Chef Thomas Odermatt calls himself "more of a caterer nowadays," but this son of a Swiss metzgermeister (master butcher) who still pulls his RoliRoti Gourmet Rotisserie truck into farmers’ markets, would deserve to rank among America’s best food trucks just for his prescience alone. Odermatt went into the food truck business 10 years ago, a good five or six years before the trend took off, a time before Twitter, when, as Inside Scoop SF reported, getting a break publicity-wise was tough, and the truck’s big media break came when news of the truck being stolen made the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle ("It's the first truck with a giant chicken ever stolen in the city, a police dispatcher said.").
After earning his master’s in organic farming in Zürich and attending UC Berkeley, Odermatt became more interested in the "wood-fired ovens of Chez Panisse and the lively farmers’ markets," and took the popular rotisserie dinners he’d been making for friends on the road in a food truck. If you’re lucky enough to find RoliRoti at a market, you’re probably just going to want to order each of the three signature items: the RoliRoti Combo (a quarter chicken and a side of rosemary roasted potatoes), the porchetta sandwich, and the roasted pork knuckle.
In this interview with Odermatt, hear about the new grilled arancini he'll be doing, his plans for a rotisserie restaurant, and one of the best ways around to get out of a ticket.
When did you launch your truck?
What was the inspiration for going into this business?
I wanted to provide a healthy street food alternative compared to what was existing then. In 2002, food from a truck was not considered gourmet
What's the story behind the origin of your truck's name?
RoliRoti stands for Rolling Rotisserie.
How did you come up with your truck's design? Is there a designer you'd like to give a shout-out to?
I found the vehicle in Europe and modified it to fit California's standards. The design is simple and straightforward, like our food and concept.
Does your truck have a vanity license plate?
No, we at RoliRoti don’t have a need for funky paintings and license plates. We simply believe in cooking the best food from quality, and sustainable local farms.
What model truck do you have?
A modified Mercedes Sprinter.
For the uninitiated, what's your signature dish? Is it also your most popular dish?
Our signature dish is the rotisserie porchetta sandwich — Heritage Foods USA’s Italian-style pork roast rolled with fresh herbs, baby arugula, and onion marmalade served on sweet deli rolls from Acme Bread Company. And our most popular dish is our rotisserie chicken. We place roasted fingerling potatoes under the grills to catch the drippings for additional flavor.
What's the inspiration for your cuisine and recipes?
Quality. My father taught me the importance of using the right cuts for the right purpose, and choosing only select, free-range meats raised by trusted family farms. And my mother’s family recipes for rotisserie.
What's the most challenging thing about running your food truck?
The many moving parts, operating in a busy city, and being exposed to weather.
If you haven't already, would you ever go brick-and-mortar? And if you have, is there anything you feel gets lost in the transition?
We will. I think that if we can continue to live according to our culture and have fun, we will continue to drive this business.
What one piece of advice would you give someone looking to get into the food truck business?
Food first. Fancy designs and creative PR later. Have fun and be proud of what you serve. If you remain honest in your beliefs and true to your vision, your guests will see it.
Any new upcoming dishes planned that you can tell us about?
Arancini on the rotisserie. We'll be doing the traditional Sicilian dish — roasted saffron rice balls coated with breadcrumbs and filled with tomato-basil sauce and Parmesan.
Any new plans on the horizon you can share?
We want to open a rotisserie restaurant that is similar to our truck. I guess we just want to run it into a building, and where it stops is our location... just add some tables and chairs.
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?
I like the time a California Highway Patrol officer pulled me over and asked me why my truck smelled so good.
Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.