Brian Webb Chef/owner Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food www.heyjoetruck.com
This is part one of our interview with Brian Webb of Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food. The food truck hit the streets right as the food truck craze took off in Phoenix and has been bringing the cuisine of the southeast Asian island nation to Valley diners ever since. Today, Webb talks about why an Irish chef chose Filipino cuisine and how he ended up moving from white tablecloths to the stifling heat of a tiny, mobile kitchen. Don't forget to come back Tuesday when he talks about the "highly regional cuisine" he cooks and Filipino eats as the next big thing.
Filipino food isn't exactly known as a sexy cuisine. Brian Webb, owner and chef of Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food knows that all too well, and he's not very happy about it.
"I just think that's bullshit," he says matter-of-factly.
For an Irish guy, he's passionate about this kind of food. And through his food truck he tries to open eyes to the universal appeal of the island nation's cuisine. In fact, the idea for a truck only came after he realized he wanted to find a way to bring Filipino food to the masses.
"The food truck has always been more of a vessel," Webb says. "I love having the truck, but it has its limitations."
Prior to jumping into the mobile food business, Webb worked in fine dining around the Valley. And before that, he worked for an electronics company. When he realized the thousands of dollars in commission were doing nothing to excite his passions, he began to consider a career change. He figured he'd always liked barbecuing and thought maybe he'd open up a deli. So he went to culinary school.
He'll tell you now how "green" he was when he started at Scottsdale Culinary Institute. The very first day introduced him to foie gras and exotic mushrooms. Just like that, he had a whole new appreciation for food.
Upon graduating, he landed a job doing the type of fine dining you seldom see these days at the Latitude 30 restaurant at the former Pointe South Mountain Resort (now the Arizona Grand). He worked for a while as a saucier and then on the grill, learning and experimenting in the resort environment where upscale cuisine, as a necessary amenity, can truly be explored.
"It was good in the beginning, but that type of food is really dead now," he says referring to the elaborate upscale dining and French-style brigade kitchen structure.
So he left that gig and went on to help open Pure Sushi in North Scottsdale, and then worked for a while at LGO Hospitality's now-defunct Radio Milano. It was while working at Radio Milano that a chain of fortuitous events (at least, they seem fortuitous now) set him on the road to food truck ownership.
It was simple: He lost his job; Margita, his future wife who he had met years earlier in Phoenix, was pregnant; and they needed to buy a house. Nineteen short days later, they were on a plane to the Philippines for their wedding and a month-long trip.
"I flew over there not really expecting it to be a food adventure," he recalls.
But it ended up being, in his words, "a glutton fest." Really, he swears, he gained 20 pounds.
The chef fell in love with the country's penchant for barbecued meats, particularly pork. He learned what it really means to eat locally -- as in, gathering all your ingredients from within a quarter-mile of your house. He recognized cooking techniques from other cuisines (for example, the charcoal robata grill you might already associate with Japanese food) and familiar ingredients, too. ("Filipinos have been cooking with pork belly for years!") He learned that cooking Filipino food means you can borrow concepts from nearly every other type of cuisine.
He brought all that knowledge home and set his sights on starting up a upscale version of, as he likes to call it jokingly, a "roach coach."
For starters, the truck would allow him to bring his food to the people, literally. And with little overheard costs, he could offer diners a chance to try out a new cuisine with a much lower commitment cost than would be possible at a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
What's your current obsession? Filipino food. It is such a vast and complex cuisine that the more I learn about it the more I realize I don't know nothing about it.
Your personal mantra: Fuck you! I have had a lot people in my life try to hold me back and say I wasn't ready to do something. I had to flip them the bird and power forward.
Your biggest pet peeve: Cooks who don't let the food cook. You always see green cooks who constantly have to be touching and turning the food. Food takes longer to cook in a pan when you're always touching it. Let the food cook and it will cook faster and taste better.
Favorite hobby/past time when you're not working: Spending time with my 2-year-old. Owning your own business takes an excruciating amount of time, and I cherish what time I have with my son.
Most vivid food-related childhood memory: Eating halászlé at a friend's house in California. It is a Hungarian fish soup that his family made by hanging a pot from a beam in the garage and cooking it over an open flame. His mother made the noodles from scratch, the pot was handmade for them by friends in Hungary, and paprika was even grown in their friends garden in Hungary.
Proudest moment in the kitchen: Winning the Best of Phoenix Food Truck award. It was a great accomplishment for my wife and I. It felt like the accumulation of two years of (literally) blood, sweat, and tears had paid off.
If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go and what would you eat? I would go to Dortin's BBQ in baranguy Marigondon, Lapu-Lapu City, Philippines. Iit's a small BBQ stand in front of the (owner's) family's home. Their pork BBQ is what really started my passion with Filipino food.
The best kept secret in cooking is: Calamansi. It's a Filipino citrus that has sour hints of a lemon and the sweetness of an orange. It's actually a cross between a mandarin orange and a kumquat. Once the culinary world finds out about it the fruit is going to be huge.
One local chef you admire and why: Margita Webb, my wife. Even though she had no professional cooking experince before the truck, she has really turned herself into a chef. She has a huge smile and has open my eyes to a new and exciting cuisine. I have learned more about cooking and how to act in a kitchen from her than anybody else.
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(Margita recently was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. The family has set up a website for donations to help with medical costs.)
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: