Eatin’ La Vida Locavore: Chef Amy Huo focuses on Valley ingredients from her new food truck

Lauren Fisher, photos by Andrea Paulseth

KEEP ON TRUCKING INTO MY STOMACH. Helmed by Chef Amy Huo, look for Locavore Mobile Kitchen at various events and locations this year.
KEEP ON TRUCKING INTO MY STOMACH. Helmed by Chef Amy Huo, look for Locavore Mobile Kitchen at various events and locations this year.

Plate after plate of gluten-free cheese curds flew out the window of the Locavore Mobile Kitchen the night of Friday, April 27. Friends and family of chef Amy Huo crowded around, waiting not-so-patiently to place their orders. Huo’s husband, Ming, took orders and called numbers while Amy battered, fried, grilled, and made rushed small talk with those who came to her food truck’s soft opening party.

“All of this is worth that, because I feel good about what I’m doing. I feel proud of the food that I’m making. – Chef Amy Huo, Locavore Mobile Kitchen

The Locavore will make its first official appearance at the Downtown Eau Claire Farmers Market on Saturday, May 5. The menu will feature those crispy curds cooked to perfection in a gluten-free fryer, smothered potatoes, and “Locaburgers.”

“Remember that: the Locaburger,” Amy said. “It’s gonna be a brand someday!” These generously portioned sliders are made with locally farmed meats: beef, lamb, pork, chicken – it depends on the season and the whim of the chef. Diners may top the patty off with Amy’s house-made ranch, beet ketchup, or “green goddess” sauce.

Lighter fare includes tempura veggies, lightly battered in rice flour, corn starch, and potato starch. “Whatever the farmers have, I’m just gonna throw it on a stick!” Amy said with a chuckle.

After several months of planning, purchasing the trailer and equipment, and navigating the regulatory and licensing challenges of opening a food truck, Amy is hesitant to say she is mentally ready to open. She responds to the question with an exaggerated shrug. But her reluctance to talk about her own part in opening the mobile kitchen evaporates when she talks about promoting local farmers, foragers, and food.

“All of this is worth that, because I feel good about what I’m doing,” Amy said. “I feel proud of the food that I’m making.”

“I want to support the production system that I believe in,” she said. So she purchases every ingredient she can as close to the Chippewa Valley as she can manage. Dairy products are from Castle Rock Organic Farms. She gets veggies from “Jake at Square Roots,” and “the Dragsmith guys.” Proximity to her food sources builds friendships as well as a healthy local economy.

“If I spend a dollar with a farmer, and they spend one to feed their family, it’s a snowball effect,” Amy said. The numbers back her up. The American Independent Business Alliance compiled a series of studies in 2012 that suggest that spending money at locally-owned/independent restaurants, on average, resulted in more than twice as much return into the local community as spending with national chain restaurants. In Milwaukee, it was found that independently owned venues recirculated more than half of their revenue locally, while national chains recirculated about 30 percent locally.

She also wants to call attention to the Chippewa Valley as a hotspot for organic, ethically raised food and responsible, delicious cuisine.

“I think this area has been overlooked for a long time,” Amy said. After paying respect to Nathan Berg, head chef of The Lakely, for his efforts in promoting local eats, she went on. “Whenever you hear about organics, like Organic Valley is in Viroqua, or Driftless Cafe is in Viroqua, or like a lot of places down there. But there are some great people doing some really sustainable – and permaculture friendly – things in this area. And I think that needs to be highlighted more than it is.”

Amy came by her passion for food through her graduate studies in early American literature. While exploring captivity narratives, she came across a story of a Puritan woman of status who was captured by a Native American tribe. In the frigid Massachusetts winter, all the tribe has to eat is a horse. They gather in a circle around the fire where the meat is cooking. The woman recounts her scramble to the meat, grabbing the liver, and tearing into the flesh, blood running down her face. This would have been, by her society’s standards, among the worst a person might experience, which she survives and eventually overcomes in what is called a “redemption narrative.”

“For somebody to be that desperate, talking about their food experience as a greater narrative to explain what’s happening to them at the time …” Amy explained, “I guess I’ve always thought that eating is not just like eating. It always has bigger ramifications, it always means something more. And choosing to eat what you choose to eat always has a bigger story to it.”

The Locavore Mobile Kitchen is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; look for @locavorewi.