The Vendy Awards are quickly becoming the nation’s most anticipated food awards. The food-truck cooking competitions, hosted by New York City’s Street Vendor Project since 2005, are sold-out street-fare feasts, where cupcake carts, dumpling huts, ramen trucks and kebab stands hand out samples to hungry crowds. Last year, the Vendys took their show on the road, staging local ceremonies across the nation from Los Angeles to Philly and will be adding more cities this year.
As our Editor-in-Chief, Lauren Purcell, gears up to judge this weekend’s 2013 Philadelphia Vendy Awards, we decided to take a look back at last year’s New York City Vendy Awards, where we spent a sunny afternoon filled with mouthwatering mobile meals made on the spot. We feasted on everything from adobo chicken spring rolls to red velvet ice cream sandwiches, and joined attendees in voting on which vendors should be victorious–which was no easy task. At the end of the day though, we walked away with a recipe from each of the five winning vendors–so you can experience the deliciousness at home.
Rookie of the Year Award: Phil’s Steaks
There are the usual Philly-style cheesesteaks, and then there’s Phil’s Steaks’ “whiz wit’ ” (aka with Cheez Whiz and sautéed onions). Head chef Kevin McConnell hungered to start a culinary business, so he and three friends made a pact at a rooftop party to launch second careers. “If you don’t do something that makes you nervous and take a little risk, you’re not going to really succeed.” Proof is in the pudding: Phil’s earned the Vendys’ coveted Rookie of the Year award.
People’s Choice Award: The Cinnamon Snail
Chef Adam Sobel is on a mission to change public opinion about vegan food. Since 2010, he’s owned NYC’s The Cinnamon Snail, the country’s first organic vegan food truck, where he serves the likes of jalapeño-cacao brownies, chile-spiked seitan burgers and fresh fig pancakes. “I wanted to bring really flavorful gourmet vegetarian food to people who wouldn’t normally walk into a vegetarian restaurant,” he says. Impressed? So was the crowd, who honored his truck with the People’s Choice award.
Best Market Vendor Award: Lumpia Shack
Chef Neil Syham’s Brooklyn, NY, weekend stand selling lumpia, or Filipino spring rolls, was “born from a love of Filipino food.” A Manila native and former corporate chef, he sought to update his homeland’s cuisine using seasonal, farm-fresh ingredients. The Best Market Vendor winner adds modern twists, like seafood and vegetable combos, to his perfectly fried wrappers. Syham has become so successful, he’s rolled out a second Brooklyn food stand.
Best Dessert Award: Melt Bakery
Julian Plyter and Kareem Hamady may have had one of the littlest venues at the Vendy’s—a refrigerated pushcart—but they won a big Vendy award: Best Dessert. In 2010, the duo started drawing crowds at a NYC flea market with their scrumptious ice cream sandwiches. Hamady, who cooks up business tactics, convinced Plyter, a former Manhattan pastry chef, to focus on a mobile operation rather than a full-fledged bakery. Now they’ve come full circle, earning enough from carts to open up a shop in Manhattan!
Vendy Cup Award: Piaztlan Mexican
For Eleazar Perez, taking home the Vendy Cup, the event’s top prize, for her succulent steak, goat and roast pork tacos—served with a trio of house-made salsas—was a recognition she never dreamed of, despite her 23-year food-vendor career. The Piaxtla, Mexico, native began by selling tamales from a van in Brooklyn. Now, she and her three children have their own truck and a permit in the Red Hook Ballfields, a favorite foodie destination, where the lines wrap around the block for her fabulous food.
Get the recipe: Red Tomato Salsa
Eleazar Perez’s secret-weapon salsas are a blend of cooked tomatoes–and lots of chiles!
Join the mailing list at streetvendor.org for more information and to nominate your favorite vendors and to stay up to date on future Vendy Cities.
Text by Rachel Wharton; Photography by Melanie Dunea