What is “street food?”
If you ask Stephen LeMasters, the former executive chef at Bradley University, he’ll tell you it “could be a million things.” But you can find out what his renditions of street food are 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 dig it. It kind of catches my eye.”
LeMasters and his 12-year-old daughter Marley, his newest “partner” in the food business, have been operating Grill ‘Em All from Keller Station’s Farmers Market Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. for the last two months.
LeMasters’ food stand specializes in street food, particularly the chop cheese sandwich, a New York-inspired creation made with chopped beef, onions, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, ketchup and mayo.
One of his other favorites to serve is a banh mi, a sandwich that originated in Vietnam. It’s made with pork belly, cilantro, jalapenos, pickled vegetables and spicy mayo.
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Much of his inspiration for dishes comes from watching what other chefs from around the world have done with street food, items sold by vendors at on-the-street stalls that are relatively easy to eat even without sitting at a table.
“Before I started doing this I was getting online and watching videos of street vendors from all over the world, just different countries, stuff they do,” LeMasters said. “Just getting inspiration, not only from the food they serve but they way they do it, what they’re cooking on.”
Its still a learning curve for LeMasters every time he sets up shop, whether it be at Keller Station or one of Peoria’s marijuana dispensaries (where he has found great success). His daughter Marley takes most of the orders and handles the register while the veteran chef works the grill.
Marley loves getting to spend time with her dad at their food stand, and she naturally loves the payout that comes from working their busy food stand.
“It’s been really fun, it’s been an enjoyable experience,” Marley said. “My favorite part is that I get to work with my Dad.”
For now Grill ‘Em All is just a pop-up food stand, but LeMasters would eventually like to turn it into a food truck or food trailer that he can operate out of. That, however, is an expensive move still out of reach. But if business keeps up, it could be a reality soon.
When LeMasters was studying for a culinary certification at the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, he saw food trucks everywhere. That’s where the seed for a food truck was planted.
“There was actually a park that I drove by, 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 outside dining area and there was probably 15-20 trucks set up there.”
“I was just like, ‘Man, that would be great,'” he said. “That was something I thought maybe would be cool to do around here, whether it works or not, I don’t know. Texas is different, the weather is different, that’s an all-year-round type gig.”
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When LeMasters left his job at Bradley last spring, he was nervous about what the future would hold. But he wanted to start his food stand and those nerves subsided the first day he opened from his driveway when people swarmed to try what he was serving.
“It’s kind of been overwhelming,” LeMasters said. “All these people showed up and I set up this Facebook page for it maybe the day before I did it and its got like 500 like in a month and half.”