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Providence

Radish: Local Food on Wheels in Providence

You guys must imagine that I was ABSOLUTELY unproductive during Spring Break. And you’re not totally inaccurate. I slept a lot, it’s true. But I also went to some beautiful cafes in New York, some of which are known to serve the best coffees in the city. I made lots of videos (on farmers’ markets, cafes, and tea) read lots of books, and watched the Hunger Games.

I know, my spring break seems to teem with efficient plans (harhar). But I also spent 4 days in Providence, RI with my friend who’s a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. My main objective? To do what I can as an out-of-town student from a liberal arts college in helping a group of ambitious students get a project called Radish off the ground.

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Radish? Isn’t that a vegetable?

Well, yeah it is, but to a group of select RISD and Johnson and Wales Students, Radish is much more than a pink root vegetable.

It’s an idea, a collaboration that will unite all three schools in Providence, RI: Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Johnson and Wales University.

The Radish flagship will be its food truck; coined as “the farmer’s food truck,” the Radish food truck is “a seasonal food truck that specializes in serving sandwiches and other dishes made from only the most local and fresh ingredients” (from the Radish Kickstarter page).  It’s an amazing idea, because not only will this truck be supporting the local agricultural economy, it will also be a hub for the students of all 3 schools, a movable eatery that will serve three very distinct student populations and unite their creativity and artistry at the same time.

I found a New York Times article that described exactly who the Radish crew are and what they’re doing:

Young, college-educated, Internet-savvy, unemployed and hoping to find a place in the food world outside the traditional, [they are] typical of the city’s dozens of new food entrepreneurs. As the next generation of cooks comes of age, it seems that many might bypass restaurant kitchens altogether. Instead, they see themselves driving trucks full of artisanal cheese around the country, founding organic breweries, bartering vegan pâtés for grass-fed local beef…

It’s gutsy and these guys are definitely going out on a limb, but I personally feel that their cause is something well-worth supporting. The fact that kids who haven’t even graduated from college are taking the initiative to serve organic, local food speaks volumes to the growth of this crazy food movement.

But how exactly did I help Radish? By doing what I do best: eating and taking pictures.

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On one of the days I spent in RISD, Danny Do (the head Radish chef, and also a student at JWU) put together a tasting of some of the things that the food truck would serve. It was my job to take pictures of the process, eat it, and critique. I’m telling you, I was living the sweet life in Providence.

So far, the Radish menu looks like this (taken from their Kickstarter page):

SEASONAL SANDWICHES:

  • Ciabatta, White, and Wheat Breads
  • Banh Mi Pork Beef, Seitan Vegan option, Grilled Vegetables
  • Grilled Cheese with Tomatoes
  • Sliders

SEASONAL SOUPS:

  • Butternut squash, Lime, Puree
  • Carrot, Ginger, Puree
  • Hungarian Goulash stew
  • Glass noodle soup

SEASONAL SPECIALS:

  • Seasonal Salads
  • Nightly Pancakes
  • Weekly Baked Goods
  • Signature Herb Fries

DRINKS:

  • Fresh Juices
  • Coffee French Press
  • Iced Tea

The menu is still very much in the works, and the food offered will vary from season to season depending on what’s available at the farmer’s market. But I was there to taste and criticize, offer advice and take pictures. So that’s what I’m doing.

I’ve bolded the things that I got to eat that day.. First of which was the bánh mì. It’s a Vietnamese sandwich that combines the best of Vietnam and its French influences, with a pork liver pâté, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, mayonnaise, and pork.

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The ground pork is mixed with seasoning and baking soda, then wrapped in a banana leaf and saran wrap, then boiled.

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It takes about a half-hour to cook, but when the pork is done it looks like this! Magic! Danny told me that this is a French technique, and it puffs up the pork and makes it soft and tender.

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The pork is sliced then layered on a baguette that’s been spread with the pâté and mayonnaise with vegetables and herbs. I ate this (I know, I ate meat!) and I enjoyed it; the textures were good but I felt that the seasonings could be a little better. A little spicier or a little saltier? It didn’t have the punch of flavor that I expect from Vietnamese food.

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Also another issue with this sandwich: since Radish is promoting itself as a food truck that uses local/organic produce, I feel that it’s only natural that they source their meat would be sourced likewise. Grass-fed pork and beef, that are raised properly by farmers who let the animals roam around (which is the kind of meat we try to get in the CoOp). And I’m not sure about the origin of the meat that I ate this day, but I feel that there will be difficulties getting pork and pork liver in the quantities that Radish would need. It’s more of an infrastructural problem, but one that I foresee as being problematic.

The next dish that we had was the carrot ginger soup:

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When I first tasted it, it was just carrot-y and bland, but after Danny seasoned it, it was really quite delicious. The salt-pepper level was good, and I think that the coriander went really well with the carrot. It’s a good fall/winter root vegetable soup when there’s not a lot of other vegetables available.

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The 3rd and last dish that Danny made for us was gnocchi with a simple red sauce.

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Unlike the time when the CoOp made gnocchi, Danny fried these potato pasta in olive oil instead of boiling them. I would never have thought of doing this, but they turned out so good. Crispy, and perfectly cooked (I feel like it’s pretty easy to overcook gnocchi when you’re boiling them).

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The red sauce was simple, made with sautéed garlic and onions that were simmereed together with baby tomatoes.

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Really simple, but also really delicious. But again, I had qualms about this dish. I feel like it won’t be easy to make gnocchi in a truck, although I’m sure some of it could be done ahead of time. But again, gnocchi-making is also just a really labor-intensive process. Another thing is the unseasonality of this dish – tomatoes really aren’t in season until mid-summer (maybe early summer if they’re greenhouse tomatoes) so this would be a dish that would be offered in the summer.

Of course, a lot of these problems are nitpicky. And, as with all institutions that tries to do organic and local, we we run into the problem of supply; a lot of the times, you just can’t get (or afford to get) all the produce and meat that you want that’s sustainably raised.

But regardless, I think that Radish is doing something great – for both the food and the community in Providence, it’s going to be a flagship for the creative and the local community.

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