Sunday, June 21, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XXII: Civilian Studios Open House Catering Gig

Civilian Studios, whose garage bay I'm renting to build out the cart, had their third annual open house this weekend. I ended up catering the event, so a few items from the Burmasphere menu had their public debut. On the menu for the event was a coconut chicken curry, a pickled tea leaf salad called Lahpet Thok, deep fried chickpea fritters with a balachaung dipping sauce, and ghost chile ice cream (this last one isn't Burmese, it just tastes good). I used Civilian's kitchen as my prep space the day before the event:


Working in an unfamiliar space is always awkward, and if I'd been thinking, I'd have sent an e-mail out asking folks to clear anything out of the fridge that they didn't need in there; space was pretty tight in that fridge. But I managed to make it work. I did, however, spill over onto this rolling table in the next room over. Here we see the chicken breasts, vacuum bagged and awaiting their turn in the circulator:


I also used this space to start building the curry while the chicken breasts were cooking. The new induction burners work really nicely, by the way. I'm very pleased with them so far...


Eventually I finished the prep, and it was time to get the show on the road. My sous chef, Jen, and I set up in the garage bay right next to the cart, so folks could get a look at it as they were waiting in line for their Burmese eats. Jen's foodservice experience is limited to ice cream (for that matter, apart from coffee, so is mine), but she was a natural on the deep fryer. She was responsible for all of the chickpea fritter orders, and did an awesome job. I was on saute, cranking out the coconut chicken curries. Here we are getting things set up:


My mom and my aunt came into town to help out as well. They were mostly responsible for assembling the tea leaf salads. My friend Chelle helped out as well, but managed to dodge the photos...


Apart from a minor circuit issue involving the deep fryer and the rice cooker, the whole thing went off pretty much without a hitch. In just a little over two hours, we ran out of food; we went through around 45 coconut chicken curries, probably 50 chickpea fritter orders, 40 or 50 tea leaf salads and maybe 30 orders of ghost chile ice cream. It took 20 or 30 minutes for people to pick up on what we were doing, but once they did we had a line most of the time, and we never did get in the weeds. Great work from this crew, and having never cooked for a large group before, it was nice to discover that I'm at least reasonably good at cooking under pressure. And thanks to all of my friends and fellow Civilian folks who tried the food. I got lots of positive feedback; I have a hunch Portlanders will eat this stuff...

I wasn't able to get any photos of the rest of the open house, because I was pretty busy with this. But there was a lot of great art on display, and a number of folks trekked across the railroad tracks to North Coast Seed Studios, who were having their open house as well. I didn't get over there, but it's apparently a pretty impressive place. I'll have to check it out next time they have an art sale over there.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XXI: Equipment is Rolling In!

I got some more work done on the ceiling/roof structure this weekend, but that's still a work in progress, so no photos as of yet. The photogenic aspect of this weekend's progress, however, is the equipment. I picked up my undercounter freezer on Friday:


My ice cream maker also arrived. This is technically a home unit, but it has a compressor, so I won't have to go through the rigamarole of freezing the bowl for every batch of ice cream...


I picked up my magnetic induction burners and a second deep fryer:


I may have to cover those counter surfaces with stainless, we'll see... Here's the larger view, with the freezer moved into place:


I also brought my immersion circulator in from home. I'm not sure if the Coleman cooler set up will pass muster with the Multnomah County health department, but if not I'll just get a Cambro for it...


Here's the mohnyin tjin for next weekend's open house. I figured I'd let it ferment in the cart, maybe it'll pick up some terroir...


Photos of that Civilian open house catering gig to come next weekend, by the way. That should be fun. In other important news, my loan with the credit union was secured last week, so this project is now funded. That's a big step forward. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XX: Roof, Lighting, and Plumbing Talk.

I started sheathing the ceiling/roof structure this weekend:


Once I got all of that sheathing in place, the interior of the cart suddenly became significantly darker...


...Which is nothing a couple of LED shop lights can't take care of:


I also started filling in the cracks around the window trim. I hadn't worked with wood filler for a number of years, so I was surprised to discover that it's now purple. It turns white once it's dry, though...


I also started working on the canopy that will be attached to the roof. This will be covered in corrugated metal, and will be slanted at about 3 degrees, high to low from front to back:


It's time to start thinking about getting the plumbing work underway, as well as start coordinating contractors for the electrical and exhaust hood work. I had a brief but very useful conversation with Rick Humphrey at Curtis Trailer on SE Powell. Rick's the go-to guy for food cart plumbing issues in Portland, and he gave me some great information about the sinks, pump and pipes/fittings I'll need for the cart. One thing I discovered in talking with Rick is that the Multnomah County Environmental Health department now requires ware sinks with a drain pan at either end, which means I'll need a sink significantly wider than the one I spec'ed in the plan review, and unless I can get grandfathered in, which is probably not likely, I'll have to tear apart two of my counters and rebuild them. It's the first real setback I've run into thus far, but it's a manageable one. Thankfully, I didn't rush out and buy that sink I'd spec'ed...

Here are two more of Austin's bonsai stands. The one on the left was fumed with high concentration ammonia, giving the mahogany in the middle a nice reddish tint. I'm amazed at the variety of styles Austin's able to work in. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of them...


So, lots done, very productive weekend. Keep checking in, things are really starting to come together!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XIX: Roof, etcetera...

This weekend's work on the cart started with finishing the last section of counter, which was built out of 2x2s and plywood:



After gluing the Formica into place, it took some finagling to get it even with the other counters (the photos above show that it torques a bit upward at the upper left corner), but it worked out nicely:


I also added the trim around the inside of the windows. I'll need to fill and paint the gaps, but these turned out pretty well...


After cutting a hole for this pan, I now have an ice bath for mise en place items that need to stay below 40 F. The pan doesn't really work with Cambros, but it holds six round 1-qt. deli containers perfectly:


Also, I finally got the roof structure started. This will be covered with plywood, wrapped in Tyvek and fitted with R-6 board insulation:


Here's the larger view of everything so far:


As I mentioned last week, we have a number of artisans doing very interesting things at Civilian. Here's Austin working on another bonsai stand. He's got a total of thirteen commissions for these things, and he's doing each one as a unique piece, specific to its tree...


I happened upon another artisan, Jacob, out on the back patio, heat treating parts for his tattoo equipment. The guy doesn't just do tattoos, he makes his own tattoo machines. How bad ass is that?


And finally, here we have Austin and Ashley's dog Maui, who likes to stand on the bookshelf in the lounge area and survey her domain...


Monday, May 25, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XVIII: Painting and Formica!

This weekend was all about painting, and finishing the counters I built last weekend. All of the trim is now painted, as are the shelves and counter bases. I also cut the Formica to size and glued it onto the tops and fronts of the countertops themselves:


There are still a few spots that need to be retouched with paint, of course, and some adhesive overage that needs to be cleaned up, but overall it came out really well. I used a construction adhesive called Liquid Nails to secure the Formica, and it set up pretty nicely. The counter on the left in the foreground will have holes cut out for the sinks once I have them. The counter behind that will be for prep and/or service. On the right, from back to front, are the counters for mise-en-place, induction burners and deep fryers. Underneath those last two, I'll put in shelves for the immersion circulator and convection oven. There's one more section of counter that still needs to be built and Formica-ed. This will go underneath the front window, and rather than sit on a base, will be suspended between the counters on either side of it (and probably supported with a couple of wall mounted brackets as well), the reason being that legs would likely get in the way of putting in the under-counter freezer. Here's the view from the other end:


I also started building the ceiling/roof structure, but that's not far enough along yet to warrant a photo; should have something tangible built by the end of next weekend, though. I was also planning on visiting the credit union with my business plan today to apply for a loan, but having failed to take into account that today is a holiday, I'm going to have to put that on the agenda for next Friday. Hope everyone's having a good Memorial Day!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XVII: Shelving, Counters, Floor Tile, Etcetera...

More forward progress was made on the cart this weekend. To start with, I mounted some shelving hardware:


Which, as might reasonably be expected, led to shelves:


I also built the remaining counters. These three will be against the cooking wall, and, once given some paint and formica, will house mise en place, induction burners and deep fryers (and, underneath those, a convection oven and an immersion circulator). Yes, I know the third one is backwards; I somehow didn't notice that as I was taking this shot, and I'm not going back to re-compose it...


While it was nice to get those counters out of the way, the biggest accomplishment of the weekend, by far, was installing the flooring:


The floor represents a bit of a turning point for me. Before the floor, this whole thing wasn't much more than a plywood box on wheels. Now that it's in, though, there's no longer any visible plywood anywhere on the cart, outside or inside, and it's become a kitchen waiting to come to life. I can't help but look at that as kind of a big deal. There's a certain "kitchen" quality that wasn't there before...

The flooring, by the way, is what's called VCT, which stands for vinyl composition tile. I needed two boxes of it for my square footage, so I decided to get one each of black and white and do the classic checkerboard pattern. If you do a Google image search of "VCT patterns," you'll find that people get really creative with this stuff... I did not. But I'm happy with the way it turned out. VCT is very easy to work with, but there's one thing to be aware of, should you ever find yourself installing this kind of flooring. The tiles, while perfectly square, are not perfectly flat. Each one will have a slight bow to it, and you want to install it such that the corners are bowing downward, and not upward. Apart from that, though, like I said, it was a breeze to install. You might notice, by the way, that the trim I put in last weekend has been painted. I went with a glossy white.

My food cart, of course, is not the only project in the works at Civilian Studios. There are upwards of forty artists and artisans who rent space here; everyone from painters to sculptors to jewelry makers to motorcycle builders to woodworkers. My neighbor Austin is currently working on this bonsai stand. I'm quite fond of this piece. Austin's a wizard at bookmatching veneer, and I really dig the Greene & Greene references he has going on here. Very nice work...


So, a productive weekend for sure. Still no ceiling/roof yet, that's on next weekend's agenda, as well as putting the finishing touches on the business plan and talking to the bank about a loan... Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XVI: Windows, FRP and Trim...

The windows made their way into the cart this weekend. Well, they didn't make their way into it, so much as I put them there. These were easier to hang than the door, which itself wasn't nearly as nightmarish as I'd expected. That flashing tape around them can be a little tricky to work with, however; it really likes to stick to itself. I went with a pair of pretty standard double-pane 4'x3' sliders:


I also made much progress on the interior:


All of the FRP (fiber reinforced plastic) and its moulding is in. This is the pebbly textured plastic paneling you see in pretty much every bar or fast food restaurant restroom in North America. It's durable, easy to clean, and it makes health departments happy. Much of this weekend was also spent milling leftover 2x4s into 3/8 in strips for the trim, which I then cut to size and installed. It still needs to be painted, of course. I haven't decided if I'm going to go with white or some shade of brown that mimics a stained look.

Next weekend's agenda will call for putting in the flooring, building the rest of the counters, and starting on the ceiling/roof. Stay tuned!