Rachel Billow and her partner chef Benoit are delivering Venezuelan street food to the city of New Orleans, all from their consistently crowded food truck, La Cocinita. The truck made our list for 101 Best Food Trucks in America 2013 at number 94, and for good reason. The truck serves delicious Latin American-inspired dishes like tacos, quesadillas, and arepas, and offers more than 10 sauces, ranging from creamy avocado vinaigrette to a "stupid hot" sauce. This, combined with their meat options like braised chicken and grilled steak, makes for a uniquely designed food truck meal. We caught up with Billows about the business, the truck, and most importantly, the food.
When did you launch your truck?
November 19, 2011.
What was the inspiration for going into the business?
Chef Benoit had moved to the U.S. after attending culinary school in Venezuela. He always wanted to open a restaurant, but it was the lack of late-night food options in New Orleans (despite the late-night drinking culture) that inspired him to open a food truck.
What is the story behind the name?
La Cocinita means "the little kitchen" — which accurately describes our truck!
What is the inspiration for your cuisine and recipes?
Our cuisine is inspired by the late-night street food that chef Benoit used to enjoy living in Venezuela. There was a strip in Caracas that was referred to as "Calle del Hambre" (Hunger Street). The street was lined with late-night street food vendors who would serve arepas with homemade sauces until 4 a.m. Arepas are a standard feature on our menu, along with a wide selection of meats and homemade sauces. Chef Benoit incorporates culinary inspiration from other Latin American cuisines into our menu, as well, such as tacos, rice and bean bowls, plantains, and quesadillas.
What is your signature dish/most popular dish?
Arepas, which are Venezuelan cornmeal patties stuffed with meat and cheese.
If you haven't already, would you ever go brick-and-mortar?
We're looking into opening up a restaurant!
How did you come up with your truck's design? Is there a designer you'd like to give a shout-out to?
We wanted to use bright colors, and red and yellow seemed to fit the Latin American theme. Then designer Andre Vaseghi took it from there and worked his magic to come up with our logo!
Does your truck have a vanity license plate? And if so, what does it say?
What model truck do you have?
Chevy P30 Box Truck.
What's the most challenging thing about running your food truck?
The long hours (late-night shifts, followed by early morning prepping/lunches, etc.).
What one piece of advice would you give someone looking to get into the food truck business?
Plan to be a mechanic, driver, dishwasher, plumber, painter, electrician, chef, and PR expert... all in one!
Any new upcoming dishes planned that you can tell us about?
Dulce de Leche Bread Pudding.
Any new plans on the horizon you can share?
We will hopefully be opening a restaurant sometime in the next year or so!
Lots of things happen when running a restaurant, and that probably goes double on the road. As such, be it weird, funny, good, or bad, what's one superlative or particularly outstanding moment or story that's ever occurred with your truck be it with customers, in the kitchen, or just in general?
We were Sylvester Stallone's on-set personal chefs while he was filming a movie in New Orleans. But because we were operating as a food truck on nights and weekends and doing his on-set catering during the day Monday through Friday, we sometimes had to go to the store or the prep kitchen in between serving his breakfast and lunch. One day we'd been told that his lunch would be at 2 p.m., so we drove back to New Orleans after serving his breakfast so we could purchase groceries for the truck. We got a call at 11 a.m. saying his shoot ended early and so his lunch needed to be at 11:30 a.m. instead of 2 p.m. Rachel drove the truck while Benoit cooked his lunch on the highway on the way back to the set, and Benoit still has a scar on his arm from cooking on a moving truck on the highway!