Indian River food truck provides sustenance for body and soul
BY MARYANN KETCHAM
When the Dignity Food Truck rolls out of its home base, The Source in Vero Beach, it does so stocked with all the fundamental ingredients to cook-up the sweet and savory taste of success. The Source, a nonprofit, Christian outreach ministry, serves the poor and homeless population by inspiring hope and providing the necessary resources that offer recovery and promise. Thanks to a grant from Impact 100 of Indian River County, The Source has been able to broaden its signature Dining With Dignity Program with the addition of a food truck.
While adhering to three intrinsic principles: Food is a tool to empower minds, build communities and strengthen the body and soul; offer the right tools and support to bring about positive change; and present real solutions for long-term sustainability, the program strives to elevate lives by providing professional culinary arts training to its clients.
At the forefront of that training is Karlos Ayala, chef and kitchen manager. Hailing from Puerto Rico and with no father-figure to speak of, a young Ayala became the man of the house. His mom worked two jobs to support them.
“My childhood was rough with mom working so hard,” he said. “With the help of my grandmother, I learned how to cook. It was a necessity in my house. Mom cried the first time I made her dinner. She could finally relax a little bit after working all day and night.”
FOUND HIS CALLING
And so began Ayala’s lifelong captivation with creative cuisine. After many years spent in the restaurant and hotel industries, he longed for something to relieve his boredom, change a few of his destructive behaviors and nourish his soul.
In his interview for the chef’s position at The Source, Ayala felt an instant connection with its mission and executive director Anthony Zorbaugh.
“This is an uplifting journey for me,” he said. “Helping provide for and lifting others is helping me become a better person.”
Together with his team that includes Armando Baez, Maureen Archer, Anthony Zorbaugh and Rob Morrison, Ayala trains three homeless students under the Dining with Dignity program in preparation of food-related employment within the community. The curriculum is all-encompassing with lessons in knife skills, food contamination, stocks and sauces, meat cookery principles and so much more.
Students also learn essential life skills such as professionalism, goal-setting, how to complete an employment application, resume writing, interview skills and other fundamental strategies.
Upon completion of the three-month program, graduates receive job placement, a uniform and continuing assistance. They also receive a certificate and a plaque from The Source and, most importantly, a Serve-Safe Certificate from the State of Florida.
All food training is hands-on.
“Students first cook at The Source to master their abilities,” Ayala explained. “They practice, practice, practice until they get it right.”
Just as the step-by-step program methods of the Dining with Dignity training program transforms their lives, they, in turn, work step by step, recreating award-winning recipes combining raw ingredients into incredibly tasty dishes.
“The addition of the Dignity Food Truck has been a blessing for the student,” Ayala said. “It provides them with the ability to interact directly with the public, to learn how to prepare ala carte items and the need for speed.”
The truck hits the road Monday through Friday, traveling to various Indian River County locations, including Route 60 Hyundai, the Emerson Center at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Vero Beach, the Vero Beach Police Department and Florida Eye Institute in Vero Beach and Sebastian.
By downloading the Google app, I Am The Source from the App Store, it is simple to find the location of the day, view the menu, order, pay online and head to the truck’s location to retrieve the order. However, if you’re just happening by, stop in and order from the window.
SPECIAL HOT DOG ORDER
Also on the menu is the award-winning Chicken N’ Waffle creation. The 2018 People’s Choice Award winner for Best Burger in Indian River County at the Annual Burgers & Brews event, this scrumptious dish is always a high-demand item.
Several steps are involved in the construction of this sandwich. Begin by spreading a generous portion of spicy maple butter on each waffle. This secret recipe combines 1 stick of softened, salted butter, 3 tbsp. of maple syrup, 3 tsp. of hot sauce and ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper.
“Place some tomato slices on the bottom waffle, and then some of the crispy chicken drizzled with some cilantro aioli,” Ayala says. “Top with another waffle to seal the deal.”
Ayala created many of the recipes. From his culinary training in Puerto Rico to his travels to Hawaii, Mexico, Louisiana, and other locations, he absorbed those local flavors. They lend to his creative process. But, ultimately, he said he believes, “God gave me my ability and put the inspiration in my hands.”
The Dignity Food Truck also offers a convenient, pandemic-free option for holiday parties or employee appreciation breakfasts, lunches, or dinners. Menus may be customized to meet the palates of the clients. Recently, the food truck team received an invitation to partner with St. Edward’s School and serve food at its football games. In personalizing the menu, the school requested the addition of a hot dog. Knowing that the head of the school, Stuart Hirstein, loved his hot dog in a special manner, they named it the Hirstein Hot Dog, a premium hot dog served with chili, onions, jalapenos and mustard.
The culinary students are eager to learn, gain an authentic restaurant experience and service consumers while putting their newly acquired skills to the test.
Dignity Catering, a program with more extensive menu options, is also available at The Source and offers another area where the student chefs can hone their skills.
“I believe that Dignity Foods and the food concept that we’ve embraced at The Source is a most creative and unique social enterprise,” Zorbaugh said. “Not only does the program train individuals in our community, but it also helps our organization be self-sustaining. We couldn’t do this without help from Impact 100, our amazing donors, board members and everyone that works with us.”
In late September, following Hurricane Sally’s devastation in the Gulf Coast, Zorbaugh, Ayala and several others from The Source loaded up the food truck for a humanitarian mission to Pensacola, where they fed more than 1,000 hungry and homeless people over two days.
“We treat people the same way, no matter where they are, who they are and where they are going,” Zorbaugh said. “We create community with long-term sustainable care, and that was the goal in how we treated the folks in Pensacola, just part of our community.”
“Transforming lives while doing what we do here feeds our souls,” Chef Ayala added.
THE DIGNITY BOWL
Black Bean Salsa
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup red onion, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. garlic cloves, minced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
½ cup minced cilantro
2 Tbsp. minced parsley
1 cup white basmati rice
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
Juice from a lime
1/4 cup cilantro
Large flour tortillas
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast, grilled and cubed
Make the salsa first. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and refrigerate 2 hours before using.
While the salsa is refrigerating, start the rice mixture. Bring water to a boil then add the rice. Put a lid on the pan and cook until done. Add in the juice of a whole lime, the salt and the cilantro. Stir to incorporate and fluff the mixture.
Take a large flour tortilla and press it with the back of a ladle to form a bowl in the basket of a deep fryer. Cook it until crusty. Let cool.
Place a heaping scoop of the cilantro rice mixture in the bottom of the tortilla bowl. Top that with a generous helping of the black bean salsa. Add the grilled chicken and top with grated cheese and chopped lettuce.