Food-truck movement gains traction on Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island has revved up its food and drinks scene with the arrival of a growing fleet of food trucks that are capitalising on the island’s reputation as one of South Australia’s leading destinations for food and wine.

Nov 14, 2018, updated Nov 16, 2018
New food truck Mini de Lights has opened at Emu Bay on Kangaroo Island.

New food truck Mini de Lights has opened at Emu Bay on Kangaroo Island.

The humble food truck has revamped its image in recent years, with popular vendors such as Burger Theory, Veggie Velo and Chimichurri Grill now a common fixture along North Terrace and Hindmarsh Square, as well as at festivals across Adelaide.

And the trend has travelled to Kangaroo Island, where a budding food-truck scene is proving popular among tourists and locals.

“There’s been a bit of a shift in the focus on variety in the food and wine scene here on the island,” Kangaroo Island food-truck owner Emily Woskett says.

“There’s been this emergence of all these really diverse food trucks since the council granted approval five years ago and it’s really added to the island’s food scene.

“The best thing about it is we’re all doing something a little bit different and we’re all operating across different parts of the island, so there’s always something on offer.”

Honey popcorn chicken is a popular choice at Mini de Lights.

Woskett started her vintage-inspired food truck and travelling beer garden – called Mini de Lights – at Emu Bay in February. The popular swimming spot had been without a food vendor for years, with the nearby caravan park having closed its kiosk a decade ago.

“All the locals talk about it because that was their childhood,” Woskett says.

“Unfortunately for them, it closed down, but I’ve been able to take up some of that trade with many locals coming up from Kingscote and tourists from all the nearby holiday rentals.”

Woskett formerly worked in New Zealand and London as a restaurant manager before heading to Kangaroo Island to manage the Southern Ocean Lodge restaurant.

She says the flexibility of running a food truck, combined with her experience in the hospitality sector, inspired her to start Mini de Lights.

“Everywhere you go, whether it’s an event or a festival, there’s a food truck.

“For me, I started to see it as something that I could do that didn’t have any boundaries.”

Tomato and polenta pastry with caramelised onion, feta, rocket and salami.

Woskett’s menu comprises a selection of “street food meets canapés”, including honey popcorn chicken, prawn and finger carrot balls rolled in panko crumb with wasabi mayonnaise, and mini salads and granola served in jars.

“It’s like hand-size bight treats in sweet and savoury – enough to have a feed or a snack,” she says.

“I focus on as local as I can because everything is on your doorstep here.

“I source a lot of product from the bakery, all my milk and cheese is local and I’ve got a lovely family down the road that do the pork and lamb.”

There’s also an impressive drinks menu featuring “classic cocktails with a twist”, which Woskett serves from a mobile beer garden set up in front of her food truck.

“I’ve got the KIS (Kangaroo Island Spirits), the KI Brewery and the wineries literally at the end of the road, so I just use whatever I get my hands on, really,” Woskett says.

“At the moment I’m doing a salted caramel espresso martini, café-lime vodka martinis, Bloody Marys.

“When you go into the distillery your brain goes crazy because you get all sorts of ideas, we’re just that spoilt for choice here.”

A taste of Thai on KI

Ki Tru Thai serves authentic Thai food made using Kangaroo Island produce.

Kangaroo Island local Tony Blight and his wife Ao also focus on using local produce at their Thai food-truck, KI Tru Thai, which is based at their property near American River.

The couple claim to be the first food-truck operators on the island, starting their mobile restaurant in 2013.

“My wife’s a fifth-generation Thai chef and when we married seven years ago and she moved to Kangaroo Island, she started making me the most amazing Thai food using KI produce,” Blight says.

“It was so exceptional that I thought, if I like it then Kangaroo Island will like this and that’s when we looked at the possibility of opening up a restaurant.

“At the time there were really no food vans on Kangaroo Island and we thought, let’s start with a food van because then we could got to the events, go to the shows and be mobile.”

KI Tru Thai has fans of all ages.

After finding a van in Sydney and receiving council approval, the couple launched KI Tru Thai, selling 90 meals on their first night from a parking bay near American River.

“We were operating there for about five months and then one winter’s day at the parking bay it started to rain,” Blight says.

“We have quite a large property with quite a lot of infrastructure and a large shed with decking and an undercover area, so I informed people that we would be there.

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“From there, we started doing it once every Thursday. We’d roll up and put the food van in this semi-enclosed area and people were rocking up in the multitudes.”

It has quickly become a community affair, with a group of tradespeople helping the couple set up a bar in the shed and local musicians entertaining the diners.

Tourists rub shoulders with locals at the KI Tru Thai restaurant.

“We’ve reached a point now where it just goes off,” Blight says.

“We do up to 150 meals when we’re open. It’s become an atmosphere where basically the tourists rub shoulders with the locals.”

KI Tru Thai’s specialty is the “KI Tru Thai Combo” – a five-course selection of pad thai, fried rice, potato and lamb curry, sweet and sour pork, fish stir-fry with vegetables, chicken with cashews and handmade spring rolls.

“We keep the ingredients as close as we can to KI,” Blight says. “Everything we can get on the island we get on the island; other than that it’s from the Fleurieu.

“For a lot of people, being able to eat authentic Thai food made with fresh island produce is a real winner and people are over the moon to be able to combine the different regions through food.”

Beachside dining 

We Love Vietnam is popular among beachgoers.

For We Love Vietnam food-truck owners John Childs and Kim Nguyen, food-truck dining is about flexible beachside dining.

Nguyen, an experienced event manager and chef from Nha Trang, moved to Kangaroo Island after marrying Childs. She started selling homemade Vietnamese food at the local farmers’ market, but the business soon outgrew the stall she was operating.

The couple now operate a food truck from Kingscote, as well as at a farmers’ market at Shoal Bay Winery.

“We could have opened a restaurant, but it’s very difficult for businesses to operate here all year, especially in winter when it’s very quiet, so for us the food van gave us flexibility,” Childs says.

Nguyen is best known for her Vietnamese-style spring rolls, but she also sells a selection of main dishes including tempura chicken wings, Vietnamese-style beef curry, lemongrass chicken, seafood dumplings and Kangaroo Island calamari stir-fry.

Seafood dumplings at We Love Vietnam.

“We try to source as much locally and the things we can’t get here we grow ourselves in our backyard – things like the coriander and salad,” Childs says.

“There are not many Vietnamese people on the island but Australians are really getting into Vietnamese food at the moment and so we’re getting a lot of regular clientele and tourists buying our food.”

Part of the appeal of food-truck dining, Childs says, is being able to eat food in a relaxed setting.

“On the island there are no dry zones, so there’s lots of people who come to us, bring their own wine and they then sit on the beach and have a picnic.

“It just makes it flexible for people looking to have a nice meal without the hassle of having to go to a restaurant.”

Also worth checking out…

Beach Barista food truck. Photo: Sue Arlidge

The Beach Barista: This new food-truck is based in Pennington Bay and sells coffee, as well as a small selection of milkshakes, toasties, ice-creams, biscuits and cakes. Owners Kylie and Rob also sell a mysterious drink called a “coffonic”, which reviewers say needs to be tasted to be believed…

Honey Pot KI: This food-truck operates from Clifford’s Honey Farm from October through to March. The truck sells a small selection of burgers, salt and pepper squid and shoestring fries.

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