- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

MIAMI | Culinary student Solomon Nerio could be slaving away on the line in any Miami restaurant, chopping onions with a dozen other chefs. Instead, he took to the road in a food truck that serves Latin-influenced burgers and tacos.

It’s a career path mostly unavailable to young chefs not so long ago. But the recent popularity of food trucks like the shiny black one where Mr. Nerio interns (called “the latin burger and taco truck”) has opened new avenues for those looking to break out earlier rather than later in their careers.

“One thing that we’re doing is we’re giving these kids a lot of responsibility and ownership at the beginning,” said the truck’s proprietor, Ingrid Hoffman, who also stars in the Food Network’s “Simply Delicioso.”

“For me, I don’t need to be the star,” she said of her truck business. “It doesn’t even carry my name. I don’t want it to. It’s about these guys.”

Miss Hoffman said she offers truck internships to encourage up-and-comers like Mr. Nerio to “dig into their skills.”

Mr. Nerio, a 20-year-old sophomore at Johnson & Wales University, said he can see himself running a food truck of his own one day.

“It’s an opportunity you wouldn’t really expect to fall in your lap,” he said, calling the internship an adventure since he receives immediate feedback from customers. At a conventional restaurant, a young cook could work for years in anonymity before getting that sort of spotlight treatment.

Mr. Nerio is one of five culinary students making burgers and three types of tacos on the truck.

Another Miami-based chef said the work is a good fit for students. Known as Chef Jeremiah, he said he plans to hire students for his Gastropod, a 1962 Airstream, once he expands.

“I think it’s a smart way to go because students are easy to mold,” he said.

There is no count of food trucks operating nationally, but a recent fascination with street and other ethnic foods — as well as savvy new media marketing by some trucks — has helped their number and popularity soar.

Still, culinary educators don’t see this new career path changing course offerings quite yet.

“I don’t see us running a course on how to run a successful food truck,” said Brad Barnes of the Culinary Institute of America. “All in all, it’s not that terribly different from anything else that takes place in our industry.”

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