Books for cooks: The Food Truck

KEEP ON TRUCKIN': Chef Michael Van de Elzen and his food truck.
KEEP ON TRUCKIN': Chef Michael Van de Elzen and his food truck.

What works on TV doesn't always work on the page, but The Food Truck Cookbook manages to capture all the enthusiasm of the eponymous show.

In case you mised it, the top-rating TV series followed celebrated Auckland chef Michael Van de Elzen on his one-man mission to convert Kiwi junk food fiends to a better way of eating. The first series was a hit with audiences in 2011 and the recently-screened second series met with similar acclaim.

Van de Elzen says examining our national love of fast food - Kiwis wolf down more than 65 million pies each year alone - made him rethink the way he cooked as a chef, forcing him to step aside from the deep-fryer and reduce the amount of fat and sugar in his dishes.

The Food Truck Cookbook by Michael Van de Elzen (Random House, RRP $39.99).
The Food Truck Cookbook by Michael Van de Elzen (Random House, RRP $39.99).

So, the traditionally high-calorie butter chicken is reinvented with lite coconut cream and low-fat yoghurt, the bacon and egg pie is turned into a wholemeal wrap with broad bean salsa and a tribute to a famous brand of takeaway chicken is baked, not fried. He even makes a couple of healthy soft drinks and turns sweetcorn into ice blocks!

He might be preaching to the converted - I doubt anyone with a serious burger problem is going to cast aside the latest monstrosity in favour of staying home and making one of Van de Elzen's healthy alternatives, but at least he's putting the message out there. More importantly, he's not being a pain about it. Sure, there's an endorsement from the Heart Foundation, but Van de Elzen doesn't take a holier than thou approach. He even admits to eating, not to mention enjoying, the odd Big Mac.

Some recipes are reasonably complicated or time-consuming (Van de Elzen concurs that the chicken and tofu dumplings with miso-roasted eggplant is "quite a fancy dish" and the burgers are all multi-step affairs) but others are eminently suitable for the after-work rush.  The chilli chicken, for example, is a family-friendly dinner that takes five minutes' to prepare and 30 minutes to cook.

A special 'Essentials' section at the back of the book has lots of useful extras (from how to make garlic oil to DIY ice cream cones), plus tips on how to tweak your existing recipes to be more health-friendly.

If your idea of preparing dinner is reaching for a frozen pizza, this isn't the book for you. But if you want to learn how to make tasty versions of your favourite takeaways, it deserves some space on your shelf.


The Food Truck Cookbook, by Michael Van de Elzen (Random House New Zealand, RRP$39.99)

BEST FOR: Lovers of fast, fresh food who know their way around a kitchen.

MAKE ME NOW RECIPES: My chilli chicken, traffic light smoothies, pork chopsticks with sweet and sour sauce