Get Hungry: American Food Craze Conquers the Streets of Sydney
When classically trained chef Alistair Fogg left his native Illawarra region of New South Wales to snowboard in North America, he 'fell in love with the diner and street food culture there.'
Al ended up staying four years working alternately as a chef, taxi and limo driver, and a diamond digger. But Al couldn't stay away from cooking, or from the sun, so he landed a job as a chef on a superyacht in Florida and stayed for another four years. According to him, it was where he realised he wanted to open a food truck.
Al had been a chef for years and was hobnobbing with billionaires, yet he never felt comfortable in a Michelin-starred joint. During his travels, he began to understand that "good food could be produced in isolation". The seed was planted.
'This is what I love about food trucks the most, we can produce amazing quality food in the middle of nowhere and we leave without a trace. It's like guerilla cooking. It's rad.'
When Al went back to New South Wales he got his cousin James Watt (Jim) on board, and the two chefs started working on American diner food recipes. The Nighthawk Diner was officially born in 2013.
Al and Jim went on to buy a truck and named it Queen Latifah. 'We originally called the truck 'Marcellus Wallace' referencing the character from Pulp Fiction, until my dad informed us that cars cannot be male. We thought, who was the female equivalent? And we came up with Queen Latifah,' says Al. 'We love American culture, especially the afro cultures, so it just stuck with our vibe.'
Passionate chefs and entrepreneurs, Al and Jim gave up their weekends and social life and devoted them to Queen Latifah. Al describes the beginnings as 'energetic, stressful, naïve and fun just like most new businesses started by people who have no idea what they are doing but are really motivated.'
If you're on the hunt for crunchy golden shoestring cheesy fries, or juicy American cheeseburgers on brioche buns, you've knocked on the right food truck door. According to Al, the cheeseburger is probably their bestselling dish, 'but the Philly cheesesteak and the Cuban sub sandwich sell really well too.'
Jim has now left the business to raise his son Leon, so we caught up with Al to talk about burgers and art:
Interview with Alistair Fogg
What's the story behind Queen Latifah?
We bought her from a bloke that lived across the road from a mechanics in a suburb in Sydney. We asked the mechanic if it would be a good buy, he said yes. Let's just say we have spent a lot of money on her and we're now very good friends with the mechanic.
Two guys driving around in a big old black truck that doesn't take any nonsense from them, we thought it was funny. I love her, she is like the benchmark of success for the business. If I can afford to keep her going and keep fixing her up, then the business is still a success financially speaking.
Where do you most enjoy selling your food?
The City of Sydney. Most people totally get what we are trying to do and what we represent. They love the aesthetic, food, vibe etc. Vivid Sydney (ed. art festival) is a really great event to do because there are so many different demographics all in the one place for the same reason: Art. Food is essentially a form of art and it's really cool to be involved in.
If you could create a Nighthawk Diner dish that represents New South Wales what would it be?
The New South Wales I grew up in was coastal, Wollongong. So it would have to be fish. Probably like a Lake Illawarra prawn po boi. Soft, sweet poached prawns, crisp lettuce, herb mayonnaise, confit tomatoes, crunchy bacon on a soft bap. It's not the most Australian dish I guess but all the ingredients are grown locally and my mother used to take me to David Jones deli (ed. Premium Australian department store) when I was a kid to get fresh baps on a Saturday morning.
What's the best part of your job, do you miss anything from your years spent in hatted restaurants?
The best part is being at a different location every day with different people. I like that it's such a relaxed environment to work in and all the pretentiousness has been taken out of the experience.
I miss working with other passionate chefs and creating haute cuisine. I think I want to own a fine diner one day, I miss the finesse.
You can find The Nighthawk Diner all around Sydney and New South Wales. You can follow their moves with the Sydney Food Trucks app.
Find out more about Street Food options in New South Wales.