Talking with Chef Toben Stubee of 5Loaves 2Fish Mobile Kitchen
1. Tell us about 5Loaves 2Fish Mobile Kitchen.
We’re a food truck with a menu based on contemporary, regional American food. The truck is a partnership between myself and my partner, Nick Robson. Between us we have worked in the restaurant business for over 40 years. We both have families and wanted to have our own business, and more importantly, have time to watch our kids grow up. The truck came about because the idea of a flexible schedule was appealing, where we were not required to open our doors every day. The name of the business comes from the Bible and refers to a miracle performed by Jesus when he fed 5,000 men, not including wives and kids, with the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish that a boy had with him while the masses were out in the countryside. While that is a miracle in itself, the point of that occurrence was to remind people that physical food will only sustain you for a short time and that spiritual and eternal life comes from God. We wanted to incorporate our beliefs into our business in a subtle way, while having a tie to food service. The other side of our concept comes from the "farm-to-street" idea that we will use as much product as possible from local purveyors and have a clean, fresh, and creative aspect to our menu.
2. How did you and Nick meet?
Nick and I have worked together on and off in restaurants since 2005. At our first restaurant together we served a 5 course menu that changed every day and the creativity of menu items flowed from what was in season, rather than being produced from ingredients that were not at their best.
3. What are your respective roles at 5Loaves 2Fish?
We both work on the truck as chefs. I also focus on the business operations end of things, while Nick focuses on the culinary aspect of running the truck.
4. Can you tell us a little more about the type of food you’ll be serving?
We’ll be serving contemporary, regional American food. We call it regional so we have the flexibility to incorporate ethnic influences. We have done Miami style Cuban food, California style food focusing on fresh produce as the main highlight, Asian recipes such as Lime-Beef Rice Noodle Salad, Creole, Southern dishes and more.
Our menu has been changing at least weekly. One core item we have kept is our grass-fed burger based on beef we get form White Oak Pastures in Blufton, Georgia. It includes truck-made pickles using local cucumbers, tomatoes, and you can add a fried egg or bacon “jam,” which is made from Neuskies bacon, brown sugar, sherry vinegar, garlic, thyme, and Worcestershire sauce. We always accomodate special requests and have made items from a previous menu when asked. As long as we have the ingredients we will make whatever our customers want.
Some of our other menu items have included:
- Fried Green Tomato BLT, made with pimento cheese, Neuskies bacon, arugula, and grilled focaccia.
- Local Mahi Sandwich, served with cherry-peach chutney, aleppo pepper aioli, on a brioche bun.
- Spanish style Stewed Chicken with soffrito, grilled fresh artichoke, and field peas.
- Grilled Caesar Salad with grilled shrimp, focaccia crostini, feta, marinated grape tomato, with a black garlic vinaigrette.
- Mojo Pork Carnitas with curried rice, Brussels sprout petals, bacon lardons, and grape musk vinaigrette.
In general we don’t pick favorite items - we love to cook, being creative, and always making new dishes. We do have an affinity to pork, whether it’s bacon, butt, or pork belly - just as long as it’s GMO and antibiotic free.
5. What do you mean by “contemporary” cuisine?
We’re referring to our use of components of molecular gastronomy by using things like maltodextrin to emulsify fats into powders, sous-vide cooking, and tranglutamate, which is a meat glue. We also fuse flavors together, for example by making a Caesar vinaigrette for a grilled Caesar salad with black garlic that’s been fermented for a month.
6. Can you tell us about your focus on local food?
Right now we shop at the Jacksonville Farmer’s Market and have a few vendors that get product in 3 times a week from the Southeast region. “Local” can be pretty hard in July and August with the heat, so we'll source items like tomatoes and peaches from South Carolina and into Tennessee. A one day ride for the farmer beats produce being brought in from another country and then gassed to preserve its freshness.
7. How does your online ordering work?
We set up the online ordering system so that customers can place their orders on our website for immediate pick-up or for a time that’s convenient for them. Our online menu is always up to date with what we’re serving on the truck. The website is integrated with our payment system on the truck so ordering in advance can speed things up for our guests. For lunch service the ordering window starts at 11:15 and closes at 1:30.
8. Do you provide catering?
Yes! We offer catering and are open to any requests. I was a private chef for 6 years prior to the food truck and have entertained in private homes for several local business and political leaders. We can do any style from high-end wine-paired dinners to weddings or a more casual service directly from the truck.
9. Can you tell us about your culinary backgrounds?
I’ve been working in restaurants for 25 years, both locally and in Miami, Orlando, and New York. Locally I’ve worked at 11 South, Matthews, and Opus 39. I received my Bachelor’s degree from the Culinary Institute of America. Nick received his culinary degree at Johnson & Wales and has worked in the restaurant industry for 19 years, including at local restaurants such as 11 South, The Speckled Hen, Opus 39 and Commander’s Palace.
10. How would you compare your fine-dining background with working on a food truck?
Cooking on a truck is different in that there is no support staff - just us two and a window cashier. We have to go out and get most of our food and getting deliveries is hard work! Space is also limited because we packed a lot of equipment into our truck to provide the most flexibility with food production. We have all the main pieces of equipment a restaurant would have, just a lot less space.
11. Can you tell us about your purpose-driven approach?
We wanted our work to have an impact to our community. We wanted to give back and serve people - not just to provide food for sale, but to find a way to bring joy into the lives of those that may not always have it. We are still a young company trying to overcome the start-up costs, which is harder to do during the slowest time of year for food trucks. Once we start showing a profit, we will be donating 5% of our profits to The Second Harvest Food Bank. We have not reached out to them yet, but it should be in the near future as we approach Fall. The other part of our purpose is to go out to local area shelters and provide free hot meals.
12. Have you found your locations yet?
Finding locations to serve is probably our biggest challenge. Our menu carries a slightly higher price point, which reflects the quality of ingredients, but also puts us into a bit of a niche market. We continue to alter our service locations to find the right clientele for our style of food.
13. At what times will you be serving?
Our focus will be a blend of weekday lunches, a few dinner spots, and during the busier event season, as many events as possible.