When John T. Edge roamed the country researching a cookbook on food trucks a few years ago, SuAn Chow hadn't yet opened her Chow Truck in Salt Lake City.
But last week when Edge visited Salt Lake City, the Chow Truck and Better Burger food truck made a nice backdrop to promote his "The Truck Food Cookbook: 150 Recipes and Ramblings from America's Best Restaurants on Wheels" (Workman Publishing Company, $18.95).
Parked across the street from Weller's Books at Trolley Square, the food trucks lured in hungry diners who also had a chance to get a signed copy of Edge's new book. It illustrated the point that Salt Lake City is getting into the gourmet meals-on-wheels trend that has swept the rest of the country and spawned TV shows such as the Food Network's "The Great Food Truck Race."
"The scene here has blossomed," said Edge. "The city is well-suited for food trucks. You have the broad avenues and the opportunities for street-side vending seem rich here. At the same time, the downtown area is quite dense. The opportunities in a dense area is good, it means more potential customers."
Edge's book includes some of the imaginative dishes from creative chefs serving their food curbside, such as Breakfast Waffle Tacos, Salmon and Chipotle Fried Pies and Taiwanese Fried Chicken. Visiting hundreds of restaurants on wheels, Edge interviewed the proprietors and customers who helped make the food truck trend happen.
I met Edge some years ago when both of us won writing awards from the Association of Food Journalists, and we were seated at the same table during the awards banquet.
Since then, he's won many more awards, written several books on American food culture and has been included in the Best American Food Writing every year since 2001.
Edge writes the "United Tastes" column for the New York Times and has been a judge on Iron Chef America. The last time he came to Salt Lake City he was doing a New York Times column on the pastrami burger popularized by Utah's Crown Burgers and other quick-service restaurants.
While researching the food truck book, Edge discovered that mobile food offers passage to other cultures.
"I was surprised by the ethnic diversity I saw on the streets, and by the number of vendors who thought of their work as a means of introducing their country to people who weren't born there."
He spoke of a New York City chef from Colombia who considered her truck as the "front porch of Colombia."
Chow said she's seen the trend building since she opened her truck in 2009. Now there's a "food truck fest" every Thursday at the Gallivan Center, where up to seven trucks are permitted to park.
"It's been nice, it brings other people out, and it offers variety," said Chow.
She schedules her truck's locations a week in advance and gets the word out throuogh her website, her 2,800 Twitter followers and 1,350 Facebook friends.
Stephen Helfenbein, owner of Better Burger, got into the business "by way of access to the product," he said, explaining that his father owns Ken's Beef in Moab. His food truck offers burgers made from 100 percent grass-fed beef. You can also get a Calif's Veggie Rice Burger or a turkey burger from Wight's Farm Fresh Turkey in Ogden.
This will be his first full season in business, and so far it's been encouraging. "It's building something out of nothing since there's no food truck culture in Salt Lake City. It's getting the consumer trained on how to find us and what the experience is like. Food trucks are definitely different than the food carts."
Edge acknowledged that parts of the food cart fad will fade away.
"I don't think the world needs 10 cupcake trucks or 10 Korean taco trucks in every city," he said. "But the idea that food trucks can deliver good food fast — this style of eating will endure."