Tumaca: Catalonian Cuisine on Wheels

You might not expect to eat high-quality Catalonian cuisine from a truck, but husband and wife chef team Victor and Sybil Roquin have made that dream a reality. Their blazing red food truck, Tumaca, constantly exceeds Los Angeles eaters’ expectations on food truck cuisine. From France and Spain respectively, Victor and Sybil sat down with us to chat about food culture both on and off the road.

Q

Tell us a little bit about your story! How did you both get interested in the culinary industry?

A

Sybil: We’ve always been foodies. When I first met Victor in Barcelona, I showed him Spanish cuisine and saw that I enjoyed bringing new food to people.

Victor: After we met, we lived in Paris for about 10 years, and would bring Spanish food to friends who hadn’t been exposed to it before. We had jobs in very different industries, and got tired of that. So we got together and thought, what could we do? We wanted to start a business in the food industry, but decided to start with something smaller. That’s where the idea for the food truck came in. We thought it would be much more fun to do it abroad, but not in Spain, and wanted to share Spanish food with another country. Spanish food is not really well represented in LA, so that was an opportunity for us to bring something different and new.

Q

How do both of your home cultures inspire your cooking habits and tastes?

A

Sybil: We were born into it, we were born inspired. *laughs*

Victor: I think it’s similar to America. We spend a lot of time at the table and in the kitchen. They do that a lot in France and in Spain as well.

Sybil: Yeah, you know you’re cooking with a glass of wine and talking to your friends while in the kitchen.

Victor: Or your mother or grandmother show you things and then you try it at home.

Sybil: For sure. We were born into a really strong food culture.

Q

Who first inspired you to cook?

A

Victor: Definitely my mother.

Sybil: In my family? Everyone. My mother, my father, my grandmother, my grandfather, everyone.

Q

What are some of the benefits and challenges of having a kitchen on wheels?

A

Victor: It’s much smaller, so things can be easier to do because there's a smaller amount of food. Maybe easier logistically than a restaurant as well? It’s not always easy to cook in the small space, but there’s only the two of us. You can start with a reduced staff, so it makes it easier at the beginning. Driving around on the truck is a positive as well. You can drive around so if one spot doesn’t work you can drive and try another one until you find your following.

Q

How do you go about adapting Catalonian/Spanish cuisine to American audiences?

A

Victor: We did a lot of adaptation work while planning our menu actually. For example, our sandwiches aren’t exactly the same as in Barcelona. {In Barcelona} They use less dressing, less sauces, they’re a little less sophisticated. People here like having something to dip.

Sybil: We use typical ingredients, but the ways we put them in the sandwiches are different. You’ll find sauces {in our food} that you might not think to put together in Spain because it could be too complicated. Give them {in Spain} a slice of bread and a slice of ham and they’re happy.

Victor: Like the Serrano ham sandwich we have. In Spain you wouldn’t include sauce, because the ham itself is good. Here we added the bravas sauce, a spicy tomato sauce. This is something different. People like the spicy sauce. We also like to do Spanish twists on American classics.

Q

What are some of your favorite types of produce to utilize?

A

Victor: At home, vegetables for sure. When you open our fridge, it’s all vegetables. Almost 100% vegetarian. Lots of fruits, lots of vegetables, that’s how we eat.

Q

How important are local, fresh ingredients to your menu?

A

Sybil: Super important. For us, it’s the base of good cuisine. If you don’t have this, you don’t have anything.

Victor: It all about the quality of the products. Most of our products come from the farmer’s market. The vegetable are super fresh. Our bread is artisan bread, so it took us a lot of time to find the specific bread we needed. Fresh products are the best way to have a very high quality.

Sybil: It’s very hard to make a mistake if you have quality products. It’s like impossible.

Q

Do either of you have a favorite dish on your menu?

A

Victor: If I were to recommend one to someone, I’d say the patatas bravas or the croquetas. They’re delicious and typical Spanish dishes.

Q

If you had to recommend one dish for someone to try who has never had Catalonian cuisine, what would you recommend and why?

A

Sybil: That’s a hard question. I’d go for something with a strong flavor, like patatas bravas.

Victor: There’s an adaption of traditional Spanish Paella in Catalonia called fideuà. It’s like paella but substitutes noodles instead of the rice, and it’s very popular.

Sybil: It’s almost impossible to choose, you can’t just stick with one! The food is just so diverse.

Q

What advice would you give to chefs looking to break into the industry?

A

Sybil: I’d say use the best ingredients you can find. Even if it’s expensive, the benefits will pay the price. That makes it worth it.

Victor: Work with the best ingredients. It’s all about sourcing, finding the best suppliers for what you want to cook. The concept is also important. Focus on one thing and do it well. Make something different so people can easily identify with what you do and what you can bring.