Monday, October 29, 2012

Montréal une ville à croquer: The MTL Food Truck / Street Food public consultation primer

For a complete listing of the upcoming Montreal municipal public consultations on Bouffe de rue (Street Food) click here.

Pas D'Cochon Dans Mon Salon
If you would like to read our tasting notes on MTL's food trucks click here.

These are our notes and impressions after attending a panel discussion organized by Projet Montréal on street food in late August 2012. We have done our best to sum up what was said by the speakers but if we misinterpreted anybody in our paraphrasing, or perhaps made you sound less eloquent, all we can say is Gabba Gabba Hey sorry for the mistake.
The panel moderator was Food Blogger Clarah Germain and on the panel we have: Gaëlle Cerf from Grumman '78, Marie Marquis a Professor from the Nutrition Department l’Université de Montréal, Peter Katsoudas owner and restaurateur of Rib’n Reef steakhouse and François William Croteau borough mayor of Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie. 

It is no secret that food trucks are all rage these days and judging from the turn out at the Projet Montreal panel discussion (we counted at least 75 people) their popularity is evident. Not sure how many of you have attended political meetings but big turn outs tend to be a rarity. Projet Montréal might what to consider finishing all their meetings with food trucks as attendees at the discussion were given the chance to have a few bites the Grumman'78 truck and Nouveau Palais Winneburger. Projet Montreal Party leader Richard Bergeron was caught front and centre chowing down on a Grumman taco before the panel discussion even began. Clarah Germain called attention to Bergeron saying he must have used his VIP status to get food before the end of the discussion. 

Ask & You shall Receive: Street Food Consultations
The reason given for the municipal bylaw against street and food trucks in Montreal was hygiene. In our research, we have heard stories that Mayor Jean Drapeau who got rid of food trucks in 1967, coincidentally the same year as Montreal's world fair, was because he thought they were an eye sore. Imagine an old run down rusty food truck and you get the idea. Mayor Drapeau wanted the city to look nice given its appearance on the world stage. We have also heard the story that Mayor Drapeau, as a restaurant owner, did not like the competition from food trucks. Whatever reasons: hygiene, quality of life in the city (visual, nutrition...) and competition against sedentary restaurants was all addressed in this panel discussion.

Free Smiles at Grumman'78
Gaëlle Cerf: The Grumman'78 truck is celebrating its second year this summer (2012). The green taco truck is leading the way in bringing street food back to Montreal. They have also created an association with other local food truckers called L'Association des Restaurateurs de Rue du Québec (ARRQ). Cerf explained the Grumman modus operandi in food service consists of a production kitchen where the food is made. The food is then reheated prior to being served from their truck thus ensuring high quality of food but also ideal temperature. Cerf made the point that you can get a good hot dog on the cheap all over town so why should food trucks offer the same service? Grumman is trying to offer something different.  In explaining their quality control and standards Cerf stated that they are the same as any other restaurant and given their use of a production kitchen they are really no different than any regular (sedentary) restaurant. 

Grumman Production Kitchen
Because of the municipal bylaws prohibit food trucks the Grumman gang has had to be creative in serving the public. Private lands are allowed as long as a food truck is a certain distance from the sidewalk (public area). In 2011, the Grumman'78 truck started making appearances on summer festival sites and in true Canadian style the Grumman crew braved have also the elements at Igloofest and Montréal en Lumière's, Nuit Blanche. During the Q & A session that followed it was asked whether winter posed a problem to food trucks and the joke was made that for some of the cooks it was the first time they were not hot in the kitchen. The Grumman production (H.Q.) kitchen has restaurant status meaning the space can be used for private events (they are now open to the public 3 days a week) and are licensed to sell alcohol. They also hold the occasional open to the public events. The Grumman events at their H.Q. helps their business survive during the winter months.

This summer, Cerf said they there are new players in the food truck scene who have partnered up in their association (ARRQ). In all cases these trucks have production kitchens. Because these businesses are managed by experienced restaurant professionals they can meet the same health standards that govern restaurants. Besides hygiene Cerf outlined other criteria for the ARR including no pre packaged foods,  the promotion of fresh and local food products, environmentally friendly protocols (examples: recycling and composting) and a fixed calendar prepared in advanced. Recent examples include the first Fridays at the Olympic Park and specific dates at Place Émilie Gamelin and the Just For Laughs Festival sight. 

Are You Feeling Lucky?
According to Cerf most restos have been supportive of their endeavor and their is no need to be near other restaurants. The Association des Restaurateurs de Québec (ARQ) publicly denounced food trucks but at the same time Normand Laprise form Toqué came out in favor of food trucks. Cerf also once again emphasized the importance of quality food rather than selling hot dogs and .99 cent pizza. Food trucks should offer something better and need to disassociate themselves from fast food. Cerf says our street food should be better than in other cities so that it becomes a reason to visit Montreal. 

Peter Katsoudas: pointed out that any new restaurant represents competition for an existing resto. Food trucks are therefore no different than any other restaurant opening near your restaurant. There are no rules governing the opening of a restaurant near another, provided the proper permits and forms are filled out, so why is there a differentiation and prohibition against food trucks that are really no different in terms of  competition.
Katsoudas pointed out that if there is equality in the laws between food trucks and restos then the same existing standards that govern restos can apply to both (examples: food hygiene and inspections) Control over street food begins with creating rules and regulations. A differentiation between food trucks and hot dog carts should be made. In the restaurant business competition has always existed and it is quality that wins out. But how can the city control what you sell? Is this even possible because no rules govern what food products a restaurant can sell.
No Local Bakery, No worries : Baked Goods Coming Your Way
Cerf intervened and pointed out that restos are now required to issue receipts from their POS with a bar code. This law does not apply to food trucks but a few trucks have taken the initiative like Pas D'Cochon Dans Mon Salon and this is another example how food trucks can follow this same legislations that govern restos. Katsoudas pointed out that the recent regulation concerning barcodes on receipts (created to prevent tax fraud) represents one of many changes that has affected the the restaurant industry. Other examples include tax increases and no smoking laws. Restaurant owners have gotten used to dealing with these changes, adaptability is part of the game, so why not face the food trucks?

Marie Marquis: Pointed out that Montreal is onto something with its food culture. In her talk, Marquis introduced the word “truckavore” - def. as a person that eats at a food trucks. It is person who likes talks about their eating experiences rather than just saying they ate a restaurant they specify what they ate. They are open to try new foods and take risks in eating. They are extroverts because they are able and like to eat in public.
As a nutritionist Marquis points did point out that food trucks could mean access to more junk food (example: fatty and salty). Marquis recalled getting fries from a truck as a delicious childhood memory, the brown paper bag wet with grease, vinegar and salt. Marquis pointed out that these type of memories play into the stereotype that food trucks are unhealthy. Marquis pointed out that healthy food trucks are an option worth exploring. The city of Vancouver regulates their food trucks so that there is an emphasis on local foods and so that it is environmentally friendly. Trucks can be out in places that need quality food at a good price (example: areas with no restaurants). Marquis also pointed out that food trucks could be used to help with food education and imagined partnerships with agricultural and government groups. In terms of health issues there is the fact that food trucks represent more chances of getting food so possible to over eat and eat additional meals. 

Nouveau Palais Winneburger
François William Croteau: Is responsible for allowing people to have urban chickens in his borough. In addition he has been working on greenification projects of alleyways. The issue is about managing public spaces so that they are equitable and raises questions of taxes. Restaurant owners pay property taxes. In Vancouver, trucks are far from restos and in industrial areas. Regulation should ensure that trucks are serving good quality and healthy food. Food trucks should also be set up in areas where proper hygiene can be carried out. Increased garbage caused by food trucks could be problematic for residents. In other words food trucks could create new problems that have to be considered. In Vancouver trucks are approved before being allowed to roll on the streets. In Montreal trucks could be set up in areas that do not have many commercial zones and restaurants. There is also a social aspect of food trucks as people congregate around the vehicles and get to know one another (community building). Croteau pointed to green alleys and how people told him people they were starting to get to know their neighbors in caring for their green spaces. Croteau also mentioned the Fruixi bicycle, that delivers market fresh produce to local residents, as another type of option of street food and their role in the community.

Fruixi: Sure looks sweet coming down the street