What is “street food?” “
If you ask Stephen LeMasters, the former executive chef of Bradley University, he’ll tell you it “could be a million things.” But you can check out his interpretations of street food at his new food stand, Grill ‘Em All.
“I just like the idea of street food in general,” LeMasters said. “I think it’s fun, I think people really like it. It catches my eye.”
LeMasters and his 12-year-old daughter, Marley, his newest “partner” in the grocery business, operate Grill ‘Em All at Keller Station’s Farmers Market on Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. for the past two months.
LeMasters’ food stand specializes in street food, specifically the Chopped Cheese Sandwich, a New York-inspired creation made from ground beef, onions, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, ketchup and mayonnaise.
One of his other favorite dishes is bahn mi, a sandwich that originated in Vietnam. It is made with pork belly, cilantro, jalapenos, pickled vegetables and spicy mayonnaise.
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Much of his inspiration for the dishes comes from looking at what other chefs around the world have done with street food, items sold by vendors on street stalls that are relatively easy to eat even without s ‘sit at the table.
“Before I started doing this, I would go online and watch videos of street vendors all over the world, from different countries, stuff they do,” LeMasters said. “Just be inspired, not only by the food they serve, but the way they do it, what they cook.”
It’s always a learning curve for LeMasters every time they set up shop, whether it’s at Keller Station or one of Peoria’s marijuana dispensaries (where they’ve found great success). His daughter Marley takes most of the controls and takes care of the cash register while the veteran chef works the grill.
Marley loves spending time with her dad at their food stand, and she naturally enjoys the payoff that comes from working at their busy food stand.
“It was really fun, it was a pleasant experience,” said Marley. “My favorite part is that I work with my dad.”
For now, Grill ‘Em All is just a pop-up food stall, but LeMasters would like to eventually turn it into a food truck or food trailer that it can operate from. This, however, is an expensive move yet beyond reach. But if business continues, it may soon become a reality.
When LeMasters was studying for a culinary certification at the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, he saw food trucks everywhere. This is where the seed of a food truck was planted.
“There was actually a park that I walked past, it was a food truck park (in San Antonio),” LeMasters said. “It was just a parking lot but they had a playground, a stage, an outdoor dining area and there were probably 15-20 trucks set up there.”
“I was like, ‘Dude, that would be awesome,’” he said. “It was something I thought it might be cool to do here, whether it works or not, I don’t know. Texas is different, the weather is different, it’s an all-out type gig. ‘year.”
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When LeMasters quit his job at Bradley last spring, he was worried about what the future held. But he wanted to open his food stand and those nerves calmed down the first day he opened from his driveway when people swarmed to try what he was serving.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” LeMasters said. “All of these people showed up and I created this Facebook page for it maybe the day before I did and there were about 500 in a month and a half.”