00 and almost time for his second “seating”. Charles asked if I wanted to try the slider that is popular with the customers of The Brig. He popped open a can of spam, placed two slider buns on the griddle and slightly burned them. He added hoisin sauce, Siracha and kimchi and served it to me. It seemed like the perfect slider to enjoy with a cold brew.
Charles is fighting for his existence on the Streets of LA and he is to be applauded for not giving up and his “Go For Broke” attitude. Since he may decide to fold up his pop-up business at any time, I suggest you follow him on Twitter so that you can sample his delicious offerings. Just be forewarned that he prepares whatever he’s in the mood for and so you can’t go expecting anything in particular.
Have you experienced Charles’ food before? Let me know your thoughts by adding a comment below.