The other day, I was at The Lalit, Mumbai, snacking on Tex-Mex tacos put together by the world’s first transgender award-winning food truck chef – an honour I’d have never expected.
Chef Chris Trapani is on a five-city tour of India, along with The Lalit Food Truck Company. He’ll be presenting his avocado, chicken and fish tacos, along with hand-made tater tots, churro beans and 5 spice apple cobbler cake to the who’s who of the food fraternity in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chandigarh.
In conversation with Chef Chris Trapani
Although his food truck is in Texas, that’s not where the chef hails from. “I’m from New York, and I have a lot of Indian friends. I’ve also done my reading and research; honestly it’s easy to go anywhere in general. Bangalore is a lot like Texas with its numerous parks, IT companies and great weather. But the traffic is scary; it’s worse than New York and really intense!” he says.
Indian food is no longer a novelty for foreigners, given its global presence, but Indian in India is still a revelation. “I’ve had Indian food back home but it’s not the same. Besides, the food is different in every city here!” Chris says.
Has being transgender impacted his work as a chef in any way? “No. In the beginning, I thought it would. I was 30 and employed in a corporate position when I transitioned. I was always worried about losing respect but nothing happened. And I’m easy to get along with – I guess that helped,” he shares.
Food has been an integral part of the chef’s life right since the beginning. “I’ve been doing this my whole life – since I was 16, in fact,” he says.
Speaking about his food truck, Chris adds, “I was a corporate chef earlier. I started the food truck in 2012, as an extension of my catering business. We specialise in Southern and Tex-Mex cuisine. Texan food is very comforting, with a lot of meat. Mexican is spicy. You can say ours is a calmed down version of Mexican food.”
The chef at work
We’re no stranger to tacos but the ones in Texas are definitely different from those available here. The most popular ones in Chris’ truck are the fried avocado taco, followed by smoked chicken and mahi mahi fish taco. I tried all three at The Lalit and had mixed feelings about the avocado taco but loved the dressings in the chicken one and the texture of the plantains in the mahi mahi taco.
Chris’ food truck is one of 1500 in the state. “But now they’re making it harder for new ones to get in,” Chris says. He adds, “The authorities are very strict; they lay down a variety of rules. Last year, I had to change the entire plumbing to install water tanks.”
The Lalit Food Truck Company
One wonders if Chris bumps into other transgender people in the restaurant business. “In Austin, there are a lot of transgender employees but I meet them by chance, not by design. There are a lot of women business owners as well. Out of the 30 or 40 catering companies in Austin, the top three are all owned by women. So you can say we have a diverse and inclusive culture,” he says.
On a whim, I ask him about his favourite restaurant. For chefs, it’s rarely their own. “It’s a Tex-Mex place and we (he and his partner) go there once a month. It’s called Chuys which is a common Mexican name for a guy. It’s a chain restaurant and my favourite thing to have there are pork and chicken enchiladas with creamy tomato sauce. I’ve tried and I can’t make it!” Chris says.