When Four Seasons decided to bring its chefs’ food to the proverbial man on the street, the Toronto-based hotel chain tapped into a movement that’s mobile and fun, equipped with a full kitchen. They deployed a food truck.
The FS Taste tour began in Palo Alto, California, in mid-September 2013, launching an eight-city, three-state, and more than 1,000-mile trip. The truck and its entourage served as a mobile stage where the Four Seasons culinary teams could more closely connect with local communities. The final stop was Santa Fe, New Mexico, in November. In all, the FS Taste truck served nearly 8,000 meals.
“Four Seasons has a lot of chefs doing fantastic food, but it’s typically only appreciated in the setting of our restaurants or special events,” says Guy Rigby, Four Seasons VP of F&B for the Americas. “Our chefs are passionate about food, and they like to have fun. The FS Taste truck gave our chefs a platform from which they could share their food passions with a broader audience—one that typically doesn’t go to hotel restaurants. They jumped at the idea. Our goal was to show people that Four Seasons is less about formal fine dining but more about ‘fun’ dining. I think we achieved that.”
Taste Team Leaders and Timeline
The project, hatched during an innovation brainstorming session in July 2012, was spearheaded by Ben Shank, hotel manager at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale; Bixente Pery, F&B director at Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara; and Stephen Wancha, F&B director at the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis.
The team quickly determined that for a short-term project, it would be more cost-effective to rent a fully equipped food truck rather than buy, own, and maintain. They hired SA Studios Global, a Los Angeles-based event-planning company. SA Studios handled the groundwork and local details, including setting up the food truck fitted to Four Seasons’ specifications, finding a driver, organizing insurance, and corralling the many permits needed at each stop along the route.
Equipping the Taste Truck
The resulting FS Taste truck measured 23 feet from stem to stern. Its onboard kitchen covered 105 square feet—14 feet long by 7.5 feet wide—with just enough space for four chefs at extra-busy stops.
“With eight executive chefs coming up with eight unique menus, having a well-equipped kitchen was crucial,” Rigby says.
The FS Taste mobile kitchen held all the equipment found in any short-order restaurant: a 36-inch griddle, a 40-pound deep fryer, and a four-burner range, all under a proper exhaust hood. A 19-cubic-foot refrigerator stored chilled ingredients and a hot-holding cabinet in the corner stocked pre-prepped hot items. A hot water heater, three-compartment sink, a hand sink, and two work tables rounded out the onboard equipment.Hot and cold equipment pieces were powered by a 90-pound propane tank. The remaining elements—lighting and coffee maker, mainly—relied on the truck’s 20,000-watt generator.Menu selection was set by the chef at each Four Seasons property along the route, with the parameter of a $10 maximum price point.“Each of us tried to come up with something local and fun that would attract people to our truck,” says Andrew Cooper, executive chef at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe. “We took our resort’s pork sliders, for example, and turned them into tortas [sandwiches] for the food truck.”
As with offsite catering jobs, chefs would bring along all the preprepped food and supplies needed for each day’s outing. “We only ran out of something once,” Cooper says. “On the truck, we were assembling and heating to order. We averaged service times of about 30 seconds to a minute as a result.”
Cooper, active in a Santa Fe program called Cooking With Kids, made sure to include a stop at the local Tesuque Elementary School, where he and his team served green chile chicken enchiladas, bean and corn salad, and cinnamon churros to nearly 200 children.
A Look Ahead
Although Four Seasons chefs in other parts of the country look forward to taking part in their own food truck saga, “we’re going to let things rest for a while,” Rigby says.
“There’s a strong possibility we’ll do a tour on the East coast in 2014, but we’ll need a new coordination team,” Rigby says.
The hardest part of the Taste project was “having the guts to actually do it in the first place,” Rigby posits. “We knew there’d be a lot of naysayers, and we knew it would be expensive. But once we began to find partners, things opened up.”
Rigby’s advice to other hotel operators considering a similar venture is succinct: “Be bold. You’ve got to have the chutzpah to actually go out and do it.”
Janice Cha has covered the foodservice industry for more than a decade.