Gastrotruck

Catherine Eckert can remember the exact moment she “crossed over.”
She and her partner Stephen Trojahn were living on an island off the coast of
South Carolina, near a resort where they both worked. Catherine was cooking
one of her mother’s recipes for a dinner party that night, and she realized she
was short a few ingredients. But the nearest grocery store was a four-hour
roundtrip ferry ride away. So she improvised. She went off-recipe. And she
didn’t hate it. It was the first time she felt like a real culinarian.

Then Stephen started setting little trials for her – could she cook three meals without shopping, using just leftovers
and pantry ingredients? At the time it seemed like just a game, but today, that 100-percent­utilization policy forms the
bedrock principle of everything the duo brings to their burgeoning Minneapolis street cuisine and catering business,
Gastrotruck.

“Our challenge is providing high-end products at a food-truck price,” Stephen says, sitting in
the airy space in Northeast they bought as a 1960s-era salon and
renovated into a roomy commercial prep kitchen. “The only way we can make it work is to use absolutely
every piece of every animal and every vegetable that comes through our doors.” And they mean
every piece. Beet tops and beef cheeks make regular appearances. Vegetables get fermented and pickled, leaves become
pestos, bones become stock or dried and ground into dog treats for their “pack” of
pooches. Whatever scraps they can’t use get composted for their gardens, where they grow much of their own produce, or
donated to food shelves.

The zero-waste philosophy extends to events they cater, where they use environmentally sound serving cups and eating
utensils. It’s more expensive to use flatware that can be recycled on-site, but it’s important to them, and they hope
it’s important to their customers. “We’re not in your face about our mission,” says Catherine. “We choose to use
organic products and source locally because that’s a personal, conscientious decision. We just put it out there, and
then if people ask, we start a conversation. But we’re not shoving it down people’s throats. We want it to be
accessible.”

Before moving to Minneapolis, Stephen lived and cooked in a lot of places – Missouri, Florida, Jamaica, Puerto Rico,
New York City – and he always had relationships with farmers wherever he went, even before it was “cool.” “It was
just the way you did things,” he says. “I’ve just always wanted to know where my food came from and who was growing it.”

And while it’s not the easiest way to do business, he’s brought that same attitude to Gastrotruck, coordinating with
more than 20 farmers on any given week to bring in fresh, local meats and produce. He’s got a greens farmer two hours
south of here, and another two hours north, so he can get them through all parts of the season. He’s recently started
using CPW, too. “That’s made my life easier; it
frees me up,” he says. “Now I get access to five farmers all at once in one delivery that otherwise I’d have to
coordinate myself.”

But the local connections, despite the extra work, are what make Stephen and Catherine so eager to get up and come to
work in the morning. Earlier this summer, they planted apple trees on their lot for a new urban cidery startup around
the corner. And in a few weeks, they’ll host an internship for Spark-Y Youth Action Labs, where high school kids will
install and maintain a vegetable garden on their property, getting to keep most of the produce they grow to sell and
raise money for the nonprofit and learn about the business of food production.

One day not long ago, a guy named Skinny Jake knocked on their door, asking if they were interested in some hyper-local
honey, extracted from hives in the neighborhood. Not shockingly, they were. And one time, Stephen was vending at one of
the many taprooms in the area when a pedicab guy came up to him and asked him if he wanted some mushrooms. Stephen
looked around and said hesitantly, “Maybe?” The guy laughed, and said “No, I’m starting a warehouse mushroom operation
using spent brewing grains and coffee grounds and local sawdust. Do you want some culinary mushrooms?” And that was how
Stephen met and began partnering with Ian Silver-Ramp of Mississippi Mushrooms. So whether they’re meeting new sources
in places expected, like area farmers markets or being propositioned out of the blue by strangers, Catherine and Stephen
agree that things never go quite according to plan, and it’s definitely never boring.

“The sourcing is always a challenge, but that’s my job, to find the best products,” says Stephen. “And it’s a bonus to
be able to spread the wealth around.”

“We want our food to be familiar, but different,”
says Catherine Eckert of Gastrotruck. Take
for example this wild rice turkey burger
made with Ferndale Market ground turkey.
You’ve probably had the wild rice/turkey
combination before in a soup, so you know
it’s a match made in heaven. But add a
bright arugula pesto to it, and now it’s
something both familiar and completely
new. Try this burger the next time you fire
up the grill, for a healthy, quintessentially
Minnesotan summer meal.

Turkey Wild Rice Burger
Ingredients

2 lbs. Ground Turkey
1 large Egg
1/3 cup Bread crumbs
1 bunch, minced Parsley
3/4 cup Cooked wild rice
2 tsp. Onion powder
2 tsp. Garlic powder
1 Tbsp. Black pepper
1 Tbsp. Salt

DIRECTIONS
Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Separate into burger patties or
makes a delicious meatball! Grill, bake or pan fry until fully cooked
(internal temperature 165 degrees). Top with a delicious aioli,
arugula pesto or marinara.

Stephen and Catherine will be spreading the love of local this summer at many citywide events and at a rotating cast
of breweries and taprooms. To check out their schedule, visit their website:
http://gastrotruck.mobi
or follow them on
Twitter @gastrotruck.