Chef Koz Takes Cajun Fare on the Road
Crescent City Kitchen is one of New Hampshire's hottest new food trucks
Chef Chris “Koz” Kozlowski has decided to hit the road. After 17 years of owning brick-and-mortar restaurants, he cashed in his chips a few months back and bought a deluxe food trailer. Fine dining at his Orchard Street Chop Shop in Dover is now just a memory.
The new mobile business, Crescent City Kitchen, is an ode to both Chef Koz’s Southern heritage and his first Dover restaurant. He cooked at Commander’s Palace and Jacques-Imo’s Café in New Orleans before coming to New Hampshire, and his first eatery in Dover was Crescent City Bistro & Rum Bar. The Culinary Institute of America-trained chef says he is happy to come full circle with the truck by way of Creole and Cajun cooking.
This mid-career change was the result of a number of factors. The Chop Shop suffered when a nearby parking structure underwent construction. Plans for buying a smaller restaurant in Rochester fell through. And, maybe more importantly, he hadn’t spent a holiday with his growing family in years. It’s part of the pact with the devil all chefs make when they have their own restaurant — families end up on the back burner.
Now, with his 22-foot mobile food kitchen parked in his driveway, he’s home most of the time and, even better, his kids (aged 9 and 11) are happy to help out. It becomes a family outing when the prep work is done and they hit the road for summer festivals and regular gigs throughout the state.
The trailer itself is a work of art. In searching for the perfect mobile kitchen, he found WorldWide Trailer Manufacturing in Georgia to build to his specifications.
“This kitchen is outfitted better than my Chop Shop kitchen. I even paid extra for the gold metallic exterior paint,” he says. “I wanted it to look good parked at any destination.” Even the manufacturer says, “This is the slickest trailer we have built, and the kitchen has the best design.”
Chef Koz is happy to be back in the kitchen. As owner-manager-chef at the Chop Shop, he often found himself tucked away in his office. On the wall was a sign stating the pros and cons of owning a restaurant — 35 cons and only four pros. Working from the truck eliminates restaurant woes such as staffing, and it affords him the advantage of having his wife, Christen, literally on board to assist.
But downsizing and losing the bricks and mortar don’t solve all the problems. Food truck owners have their issues too. It’s not easy to find a place to park on a regular basis, and you usually can’t sell alcohol. And how much can you charge for handheld food? He says a restaurateur should consider all of this before getting into the game, advising, “You don’t buy a truck and then say, ‘Now where can I go?’”
Kozlowski anticipated these issues, though, and his truck is already booked on weekends through September, with a regular gig with Tuckerman Brewing’s summer concert series, two food truck festivals early in the season and private events. With weekends planned, he’s open to corporate events during the week. He had initially organized a catering company, Flat Iron Catering, to offer classic steak meals, but he confesses, “The Crescent City Kitchen truck is getting all the attention.”
With wheels under his kitchen, Chef Koz can go to his fans, and his fans can find him across the state serving up his New Orleans-inspired dishes. Offerings include a “massive” blackened shrimp taco, chicken and andouille sausage jambalaya, red beans and rice, shrimp and crabmeat gumbo, crawfish and, of course, a Café du Monde-style beignet. “I like giving people more than they expect,” he says.
The truck also gives him the opportunity to ride the interstates and take his Southern touch, well, south. A restaurant isn’t running his life these days — he’s driving it.
Is this career change a sign of the times that fine dining is truly dead, or is the public’s appetite just a moving target? In either case, there’s a certain magic about food trucks at the moment, especially a confluence of them — all that shiny metal, the smiling faces, the aroma of far-flung cuisine wafting through the air. Call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Please get in line behind me.