We didn't make this up. Our university happens to be based in the safest city of its size in America. So we wondered, given all this safety: are there stories to be told, people to contemplate, risks to be taken? Find out alongside our blog's authors -- two sections of a journalism reporting class whose goal is to show people at work and at play in and around Irvine, Calif. We invite you to read the articles below.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Going Against the Grain: A Profile of Local Artist Jeff Tang

26 year old, Jeff Tang lives in a quiet, residential community, off Manistee Drive in Costa Mesa. While the exterior of his typical two-story house seems to reflect a standard, humdrum suburban home, its inner workings prove to be anything but that.

Down the hall and to the right is Jeff’s room, which he shares with two other roommates, Ray Ricafort and Kota Shimojo. Jeff’s part of the room is in the back left corner, and marked by its contained chaos. Filmstrips hang from his walls, along with posters of his work from previous art exhibitions. One titled Robot Love hangs above his bed. His desk is filled with mounds of undeveloped film, papers, sketches, and his computer, along with an assortment of other miscellaneous items. A box in the center of his floor holds stacks of shirts he designed to sell at Coachella music festival. His disheveled bed contains his trustee army backpack and camera, which he is never without. Despite the clutter, this is where Jeff works, creating eclectic and prolific works of art, that are nothing short of brilliance.

Jeff’s main line of artwork is in graphics. Just this February, Jeff’s work was showcased at the Costa Mesa art gallery, Artery, with other local artists Pinky Taylor and Ryan Clemens. Curator for the art exhibit, Roxana Vosough, met in the winter of 2010 through mutual friends, to discuss his artistic endeavors. Upon looking at his portfolio she was instantly impressed.

“Jeff has a good handle for the juxtaposition of colors, and a keen eye of observation, not to mention great creativity. He was an ideal candidate for the exhibition Urban Modern: A Retrospective on Contemporary Street Art Influenced Work. He was the inspiration for the exhibition,” says Roxana.

Hell Hound, one of Jeff’s pieces, was the face of the exhibition. The exhibit showcased ten of Jeff’s graphic works. Family, friends and local art lover’s came to support and check out his latest pieces. Jeff’s works center on being social critiques, this collections theme focusing on societies ever growing dependency on technology. His work exposes the handicap that technology has placed on us all. Referencing networks such as Facebook, and technology such as the Iphone, Jeff discloses how all these mediums of constantly being connected have weakened our relations with one another. Another of Jeff’s pieces Altered Reality, is a discussion on the virtual worlds that we create with technology. Inspired by video games, Jeff critiques these virtual societies that are made through these mediums. Another of Jeff’s pieces, the one hanging in his room, Robot Love, is a picture of two robots hugging one another. Jeff explains that it represents synthetic love, or a false connection that again technology aids in making.

“I feel like there’s a lot of disconnection. Technology is changing our society. But how are we going to stop how fast technology compounds? We can’t, so my art is a critique on this virtual reality because of technology. But I’m critiquing us all, I’m a part of it too,” says Jeff.

While Jeff’s time and commitment centers on producing graphic work, his start with the arts was an unexpected accident. Back in high school, as a senior, Jeff was looking for an easy-A class. Intending to use this as a goof off period, he signed up for digital arts. Little did he realize that the class would turn out to be a catalyst for his now passion. The class taught him the basics of graphic design, and sparked a real interest with him. From there Jeff took it upon himself to learn more and experiment with the field using the knowledge he gained from the class. Jeff did some research and came across an online art community known as Deviant Art, a blog where anyone is free to upload and share their work. From the blog Jeff was able to teach himself more on graphic design, meeting friends through the network that he would collaborate with, creating projects to post on the blog.

“I would get inspired by looking at people’s techniques, so I would make some friends and join an art crew, and we would do little projects, like a project a month, and everyone would submit work with a specific guideline, and then we would just learn from each other. So I feel like I learned a lot from the Internet”.

Currently, Jeff has his own blog, 12FV Labs, which is a compilation of his photographs and graphic designs. Jeff dabbles in photography as well, taking beautiful photos of everyday things (to get a glimpse of his photos check out his blog at: http://12fv.com/). The site features photos that Jeff takes during his leisure time and outings, his travels, and special events he covers, some of which are for friends. Later, Jeff uses these photos and with his graphics talents, tweaks them, implementing digital designs that are his own. On May 10th, Jeff shot behind the scenes coverage for Jeannie Shin, friend and member of UC Irvine’s Fashion Interest Group’s Spring Runway Show. I came along on this shoot to watch him in action. “Hey Jeff, you’re here! Feel free to go wherever, we just need shots of the models behind the scenes for the web, thanks!” says Jeannie before running off. Backstage, mulling over which type of film to use, black and white or color film, Jeff decides to go with black and white. Capturing the production of the show on and off stage, Jeff snaps shots of the models getting hair and make-up done, following designers as they make necessary adjustments and corrections to their line, and then off to the show room. Bright lights, music bumping, the room is full of energy and excitement. Jeff seems to tune this out, focusing on where he needs to go in order to capture the best shots. He starts off by snapping a shot of the stage from a far, then makes his way to the very front. Searching, he quickly kneels as a model passes by. He takes her picture and is off again. He is constantly moving around, searching for the right angles, and spots to shoot at. He successfully covers the entire room, capturing the models on stage as well as their moments off the runway. This past month Jeff has covered the fashion show as well as a couple of weddings in the area. Aside from shooting for friends and events at which he is hired to cover, Jeff mostly takes photo sessions of places in town or neighboring cities. Another night he invited me along with a couple of his fellow photo fanatics and friends Rocky Halim, Andrew Truong, Andrew Phan to Irvine Valley Center Community College to do a little shooting practice. The quad walked around the campus experimenting with its lighting and the new photo gadgets they had brought along. Such outings are a frequent activity for Jeff who is constantly looking for new places to explore, shoot, and experiment as a way of honing and further developing his photography skills.

Jeff’s blog 12FV Labs and brand name he has made for himself, began in high school where he first started his own clothing line. It began with a class project where the students were assigned to make up a brand. His original name Riot Five was shortened to Riot F V E, RFV and then over time evolved into the name 12FV. The 12 comes from the old school pager coding system, where certain numbers reference letters, and 12 represents R. And thus 12FV was born.

“The meanings I’ve instilled in the name I guess goes back to the riot, or going against the grain, but that’s what inspired me to do art at first I guess, and that’s what I want to do, social commentary through art. I don’t know if that will ever work or if it will ever be effective, but basically I want social change through art”.

For this reason, 12FV Labs is certainly conducive in facilitating such social change by working with in the system and institution of the Internet to get his art and ideas out to the world wide web. It’s instantly accessible to a large network, and anyone can start one. The challenging part for Jeff and concerns he holds over his art and putting it out there, is its subjectivity with who dictates or decides what’s good or bad art.

“What makes art good is really subjective, so I think that’s the hardest part. A person high up can say something is really good, so then it becomes really good. It’s like anything else in life, who you know, who can recommend you or what high up artist or art blog or magazine can say your stuff is good. It’s just exposure. But how subjective it is, is pretty challenging. But I guess that’s why it’s art, there is no formula”.

So what does the future hold for this self-taught artist? For right now, Jeff works his day job for an online wig company, shoots weddings and events, creates business cards and web pages for local bands and DJ’s on the rise, and then is and sketching and expanding his graphics portfolio anywhere and everywhere in between.

“I don’t know where I want to be yet but I know I’m not complacent with my day job and just hanging out. I have this other entity I’m trying to cultivate. I don’t know what the future holds, but let’s say hopefully I can do art full time- I don’t even know if I’d want that,” says Jeff.

He worries that if art became his main profession or source of income, there runs the possibility that it could be tainted, or its artistic integrity could be jeopardized for money if that’s his only source of income.

“So who knows, maybe I’ll just keep art as a hobby, which I’m fine with”.

But for just a hobby, there’s an obsessive amount of time and energy he puts into this, so why go through all the trouble?

“Having a voice, using your art as your own personal voice. That’s why I do it. It’s like I have this channel that I can dictate anything that comes out of it. It’s your own ideas and it’s out there, and if people like it then they can receive it and if not then they don’t have to like it. It’s rewarding when you put yourself out there and people like it or get inspired by it”.

For now Jeff is busy keeping up the riot, so be on the look out.

Reporting notes:

1-hour interview with Jeff.

Shadowed him at IVC , FIG photo shoot, and Coachella.

Info on blogging:



Muggle Quidditch and other Dastardly Games: a Glimpse into the World of Dumbledore’s Anteaters

By Jerry Wang

Footfalls—sneakers rustle through rich, verdant grass blades turned a bright yellow green by the spring evening. The dirty, off-white volleyball whirls as it passes from hand to hand. A motley of scrawny, energetic college-aged children dash and stumble across the length of the field in a flurry of faded navy jeans, black zip-up hoodies and plain white tees. Taunts and double entendres fly unabashedly alongside the furious blue balls.

A dark-auburn-haired third year—though not at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry but rather the University of California, Irvine—named Ambrella yells at a mischievous player to remount his light blue polymer broomstick. “Keep that broomstick between your legs! One hand on your broomstick at all times! If I see you doing that again, I’ll disqualify you!” He chuckles, repositions himself awkwardly as usual, and—as best as he can—charges forth.

One dodgy fellow, a junior high aged student related to one of Dumbledore’s Anteaters’ members, weaves in between the older players and slips the quaffle through one of three hoops suspended from the branch of a massive tree with party string. The ball arcs downward, smacks onto the grass, and rolls downhill into a detritus-covered rain gutter, coming to rest against the bony moldy remains of a passed-away rabbit. “Ew! Dead

rabbit! It’s touched the dead rabbit!” cries a student, sparking off a healthy wave of protest. Another player clasps the ball with his bare hands anyway, and the game launches off again.

Fifty yards away, a beastly black rabbit the size of a large puppy stares at the faraway players, his whiskers shaking as he idly munches away. Whispering to each other and pointing, two hipster girls excitedly approach the recessive-gened anomaly. The dark rabbit pauses to eye them for a second, loses interest, and goes back to his mulch and the game. With hardly a thought for his long gone neighbor, the black rabbit is a frequent spectator at these weekly matches.

Chirag Bharati, the Deputy Headmaster (whose muggle translation is “vice president”) and Treasurer for UC-Irvine’s Harry Potter club, settles down on the grass alongside resting teammates and speculators, exhausted from bouts of laughter and trundling about the field. He is not hesitant on timing a that’s-what-she-said comeback to a player’s careless complaint about any of the peculiar pieces of equipment. Such is the nature of this bizarre and strangely riveting event. Even curious passersby, strolling along the park’s dirt paths to class, glance over their shoulders at the spectacle’s cries and explosions of laughter.

The game is Quidditch, based off of the soaring wizarding sport in J.K. Rowling’s ever popular Harry Potter series of books, translated to the real “muggle” world (wizard vernacular for an individual without a modicum of magical ability, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the series) with adjustments such as employing a volleyball for the quaffle, plasticized blue tennis balls for the bludgers, and a human being for the fickle snitch. While rules, techniques and equipment often differ among the several variations, muggle Quidditch has rapidly spread to several college campuses, starting with the east coast. The earliest organized undergraduate game of Quidditch took place at Middlebury College in 2005, supposedly as a prank. From then on, the sport took off in all seriousness, attracting students of nearby liberal-arts colleges and eventually the public schools and ivies. Soon enough, the sport loved by James Potter and his wizard friends swept the nation.

Beyond the boundaries of ring road, Quidditch is a no-bars full contact sport, often with girls tackling guys and guys tackling girls (nothing to be ashamed of there). In colleges where the new tradition has taken root, the game is registered as an intramural sport. Injuries are not uncommon, and well-conditioned athletes participate in the games, making for extremely intense and unpredictable showdowns between and within colleges. Often, the players battle not for a House taken from the book series but rather their own university, carrying the colors and pride of their campus onto a grassy, windswept field to clash with their cross town rivals.

In contrast, Aldrich’s variation is a relatively tame and relaxed affair. In fact, UCI’s Quidditch team is relatively young and non-affiliated, not participating in this year’s International Quidditch Association west coast tournament simply due to the fact that the board members were only aware of their own organization. Currently, Dumbledore’s Anteaters play solely within the confines of rolling Aldrich Park. The campus’s first and only Harry Potter club was founded, after all, only in 2008 by then-freshmen Kaitlyn McEvoy and Michelle Maurer and currently has seven board members. Eventually, the club would draw its Quidditch rules from within its membership, listening to suggestions from foreign exchange students who were well-seasoned Quidditch players back in their home countries.


Dumbledore’s Anteaters meet every week of the quarter in the dead center of Aldrich Park. The original founders, Kaitlyn McEvoy and her roommate Michelle Maurer, decided to hold the general meetings under the cover of Aldrich Park’s gargantuan trees, which have roots spanning around four feet in diameter, because of their resemblance to the J.K. Rowling’s Whomping Willow on the Hogwarts grounds. The meetings, thus, are held outdoors in the breezy crisp evening on Wednesdays. When the weather turns foul, the crew collects at a room (Social Ecology II 1306) designated the “Room of Requirement,” a name drawn from a hideout in the book series used as an underground base of operation in opposition to the rule of Dolores Umbridge, considered a wintry time in Hogwarts’ long history. Dumbledore’s Anteaters is derived from the books’ Dumbledore’s Army, which was a consortium of rebels opposed to the Ministry’s paranoid control of the school (which itself was Rowling’s satire of the mid to late 2000’s in the midst of a public skeptical of government). Outdoor activities take place in Aldrich Park, while trivia and Pictionary based games are held in the Room of Requirement.

At each start of the year, the club sorts new members into houses, much like in the book, although not with a magic talking hat. The board members ask club members seemingly random questions such as “If you were a criminal, what would be the one crime you would want to commit?” or “If you were on a deserted island, what would be the one thing you would bring?” Chirag Bharati answered this last question with “water” and was subsequently placed into Ravenclaw because, supposedly, this was a practical answer and Ravenclaw is a house known for its wit and intellect in the book series. To wit, answering the questions with daring and bravery would probably land you in Gryffindor while answering them with a Machiavellian, morally questionable remark would probably send you to Slytherin. Board members award points to each house, like at Hogwarts, as reward for scoring and participating in activities, and points are tallied at the end of the year to announce a house as winner of the "World Cup.” Each house is led by a prefect, as in the books, which constitute four of the seven board positions.

From Quidditch to wizard chess (where club members stand in as chess pieces on a large board) to the annual Yule Ball held in a student center conference room each November, the club draws on Rowling’s book series for inspiration for its club activities. There is even a real life interpretation of book four’s Tri-Wizard Tournament, which gives pretense for an abundance of the trivia activities needed to award points. Additionally, club members meet and discuss the books’ material, drawing connections and literal inspiration to use in their lives. Interestingly, why Rowling’s work has grasped the interest and fondness of people across the nation shines here—the Harry Potter series is relatable and holds universal verities, making it attractive to its readers. To be sure, there is a trove of ideas that Chirag and his club members can draw from for years to come (there are, after all, seven pithy books). This is of course in addition to the less profound yet entertaining game of Quidditch.


The snitch, originally a dastardly golden orb with furiously beating wings and one of the game’s balls, has taken the form of the wiry Seth Strickland, a living, breathing club member. The seekers, delegated the task of finding the snitch (the game won’t end until this happens), search high and low across the sunlit and tree covered hills. Without any arbitrary boundaries, the snitch has been known on the east coast to be able to even take buses across towns to avoid capture. As time wears on, so do the seekers, who in this game spend their minutes idling and straining for a glimpse of the elusive snitch. Perhaps a problem with this picture is that the person playing the snitch does not don the elaborate shiny gold costume of his east coast counterpart and thus camouflages quite effortlessly into the landscape. While the chasers, beaters, and goalkeepers engage in lively battle, the seekers seemingly drift at the edges, demoralized by their snitch’s mischief. Amber glances at the other seeker with a look of indifference, then rolls her eyes. It’s 6:10 P.M., and the game was supposed to have ended by now, but Seth apparently forgot to return to the field at the time set by the Deputy Headmaster. He strolls in late, a keychain with a lanyard dangling out of his back pocket, which the seekers would have to snatch in order to close the game. The seekers stumble after him, broomstick handles sweeping from side to side with each step on the uneven grass, and he evades them easily with his quick, free leg movements.

With a brief, relatively quiet exchange between seekers and snitch, and a realization that the snitch had arrived late and that the game had already ended, the match concludes rather anticlimactically. The players gather their plastic broomsticks, their bags and, after a few brief announcements, head home to their piled up assignments and readings.

Reporting notes:

Interviews with: Chirag Bharati, Ambrella Frantzich, Nick Calvin Blair

Articles for research purposes:

  • Muggles' real-life Quidditch sweeps all before it - A bruising version of the Harry Potter game has become a huge hit with 1,000 teams and a World Cup - even without flying, writes Chris Ayres. Sunday Times, The (London, England) - Sunday, May 1, 2011
  • Smith, UMass students meet for friendly matchup of Quidditch teams. Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA) - Thursday, April 28, 2011
  • Articles in the LA times
A website of interest: International Quidditch Association

Videos that provides insight into the scale of the IQA (particularly on the east coast)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Three Longtime Friends Serve Up Gourmet Sliders from the Cramped Confines of a Food Truck

By Tiffany Kieu

It’s 11:00 AM on Sunday, May 1, 2011, an hour past the expected start time. The line for The Burnt Truck snakes downward towards aluminum benches lining the pavement. More than thirty visitors to OC Great Park Farmers Market wait outside the “ORDER HERE” window under the 80-degree sun, discussing their choices in line: homemade PB&J with bananas, fried chicken, cheeseburger, Vietnamese pork, fried bologna and/or sloppy Joe.


The Burnt Truck is a local gourmet-style food truck owned and operated by longtime friends Paul Cao, Minh Pham, and Phi Nguyen. When it opened in mid-October 2010, The Burnt Truck was the first among its Orange County counterparts to offer miniature versions of hamburgers better known as sliders. Menu options, however, are not limited to burgers alone. The idea is to create upscale versions of everyday meals and to keep it playful and whimsical by sizing them down to fit on a slider bun.

“We try to transcend all those things into sliders so when you eat it, it makes you feel good,” explains Phi. “And remind you of a time maybe when you were a kid ‘cuz a lot of memories are attached to food.”

Take, for example, the fried bologna slider. Anne Marie Panoringan, food blogger and freelance writer for OC Weekly, remembers growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and eventually getting “sick of deli sandwiches,” which are often filled with cold cuts like bologna. (A search by category on Yelp returns 227 delis in San Francisco.) But when she saw fried bologna on The Burnt Truck’s menu, rather than be deterred, she thought, Fried anything is good, why not bologna? She admits the experience was a “revelation.”

“[The Burnt Truck] renewed my faith in bologna,” she adds.


Inside the truck, sunlight seeps through the eight window panels on the ceiling and reflects off the glossy aluminum kitchen. Two counters flank either side of the truck, leaving a 3-foot wide walkway enough for two people to stand back to back. On the left, more than ten varieties of sodas and water bottles fill the ice storage bin. Napkins, aluminum foil sheets, plastic forks, King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls and stainless steel bowls occupy the two shelves above. To the right is a sink with running water, an electric griddle and a finishing station with plastic containers for condiments: American cheese, pepperoncinis, pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber slices, green chili peppers, cilantro sprigs, pretzel peanut butter, and blueberry jam. Down below is a built-in refrigerator that stores uncooked Angus beef patties, pork tenderloin, chicken breast and bologna. The walkway, no longer than 15 feet, ends at a grill and two deep fryers – one on the countertop and one built-in.

Paul stands over the grill. Smoke rises from the sizzling Vietnamese pork. A cameraman huddles behind him, capturing his every move. Today’s lunch service is filmed for the Cooking Channel’s Eat St., a television series that seeks out mobile food vendors offering the most noteworthy and irresistible street food in North America. Paul turns to the finishing table and reaches above for a red and white paper tray. He places the bottom half of the Hawaiian sweet roll on a pre-cut, black and white checkered liner. He adds a layer of sauce, three slices of grilled Vietnamese pork, green chili pepper, and a small mound of shredded, pickled daikon and carrots. He tops it off with two cucumber slices and leans the upper half of the Hawaiian sweet roll to the side. It’s methodical, yet, far from mechanical.

The camera stops rolling. One by one, four other Burnt Truck members hurry up the two steps, grab a red apron from the plastic box on the ground, and take their respective places. Everyone wears a black T-shirt with the word “Burnt” on the left chest and the distinctive company logo on the back: the white letters “Burnt” sandwiched between two halves of a bright red slider bun.


The name “Burnt” was intended for Paul’s restaurant one day. It was derived from the first and only dish that Paul was known for cooking after moving into his own apartment during college: burnt spaghetti.

“I used to put the noodles in the pan and put sauce in it and mix it all up so it’s cooked in a pan,” Paul recalls. “Then I put cheese on it and it’d get all melty and then I purposely cooked it so the bottom gets kind of crispy, kind of burnt. It came out like this kind of cheesy, crunchy spaghetti thing.”

In spite of his humble beginnings in food preparation, Paul later attended culinary school at The Art Institute of California – Los Angeles. He then went on to become executive sous chef at Marc Cohen’s Opah in Rancho Santa Margarita followed by sous chef at Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern in Dana Point.

But regardless of formal food training, it was Paul’s original burnt spaghetti that inspired a name suited for a restaurant. Just not the brick-and-mortar kind he had imagined.


Phi slips his right hand into a latex glove and breads chicken marinating in buttermilk. Once the piece is covered, he lifts and drops it into the bubbling oil heated by the countertop deep fryer. Minh rolls paper into the credit card machine. Friend Tony Nguyen warms up the electric griddle and reaches behind for a bag of King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls. He removes the plastic tie and pulls out a white paper tray with four rows of six slider buns. The bottom and top halves of twelve buns fit perfectly on the griddle for toasting. Minh’s brother-in-law, Jon Ho, leans over and opens two 10-lb brown paper bags sitting on ice. He fills two stainless steel bowls – one with frozen tater tots, the other with frozen crinkle cut fries – and places them back on the shelf.

Five people in the truck, according to Minh, are ideal for handling any line.

Minh opens the cash box and pulls the order pad close. The camera turns on. It’s 11:15 AM. The line extends to about forty, and Minh begins taking orders.

“Have you two been waiting this whole time?”

30 minutes.

“It’s pretty crazy today. Thanks for waiting.” His voice is pleasant.

We really wanted some sliders.

He smiles. “Alright guys, what can I get for you?”

Minh jots down their order, using two- or three-letter abbreviations for each item, with a black Sharpie pen and asks for a name which he scribbles near the bottom. He tallies prices using the calculator on his iPhone and reads the total. He tears the order form in two – number stub and ticket order – and hands the ticket order off to Phi. Minh turns to collect the money. He counts change, places the number stub on top, and passes it to the customer.

“Thanks again. Come visit us soon.”

The process repeats for each guest.


This ordering system is crucial, Minh later reveals. In relaying the ticket order before handling money, he gives Paul and Phi a few extra seconds to cook and arrange food. The way he writes orders even saves time.

These shortcuts, however, took a while to figure out.

On October 14, 2010, The Burnt Truck held its grand opening at Shark Club, a restaurant and nightclub in Costa Mesa. The line – the longest they have had thus far – easily stretched 150 people walking in and out of the club, waiting around all night for food.

Minh wrote out each word on the order forms: cheeseburger, fried chicken, etc. Paul toasted each bun individually on the grill. The flow of food was erratic. Time was piling, and the crowd around the pick-up window multiplied.

They lacked rhythm and the gist of things, comments Galen Dao, a close friend who attended the opening. “It took an hour and a half to get our food.”

We’re gonna fail, they thought at the end of the shift. There’s no way we can make this work.

But Paul, Minh and Phi corrected their habits after each new service. Nowadays, the turnover rate is a minute or two. Though “sometimes people get [their] food before I even give them the change,” Minh notes.


Paul transfers frozen tater tots to a steel frying basket. He submerges it in boiling oil. A crackling sound escapes from the built-in deep fryer – the tater tots are golden and crisp. He throws them back into the stainless steel bowl and tosses them while sprinkling salt. As Paul raises the bowl to return to the shelf, Phi weaves below his outstretched arm and removes pieces of fried chicken from the countertop deep fryer. Paul backs away to face the grill amidst Phi carrying the chicken to the finishing station.

Their movements are fluid and precise, as if choreographed. They’ve learned to adapt to the tight environment and understand each other’s actions to the extent that they can anticipate what comes next. We respect each other’s space, comments Phi, whereas before “booty bumping” was frequent.

Phi centers a piece of fried chicken atop a dollop of garlic potato spread on a slider bun. As if without looking, Paul simultaneously turns with a smoldering pot and spoons country gravy over the chicken.

Thanh Le, Minh’s cousin and The Burnt Truck’s business partner, admires from the front of the truck: “Their flow and efficiency – they’ve got it down to almost a science.”

The cameraman and the director, holding a handheld camera, wind through the kitchen and nestle in cramped openings, but Burnt truck members are able to dodge around the film crew without getting in each other’s way.

The midday heat is only slightly offset by a light breeze that enters through the order and pick-up windows. Smoke fills the truck and the smell of beef patties lingers in the air. Ticket orders keep coming. The pressure builds.

Minh scurries to the back and plucks a ticket from the order rack mounted on a shelf ledge.

“I f*cked up an order,” he announces.

Paul sets down his tongs and wipes the sweat from his forehead. He glances back – his face serious – at Minh writing a revised ticket order. Paul grabs it and resumes grilling cheeseburger patties.

The impending concern is stifled.


“[Paul] doesn’t like it when there’s a little gap in his movement,” Phi later mentions.

These disruptions in efficiency were often a source of outbursts or arguments, mainly between Paul and Minh, during the first few months. Phi remembers one of Paul’s rants in particular – it’s his favorite.

It was during a hectic dinner service in which Minh’s wife, Jenny, had been running the window. The requests for sides of fries seemed endless: two sliders with fries, two sliders with two fries, fries, fries, fries, fries, and more fries.

Phi felt it coming. Oh man, Paul is going to have a meltdown, he thought.

The deep fryer had cooled off from extensive frying and needed to be reheated.

Jenny, standing on the opposite end, was unaware of the issue. Orders for fries continued to appear.

Paul threw his tongs and turned around. Everybody stop f*cking selling fries, Phi remembers him shouting. Why the f*ck are you guys selling fries?

Everyone stood perplexed.

“We’re not selling fries,” reasoned Phi. “People just asked for it. Stop yelling.”

More recently, Paul avoids stressing over small mishaps.

“I don’t get mad anymore. I went to therapy and got things straightened out,” he says, smirking.


Conversations are brief. Words are rushed.

“Minh, in 3 orders, change it to Viet beef,” Phi advises.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Minh replies.

The line soon dwindles. Signs of exhaustion are apparent in everyone: dark eye circles, long heavy sighs, weary stances. Phi, Paul and Minh have been awake since 4 AM, readying the truck and preparing condiments and sauces such as pickled daikon and carrots, avocado spread and aioli.


Throughout each week, Phi, Paul and Minh dedicate sixty or more hours on and off The Burnt Truck.

About seven services – lunch or dinner – are usually scheduled from Tuesday to Saturday. In those five days, two are dedicated to both lunch and dinner services. A regular shift lasts around seven to eight hours, either from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM for lunch or from 2:30 PM to 10:00 PM or 10:30 PM, which includes time for preparation and cleaning. Locations of services are scattered throughout Orange County and can vary between business plazas, apartment complexes, and catering events such as birthdays and even weddings.

Sunday and Monday are normally days off. But although they don’t serve food from the truck, Paul, Minh and Phi still work. Sunday and Thursday are designated grocery days, and either Phi or Paul shops. Produce like 30 pounds of American cheese and four flats of eggs (each flat contains 24 eggs) are bought from local farmers’ markets. 120 pounds of tater tots, 60 pounds of crinkle fries are purchased from Restaurant Depot in Fountain Valley, while 80 pounds of chicken along with other proteins are bought from 99 Ranch Market in Irvine. 80 pounds of beef patties are sourced from Premier Meat Company. Forty cases of King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls, each with 144 slider buns, are picked up by Minh from Los Angeles.

For Paul and Phi, four or more hours on Monday go to preparing sauces and condiments. For Minh, Monday means sorting through e-mails, scheduling events, writing blogs, and updating social networking sites. This is what he does on a daily basis, but Monday just happens to be the busiest day for e-mails.

The business dominates their thoughts: areas for improvement, ways to increase exposure, or ideas for menu development. “Even when I’m not working, I’m working ‘cuz I’m thinking about something about work,” Minh admits. “I know Phi and Paul are the exact same way.”


“I want to go home,” Phi exclaims, in a child-like voice. Everyone laughs.

Paul crouches and glimpses outside the window.

He requests the time.

It’s 2:07 PM, seven minutes past the expected end time.

“Close out,” he commands.

Empty plastic containers – once filled with avocado spread, aioli or garlic spread – and dirty pots pile in the sink. (Generally, someone cleans the dishes when there is downtime, but today’s service was particularly busy.) Used, white hand towels spill over the plastic bin in front. 25 King’s Hawaiian sweet roll bags and white paper trays stuff the trash can. The receipt ticket holder is stacked with 110 tickets – how many people this equates to is uncertain since each ticket can represent any number of customers who order together. 35 pounds of chicken, 60 pounds of meat, 35 pounds of tater tots/French fries, and 5 pounds of cheese were served.

“It just came out of nowhere.” – Paul

Since L.A.-based Korean taco truck Kogi entered the mobile food scene in 2008, the food truck trend has reached an unprecedented level of popularity. According to Heather Shouse’s Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels, in fall 2010, Food Network introduced The Great Food Truck Race – a show in which multiple food trucks aim to outsell their competition, while Business.gov – a government website for small businesses – created the page “Tips for Starting Your Own Street Food Business.”

Kogi’s impact transcended to other aspiring food truck owners who established a string of Kogi imitations. Despite the allure of Asian tacos, Minh and Paul were adamant in keeping the item off their menu. “You had basically 10 other Kogi-like trucks that came out after that. We [didn’t] want to be the eleventh,” Minh says. Gourmet sliders made The Burnt Truck unique.

Talks of their gourmet food truck began back in 2002, years before the craze, but Paul concedes that the idea for sliders “came out of nowhere.”

In late May 2010, Paul and Minh attended their weekly friends’ poker night. Although Phi was not involved in the business at the time, he was also present. (Phi joined The Burnt Truck on October 4, 2010 after leaving his position as a chef at St. Regis Monarch Beach’s Stonehill Tavern.) As usual, Paul cooked; he decided he’d make sloppy Joes.

The market ran out of hamburger buns, but King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls were on sale.

Onto each roll, Paul melted Brie cheese, added sloppy Joe and finished with pepper rings. His concoction received rave reviews:

Man, we love it.

It’s so good.

This is like the best sloppy Joe ever.

Dude, you guys should just do a truck and serve these sloppy Joes.

The comments stirred a thought in Paul’s mind: This is pretty cool. What if we had a slider truck? Why doesn’t anybody do that?

A few days later, the thought matured. Paul, who was working as a chef at Café del Rey in Marina del Rey at the time, ate sliders at the restaurant and realized the slider bun’s potential.

He called Minh the following day.

Hey, I got this idea, Minh recalls him saying. We should do a slider truck. I’m thinking we can do a bomb ass fried chicken one, cheeseburger, sloppy Joe, meatball, Korean BBQ and Vietnamese pork.

“Damn, I love it. Paul, I love the idea,” Minh responded.


Three weeks earlier, on a flight to Hawaii, Minh half joked and half pitched the concept of a food truck to his cousin Thanh, a successful Las Vegas dentist with multiple practices and the former owner of a chain called Southwest Smoothies in San Diego.

The way Minh saw it, Thanh was a savvy, wealthy businessman. And Minh and Paul needed the financial support.

Minh appealed to Thanh’s interest in new and promising business ventures.

“I like it. Let’s do it,” Thanh decided.

The original idea, however, was bánh mì or Vietnamese sandwiches.

When Minh returned from Hawaii, he and Paul debated whether this business would be successful. The conclusion was “no.” Orange County residents are too familiar with bánh mì, along with their low cost (under $3) and where to find good ones. It would be impossible to sell it for $6 like LA-based Nom Nom Truck.


Minh and Paul needed to gain Thanh’s support for gourmet sliders. They called and notified him of the updated concept.

Thanh was skeptical. He wasn’t too familiar with what a slider was, but it seemed like too broad of a concept. He shot it down.

Don’t blow it off. Give it a day or two, Thanh recalls them pleading. We’ll set a menu.

Thirty minutes later, Thanh called back. He did his research on sliders and the idea clicked – the slider would serve as the vehicle in which food would be delivered.

“I’m in. I think this idea’s gonna work,” Thanh said.

A week later, in June 2010, he flew from Las Vegas to taste six menu samples: fried chicken, cheeseburger, sloppy Joe, meatball, Korean BBQ and Vietnamese pork. After devouring 18 to 24 sliders, Thanh was certain he loved it. He wanted to start right away.

Whatever you need financially I’ll put it out and help you guys, Paul remembers him saying.

They set up a corporation, which in turn issued a promissory note – a document that guarantees payment of a certain amount of money by a specific time – to Thanh. In six months, The Burnt Truck would return his initial loan.

The loan afforded them to lease a food truck and to purchase all the equipment inside. To start the business also required payments for a countywide health permit and business licenses for every city in which they wanted to sell sliders. They also needed to pay a monthly fee for parking in an approved commissary, a facility for storage and cleaning of food trucks and refilling of water, ice and electricity.

The Burnt Truck made more than enough to pay back the loan in six months. It is now a self-sustaining business. Profits cover monthly expenses for a space in the commissary, gasoline, propane, groceries and serving supplies. By the time Phi, Minh and Paul pay themselves, their earnings come out to less than minimum wage. But it’s a sacrifice they are willing to make in hopes of one day opening their own restaurant.

In the meantime, the numbers have been high enough to warrant another loan to purchase a customized truck under ten years old (which apparently is really good) with burners, ovens and air conditioning as well as additional refrigeration and deep-fryers. The revamped Burnt Truck – a true definition of mobile brick-and-mortar, according to Thanh – is set to debut in mid-June.

Epilogue: A food truck roundup

It’s breezy and slightly overcast on Wednesday, May 18, 2011.

At 2:30 PM, returning from a lunch service at OC Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, The Burnt Truck pulls into the driveway of a small lot enclosed by a cement wall seven bricks high. A plain, tan building with faded black windows sits in the middle. Parked food trucks line the wall with just enough space in between to back in and out. This is International Catering, one of six designated Orange County commissaries, located at Construction Circle West in Irvine. Across the street is a self-storage facility and nearby areas for big rigs and cement trucks.

Paul parks the truck behind the building and removes trash collected from the earlier shift. He drives back to the front of the lot and parks in their allotted space. Phi and Paul clean the kitchen then prepare a new batch of sauces and condiments. Meanwhile, Minh removes leftover soda cans and water bottles. He disappears behind the building. He returns with a wheelbarrow filled with ice and begins to shovel it into the storage bin.

Two hours later, The Burnt Truck is equipped for tonight’s dinner service at Irvine Lanes. Paul settles in the driver’s seat of the truck. Phi gets into the passenger seat of Minh’s new Toyota Highlander, and they follow behind.

Silver duct tape secures the upper left of the truck’s dashboard. The window control panel is dusty. Numbers are barely visible and red arrows on the gauges are faded. The odometer reads over 256,000 miles. Black paint on the front ledge is scratched, exposing the metal below.

In the two miles from the commissary to Irvine Lanes, the truck feels like it can fail at any minute. A metal floor plate is loose under the passenger seat. The steering wheel and dashboard rumble. The seats tremble. Every bump in the road is noticeable.

By 4:45 PM, Paul turns onto Michelson Drive and drives into a parking lot on the side of the bowling alley. Five other food trucks are present when The Burnt Truck arrives. Paul squeezes into a corner.

Minh turns on the gas light, flips the choke, and pulls the string for two portable generators. Power runs through two red electrical wires that wrap along the doorway to the electric griddle and above the order and pick-up windows to the back of the truck.

Paul turns up the grill and cooks bacon. Phi breads and deep-fries onion strings. Friends David Chung and Tony Nguyen refill condiment bottles and toast slider buns. Minh washes empty containers.

They begin serving at 5:30 PM. The line extends to twenty and remains constant throughout the service; it’s the longest among all eight food trucks.

In three hours, thirty minutes before the intended close time, they take 165 tickets and sell out of all six slider options.

With such a loyal following that expands every day (1,714 Facebook fans and 2,527 Twitter followers), The Burnt Truck continues to help shape the evolution of three fledgling entrepreneurs into successful restaurateurs. Don't be surprised when The Burnt Truck trades in its wheels for a traditional brick-and-mortar.

Reporting notes:

Brief interview with Anne Marie Panoringan

Brief interview with Galen Dao

15-minute interview with Thanh Le

45-minute interview with Paul Cao

45-minute interview with Phi Nguyen

1-hour interview with Minh Pham

2-hour dinner shift observation at The Park at Irvine Spectrum Center

5-hour lunch shift observation at Northwestern Mutual in Newport Beach

5-hour lunch shift observation during Cooking Channel’s “Eat St.” taping

5-hour dinner shift observation at Irvine Lanes

Cooking Channel’s “Eat St.”: http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/eat-street/index.html

The Burnt Truck website: http://theburnttruck.com/

The Burnt Truck Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Burnt-Truck/116838601694370?ref=ts

The Burnt Truck Twitter: http://twitter.com/TheBurntTruck

Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels by Heather Shouse





Secrets of Greek Life

By Adrianna Rada

The music was bumping through the ground and down the streets of this Costa Mesa home just minutes away from the 55 freeway. Only students affiliated in the Greek life, majority from Kappa Sigma, or currently pledging to a fraternity were guests at this party. My heart skipped a beat as I headed to the door and faced two big guys dressed in black using walkie-talkies.

“Can we help you?” The bouncer on the left holding a clipboard filled with names asked.

“Yes I am supposed to be on the list, Adrianna Rada?” I said as I wondered what I had gotten myself into? He opened the door and signaled it was ok for me to enter; it was surprising how organized the list of people to enter the party was. People really do get turned down if you are not on the list or a part of the Greek life.

It instantly became 15 degrees hotter inside and sweat was dripping down the walls. The party was packed with people, mostly UCI freshman, and the music was roaring through the place. My shoes stuck to the floor from so many spilled drinks. There were at least 5 kegs with buzzed students continually refilling their red Dixie cups. A counter filled with an assortment of hard liquor and mixers, that couldn’t be finished in one night. Pledges trying to join the fraternity were made into “beer bitches” and were continually serving the brothers of the fraternity their drink beverages all night, no questions asked. Girls danced on tables and drinking games were being played such as flip cup, beer pong and a few card games.

“Welcome to your first rush party!” Matt said to me. He was outside on the back patio talking and joking with some of his brothers from his fraternity the majority of the night. The brothers were happy with the turn out for their rush party it was one of the most successful ones they had ever attended. Matt lived at the house of the Frat party but didn’t seem to mind his place getting trashed, he was happier about the popularity of the rush party and the recognition from his brothers that went with it. By two ‘o’clock am the party dispersed because of freshman curfews and only a quarter of all the people remained, those who got lucky or those who were too drunk to drive home. In a recent survey conducted by students at the University of Alabama, first year male college students that are Greek affiliated have participated in a significantly greater number of drinking days in the past month the students who are not.

Matt has been a brother of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity at UCI since freshman year and is currently a senior. Kappa Sigma is focused upon the four pillars of fellowship, leadership, scholarship and service. The lessons taught from his fraternity rituals include; acting like a gentlemen at all times, having the highest standards of personal conduct, and should instill a sense of responsibility and integrity. I wouldn’t say that was a theme of the rush party but I guess they teach that after the pledges have been accepted. Matt already knows that his affiliation with Kappa Sigma has given him lifelong friendships and allowed him to experience things in college that he wouldn’t have normally without joining a fraternity.

Andrew, also attended the rush party in Costa Mesa, and is a brother of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. Andrew only stayed for an hour because he had to study for a test in one of his upper-division social science classes. However, he doesn’t have to study too often because he is given old tests and assignments passed down from generation to generation through his frat. It is one of the many secret benefits in belonging to the Greek life. Depending on how many brothers or sisters you have taking your major, everyone is willing to share notes and previous quizzes or exams. Andrew said there was an office that had a filing cabinet filled with work from previous students for a lot of UC classes and GE requirement classes. The Greek life promotes good grades because it is a reflection on their fraternity or sorority, most require its members to maintain a certain GPA. So, in order to help the students participate in all the activities, fundraisers and parties that are planned they share cheat-sheets through school to keep their grades up. Students get a lot of extra help with school work that isn’t available to students not affiliated in the Greek life.

Jennifer was a student at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona and is a sister of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority. Jennifer shared some personal stories on cheat-sheets, “One time I helped my big sister cheat on an exam because she didn’t study and was having an anxiety attack, so while she was taking the exam she texted me questions from her phone and I was in the library googling all the answers. I also know a few brothers that stole tests from teachers after they had already taken them. The teacher would end up giving the whole class A’s and the teacher wouldn’t say anything because it would reflect poorly on them for losing a whole class of tests, and no teacher can require a whole class to take a test again, either.”

Alpha Xi.jpg

It was a sunny afternoon in April when I joined Jennifer in decorating Easter eggs to share gossip about her sorority life as a sister of Alpha Xi Delta. We sat on her patio in Newport Beach with a few mixed cocktails and some music playing in the background. It seemed alcohol is an apparent trend in Greek fraternity/sorority affiliation. Alpha Xi Delta is a sorority that works towards inspiring women to realize their potential. They nurture unity and cooperation, foster intellectual, professional, and personal growth, and exemplify the highest ethical conduct. You could consider the cheating experience part of “personal growth”? “Well it definitely helped out A LOT!” Jennifer stated. Jennifer unlike most Greek members joined her sorority senior year of college. She went to Australia on a semester abroad her junior year and when she returned a lot of her friends had already graduated and so she thought joining a sorority would introduce her to some new people. Before she was accepted into Alpha Xi Delta she was a part of the pledging process. She shared some of her hazing experiences, “I did rushing events from the end of August till September, I got pinned in October and took my oath in November, the hazing was very strict at my school, but they do try to embarrass you. My big sister printed hundreds of pictures of me from face-book and posted them all over my school. Everywhere I turned there was a picture of me. It was hard to rip them all down I was severely outnumbered, I bet there are still a few around campus. Another time my big sister got four guys in the middle of my class to bring me flowers and sing ‘My Girl’ I was so embarrassed they must have talked to my teacher because he didn’t stop them and he didn’t seem to mind.” But it was worth the embarrassing experiences because once Jennifer was initiated she gained so much from her sorority.

Jennifer was very patient and skilled in decorating her Easter egg she took her time, I wondered if that trickled down to her real life. “I loved my sorority. All the benefits were just a bonus that came with it. I made great girlfriends, the kind you can call at two in the morning because your car broke down and they WILL rescue you. When applying for a job if someone is affiliated in your Greek fraternity or sorority you already have a much better chance than anyone else. It is an intricate system of networks that have been around for years. Secret codes and handshakes can get you into private functions and I will always get a discount at Betsey Johnson because the creator was a sister in my sorority. My only regret is not joining sooner in my college experience.” The Greek life offers several advantages to college students if they are lucky enough to be accepted including friendship, academic support, social activities, and even career networking. Wonder why so many students, including myself, never think to join?

Reporting Notes:

2 Sitdown interviews with Jennifer

Sitdown Interview with Matt

Sitdown Interview with Andrew

Observational Interview of Sigma Kappa Rush Party

Laura L. Talbott, Ryan J. Martin, Stuart L Usdan, James D. Leeper . "Drinking Likelihood, Alcohol Problems, and Peer Influence Among First-Year College Students ." The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 34 (2008): 433-440