Black Forest Flammkuchen Co., Hudson Valley
Where to eat in 2013: German food truck in the Hudson Valley
Rekindling a European tradition
Photographs by Jennifer May
Sometimes, when he’s driving along Route 9 or any Hudson Valley road on his way to work, Andrew Chase will idly wonder why everyone seems to be staring at him. Then he’ll remember: “Oh yes, I’m driving a truck covered in reclaimed barn wood with a huge oven on the back!”
The sight of the Black Forest Flammkuchen food truck tooling along is definitely eye catching. But it’s what happens inside that really counts. Less than one year old, co-owners Chase and his wife, Conny, have been serving up flammkuchen, affectionately called “flamms,” from their mobile truck at locations all over the Valley.
“Most people have never heard of flamms,” says Conny, a Munich-born former event planner and life coach. “But as soon as they taste one, they’re down with it. When asked to describe the food, we say it’s similar to pizza, but it’s really so different when you taste it.”
A traditional Alsatian and Black Forest snack, flamms do indeed look like pizza, but the dough is über-thin and the ingredients completely different, all cooked with a spiced cream base. “In Germany, they’re often served with Riesling,” explains Conny. “So they’re offered at a lot of tasting houses at European wineries. It’s something you share with the table, cut into eight to 10 squares, as we do.”
It’s fitting that the couple has a mobile business: They’ve been traveling almost constantly since they first met at a Panama resort in 2010 where CIA-trained Andrew was a chef (he, too, was born in Germany but grew up in England, Australia, and Connecticut). The two immediately hit it off, and decided to travel together, working for room and board on farms and bakeries across Europe and Ireland. They married in August of 2012; their overseas experience gave them the idea of connecting with the public directly through their own business.
To develop their menu, the duo toured Germany and the Alsace region of France sampling the many modes of flamms. A few of the European classics are represented here, such as the Traditional Flamm (with thinly sliced red onion, smoked bacon lardons, aged alpine cheese, and scallions), but most are their own signature combinations, like the Aubergine Flamm (roasted eggplant crème, roasted yellow cherry tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, wild arugula, fresh basil) and the Valley Flamm, whose ingredients change every two weeks or so according to what ingredients are available at local markets. The Chases also create flamms for special occasions — for instance, a Bavarian Flamm with Alpine cheese, smoked Bratwurst, and red potato confit for a beer festival.
“We experiment with how flavor combinations that we love will translate to flamms,” says Andrew. A case in point is the Brisket Flamm, Andrew’s personal favorite, which includes sliced BBQ beef brisket, smoked mozzarella, caramelized onions, and napa slaw. “We also do everything we can to source locally.”
Farm partners include Hawthorne Valley in Ghent, which supplies alpine cheese and sauerkraut; Hudson Valley Fresh for cream products; Wild Hive Grain Project in Clinton Corners for flour; and Laraia’s Cheese Company in New Windsor for mozzarella. Of course they also take advantage of seasonal local fare at farmers markets (look for ramp flamms in the spring). “We want our food to reflect the seasons,” says Andrew. “If it’s spring, we want the menu to feel like spring. If it’s fall, we want it to feel like fall. We’ve got a lot of pumpkin things now.”
Still, the most important “ingredient” is the wood-fired oven, stoked so hot that it cooks each flamm in 45 seconds flat — though you can expect your order to take a couple of minutes longer, since the flamm team rolls out the dough and assembles the ingredients fresh each time.
“Flamms just don’t taste nearly as magical when they’re made in a deck oven,” points out Andrew, referring to the typical pizza oven. Keeping that fire burning daily is a challenge; to make sure they have enough wood, the couple depends on a local fellow who follows Central Hudson workers around after storms and retrieves fallen maple, elm, and oak branches.
During the food truck season, which runs from early April through mid- to late November, the two are always on the road, traveling to wine, beer, and film festivals, special music happenings, and private catered affairs (as well as visiting their farm partners and purveyors for supplies). “We won’t travel much beyond the Hudson Valley because the roads are tough on the oven,” says Andrew. The oven actually cracked last August and put them out of commission for two weeks while it was repaired. During their first winter off the road, they plan to work on a prepared foods business, but those details are still in the works.
But even the intense heat of the oven is not enough to keep their pipes from freezing in cold weather, so you’ll have to move fast if you want to try a flamm before the truck goes into hibernation. Check out locations on the Web site — including at the Newburgh Brewing Company every Wednesday night — and see if you can’t catch up with the hottest food truck in the Valley.