For Jae Stulock, chef and co-owner of Umami Moto food truck, a first taste of Thai food turned out to be a defining moment: "I was at Johnny Mango's when I was about 17, and that was the first time I ever tasted pad Thai. I remember so vividly how wowed I was. It was so completely different. After that, I wanted to check out what else was out there in food — because there seemed to be a whole lot more than what I was aware of."
Almost two decades later, Stulock, 35, has perfected his own pad Thai recipe — turning it into a signature dish that he now serves from the window of his jungle-green food truck.
Stulock (a former carpenter) and business partner Sandy Madachik, (a former IT firm office manager) had mulled over plans for Umami Moto for some time before taking the plunge. Eventually Stulock's growing passion for the foodie world, combined with the duo's joint affinity for working outdoors, made the food truck seem like the obvious career choice.
They acquired their mobile kitchen in Los Angeles in 2010. As for the menu, its focus is on Asian-fusion fare. Beyond the pad Thai – with a choice of tofu, chicken, or shrimp — you'll find massaman curry on rice, pork potstickers, and a Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich made with pulled pork. All items are priced at less than $10.
"It's been fun experimenting with the whole color palette of Asian ingredients," says Stulock. "Going into an Asian supermarket and picking things at random, finding out what they taste like, and then doing something with them has been great.
"There's always a lot of surprises."