The road that David Perazzo took to becoming a food truck owner/operator is a familiar one – up to a point.
Perazzo started out as a 17-year-old busboy and cashier at a Golden Corral. Over the next few years, he earned a culinary degree at Wake Tech and worked his way up the restaurant kitchen ladder from garde manger at Jimmy V’s Osteria to sous chef at Capital Club 16.
Like many others, the young chef dreamed of opening his own restaurant. And like many others who couldn’t afford the high startup costs of a brick-and-mortar establishment, he and his wife, Ann Wagner, decided to start a food truck. The couple bought a truck and built it out themselves to save money. They put Baozi on the road in 2015, specializing in Chinese steamed buns called bao.
Wait, what? How does a career path that runs through the cuisines of North America, Italy and Germany suddenly wind up in China?
Perazzo took a little detour during his off hours, that’s how. While he was working at Capital Club 16, he began teaming up with a few other chefs to put on Asian-themed pop-up restaurants at various locations around town. He learned to make bao, and it dawned on him that a food truck specializing in contemporary fusion takes on the dim sum staple would be just the ticket.
In the first few months after putting Baozi on the road, the chef hit a few culinary potholes. The machine he had bought to make the bao produced buns that were too heavy and dense, and it took a long time to find the right flour.
“I finally found a Korean white-wheat flour,” says Perazzo, who also decided that making the buns by hand, while labor intensive, was the only way to go.
Good call on both counts, judging by the striking difference between the bao I was served not long after the truck hit the road and the exemplary buns I scored just a few weeks ago.
Bao are sometimes offered as a special in their traditional shape with fillings such as char siu pork or slow-cooked beef short rib. But it’s the presentation that Perazzo calls “open face,” in which split bao resemble pale, pillowy soft taco shells with a variety of filling options, that have become something of a trademark.
The crispy pork belly bao features locally sourced pork seared to order, topped with cucumber slices and almond slivers, and glazed with a honey-hoisin sauce that will have you licking your fingers. At the opposite end of the protein spectrum, Korean soy BBQ is a vegan delight that gets its surprisingly gratifying texture not from tofu but from edamame pods.
Kung Pow chicken – shredded breast meat in a sweet chile glaze, topped with roasted red peppers, enoki mushrooms, pineapple and green onions – is a best seller. And if the traditional beef short bao are not on the menu, chances are you’ll find the open-face version, filled with beef that has been simmered in a mild pepper sauce for 18 hours, topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions, Sriracha mayo and sprouts.
Bao come two to an order with a side of fried rice, an ample serving for most. But by all means, spring for an order of coconut curry rice, topped with a colorful confetti of diced pineapple, cucumber, ribbons of scallion and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds. Get it to-go if you aren’t sure you’ll eat it all. It comes in a Chinese takeout carton, and I’m happy to tell you that it makes a great light lunch the next day.
Prices: bao, served two per order with fried rice, $8-11