IT’S not clear how Jen and Colin Merritt became so passionate about Mexico, given they were both brought-up by turf farmers in Windsor.
But 32-year-old Jen, who works as a massage and beauty therapist, and Colin, who is 39 and installs insulation, are so mad-keen about the place, that in 2011 they eloped and got married there, live-streaming their nuptials for friends and family back home.
“We don’t know where it came from, but we always dreamt of going on a holiday there,” Jen told the Gazette, in the lead-up to their fifth (and latest) Mexican jaunt.
“When we eloped it was just us on the beach, then we honeymooned for a month throughout Mexico from coast to coast and in between. It was the trip of a lifetime and we didn’t know when, or if, we would come back!”
But thankfully for the rest of us, they did come back, and now they are bringing to the masses what they have learned about Mexican food, and serving it up from their El Taco Loco Mexican Food Truck.
For the time being, El Taco Loco is a start-up business, however if all goes to plan, the duo will eventually secure enough regular work to make it a full-time endeavour.
Work truck to food truck
For those who are not in-the-know, a food truck is a food outlet, only in a truck. Food trucks generally serve small-yet-honed menus of food items, and they benefit from being able to move their businesses wherever the customers are.
Though the Merritts initially launched a pop-up store which they took to Windsor Riverside Markets and a few other events in neighbouring districts, they couldn’t stop thinking about a food truck they’d eaten from at a friend’s wedding four years previously, and how they had dreamed to own their own some day.
So, they began asking around with the owners of other food trucks they encountered while hosting the pop-up stall, and found out there was a mob at St Marys called Luke’s Food Vans that specialised in custom fitouts.
It wasn’t long before they’d secured a quote, then put down a deposit. The vehicle? Colin’s work truck, a HINO 300.
“The fitout cost around $60k and includes two three-door fridges, a griddle and a grill, exhaust fan, shelves, power points, generator, hot and cold water, gas for the griddle, and air con,” said Jen.
“The water goes through the weigh system and the gas heats up the water in the tank. It’s a bit like an RV. It all runs off the generator and it’s a big generator – it’s amazing. Half a tank runs for around 12 hours.”
They picked-up the keys for the El Taco Loco Mexican Food Truck (as well as a new lease on life) on November 4 last year. It was their wedding anniversary. They decided to christen the truck ‘Julio’.
Aiming for authenticity
It was Colin’s life-long love for cooking that gave the Merritts the confidence that they could use what they’d learned in Mexico to cook-up delicious meals for punters back home.
Every trip they’re picking-up new techniques and inspiration, and are always looking to fine-tune their menu to make it more authentic, tasty and exciting.
“Col’s vision was to educate our area and our community on healthy and authentic Mexican food,” said Jen.
They make as much as they can from scratch – nothing out of a can or packet – and use local suppliers where possible.
One of Jen’s favourite menu items is the vegetable tacos, with chipotle hot sauce and guacamole. A serving of two, which are served on soft tortillas, will set punters back $11.
“We cater for vegos and vegans too. We’re gluten free, and we use free-range meat. We try to keep everything as sustainable as we can,” Jen said.
Their guacamole is made with avocado, lime, garlic, red onion, tomato and salt. They use authentic nixtamal soft corn tortillas, which are hand-pressed, and they source these from a supplier in Melbourne.
El Taco Loco Mexican Food Truck will next appear locally at the Bilpin Flower Show & Spring Fair at the Bilpin District Hall on the weekend of October 7 and 8, followed by the Sydney Blues & Roots Festival from October 27 to 29.
The food truck can also be booked to cater for private functions, parties and sporting events.