This week, my boyfriend Ben and I launched our new street food business, rainbo, at London's Leather Lane market. Having quit our office jobs to run Petra Barran's chocolate van at markets and festivals last summer, we craved crunchy salads and light, healthy food on the move, so we decided to set up our own van selling just that.
We resolved to do it at the beginning of last autumn, and knew from the outset that we wanted a unique and historical vehicle, with character, charm and a story all of its own. Ater a few serendipitous phone calls, we came across an extraordinary vintage car mechanic who had a vast and varied assortment of old American vehicles ready to renovate. Like kids in a toy shop, we went and snooped around his yard in search of our new noble steed. But in spite of our enthusiasm, none seemed to set our hearts alight. Until, on the way out, we gingerly lifted an old dusty tarp and saw the rusting cab of a 1948 Ford pickup that had been languishing in Phoenix, Arizona as 'yard art' for the last thirty years. It was love at first sight.
Planning the restoration was infinite fun (what colour to spray the cab? Can we fit Bose speakers? Is there anywhere to hide if it all gets too much?) but it took far longer than we originally anticipated. Knowing now how great an undertaking the job was, we feel very lucky to have had such a patient and experienced mechanic to guide us through it. Eight months later, when the van finally arrived at dawn this Tuesday, the adrenaline was almost too much. Intense, feverish anxiety surrounding rush hour traffic, reverse parking, mental arithmetic and generally cooking lots of dumplings perfectly at the same time without killing one another in the process plagued us all night long. By six a.m. on Wednesday i thought we must be half mad to actually be doing this for a living.
And, of course, there were a few initial glitches. Our generator refused to start, and when it did we were told by the council to turn it off because it is too noisy. So we now rely upon our humble solar panel for what little power it generates in the grey english drizzle. We were also issued with a parking ticket, which we found both alarming and amusing, and which was subsequently revoked by a rather disgruntled warden.
But all in all the gods were looking down on us: the inaugural drive was calm and steady, parking did almost end our relationship but we live to tell the tale, and it turns out that with an infinitely helpful iPad app we found, my mental arithmetic can continue to lay dormant. And our all-important first customer was wonderfully friendly and patient and even tweeted about her meal, which ignited such joy in our hearts that we were on a high all day.
And so we have found our rhythm in our new home. All those months of refining recipes, sourcing the best ingredients we can find, and working out the delicate balance of flavours in each little dumpling have finally come to fruition, and the market is a wonderful place to be - full of vibrant, friendly folk. I am in full nesting mode and giving everything its proper, labelled home; Ben is equally at ease behind both the griddle and the wheel, and has already taken to cruising the streets with one elbow perched nonchalantly out the window, and customers are coming back for more. Reflecting upon our first week trading, I think there is great wisdom in Julia Child's assertion that 'the only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude'.
Follow Xochi Balfour on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rainbofood