Since moving to the Central Coast in March, Richard and Cynthia Verhagen have been cooking up a storm from The Hurricane Kitchen gourmet food truck.
The couple originally got the business rolling in Victoria, British Columbia, before moving it to Los Angeles. The Hurricane Kitchen spent about three years on the road in Southern California, then relocated permanently to San Miguel.
“We’d been coming up here so frequently, we decided to stop visiting and start living here,” Richard Verhagen said. “I’m a recovering farmer, so this area really feels like home.”
“Our food really speaks to people up here,” Cynthia Verhagen added. “In larger markets, people always tried to pigeonhole us, but we’re really an eclectic food truck. We couldn’t be happier here, and the community has been so welcoming.”
That response has led to a busy schedule with catered events and several regular weekly gigs around San Luis Obispo County; a full calendar is listed on the company website. The Hurricane Kitchen has served inventive cuisine at several recent events such as the Earth Day Food and Wine festival in San Luis Obispo and the Central Coast Oyster Festival in Morro Bay.
The food truck’s menu is driven by locally sourced and sustainable ingredients whenever possible, and put into high gear by Richard Verhagen’s culinary background. After beginning his restaurant career as a server, he moved to Mazatlán, Mexico, and became intrigued with the city’s Creole food traditions — holdovers from French and Spanish occupations in the 19th century.
The experience inspired Verhagen to seek formal kitchen training. Over his 20-plus years as a culinary professional, he has been an executive chef, menu consultant and owner of several restaurants and pubs in his native Canada.
In developing dishes for The Hurricane Kitchen, Verhagen looks to several locales for inspiration. While a Creole theme underscores much of the menu, there are also flavors from the Pacific Northwest and Asia and “a little bit of prairie barbecue” from his hometown of Calgary, Canada.
As a result, menu possibilities are wide-ranging. But the Verhagens tailor their food to the occasion — especially when serving at a winery or brewery.
“The crowd at each venue seems to prefer different dishes,” Cynthia Verhagen explained. The Hurricane Kitchen’s “most consistent seller is probably the bison and blue cheese burger” with espresso barbecue sauce, sautéed mushrooms and jalapeños, she said.
Other popular items range from barbecued wild pink salmon with Montreal spice rub to a Creole-crusted catfish po’ boy sandwich with wasabi aioli, from a drunken venison burger with blackberry compote to pulled tea-smoked chicken.
The lineup of side dishes includes herbed potato and white onion salad, tomatillo coleslaw and farm-fresh greens and vegetables with raspberry vinaigrette. The Verhagens opted not to have a deep fryer on their truck, so French fries aren’t an option.
“Not having the deep fryer makes you get a little more creative,” Richard Verhagen said.
“That’s what’s inspiring — the creativity that you can put into a business that’s yours,” said Cynthia Verhagen, who is relatively new to the culinary world. With degrees in vocal performance, she sang professionally with opera companies in the United States and Europe for almost 20 years. After her performing career, she changed scripts and worked in education.
“I completely fell into this backwards after marrying Richard,” she acknowledged, “but a lot of the aesthetics are the same. We eat with our eyes first, so I’m enjoying putting together beautiful plates for people. I’m also finding cooking a lot more fun. It’s not intimidating anymore!”
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hurricane Kitchen
The scene: Catch this popular food truck at one of its weekly stops or at special events.
The cuisine: Driven by local and sustainable ingredients, the menu reflects aspects of Creole, Pacific Northwest and Asian cuisine, plus barbecue.
Expect to spend: Most items cost $9 to 13 and include a choice of side.