Tony Hudson’s dishwasher-to-chef career path isn’t unique, but the route he has taken over the past 30 years has been a meandering one, even by restaurant industry standards.
Since starting out as a 13-year-old scrubbing pots at a family-owned restaurant in Matthews, the town near Charlotte where he grew up, Hudson has traveled from coast to coast, working his way up through line cook, chef and food and beverage director positions at a variety of restaurants, from regional chain to fine dining establishment.
The chef took a few detours along the way, leading to jobs ranging from food sales to electronic entertainment and communications. But the path always led back to his first passion, cooking. That includes his years of service in the Coast Guard, two and a half of which he spent working in the kitchen – er, galley.
It seems fitting, then, that a chef with a strong case of wanderlust would wind up starting a food truck. That’s just what Hudson did a little over a year ago, when Flattz hit the road.
Nor is it surprising that the truck’s specialty flatbread sandwiches are offered with fillings that are as eclectic as its owner’s background. Hudson roams the culinary globe, from his native South to Asia and the Mediterranean, for inspiration for his flatbread fillers. These he piles generously onto a foundation of roghani naan, an Indian bread that falls somewhere between the more familiar tandoori naan and pita bread, in texture.
The best-seller, practically since the day it was introduced into the rotation, is the Truffle Chicken. The tantalizing menu description – “grilled chicken and wild greens topped with tomato bruschetta, balsamic truffle glaze and lemon zest” – no doubt explains part of the Truffle Chicken’s popularity. But what keeps them coming back for more, according to Hudson, is his not-so-secret secret ingredient: He uses only dark meat, noting that it’s more reliably juicy and flavorful than breast meat.
I haven’t yet tried the Truffle Chicken, but having sampled the Kung Wow, the sandwich it knocked off the best-seller perch, you can bet I will next time. Hudson’s freewheeling riff on kung pao chicken gives the flatbread a smear of hoisin sauce and then piles on a kaleidoscope of mixed greens, red peppers, scallions, cilantro, cashews and moist morsels of chile-rubbed grilled chicken.
I’d happily spring for an encore performance of the Black & Bleu, too: lean, tender slices of sweet tea-marinated beef with tomatoes, chimichurri and crumbled gorgonzola playing bright and salty counterpoint to the subtly sweet umami of the meat.
I’d also like to try the Full Monty, the chef’s take on a Monte Cristo. Filled with ham, turkey and four cheeses, then folded and flattened before being dipped in egg batter, fried and dusted with powdered sugar, it’s served with jalapeño-cranberry jam on the side. “It took a lot of trial and error to get that one right,” the chef says, “and now it’s my favorite – hands down.”
The selection of sides was sparse the night I caught up with the truck, the only one on offer being an unexceptional pasta salad. But the chef is working up some new dishes for fall, including a pumpkin bread pudding that’s already on the menu. He also plans a nod to his North Carolina heritage with a flatbread featuring pork – either a pork belly creation he’s fine-tuning, or reviving the pork kofta with apple fennel slaw he offered a while back.
But not barbecue. “I love Carolina barbecue,” Hudson says, “but everybody and his brother does barbecue.” And, as it surely must be clear by now, this is one chef who likes to chart his own course.
Looking for a food truck?
The Street Food Finder website has a map that tracks locations of local food trucks.
Check it out at streetfoodfinder.com/c/nc/raleigh.