Chef Ludo Lefebvre helped create the food truck community that’s taken the world by storm. After spending years toiling in high-class kitchens across France and America, Lefebvre turned his eye towards cooking for the masses. He was tired of his food only being enjoyed by the elite and ‘in-the-know’ of the culinary world. To remedy this, Lefebvre and his wife created Ludo Truck — serving fried chicken with a solid foundation in French technical excellence.
It was a massive hit and helped solidify Chef Lefebvre as the future of sustainable cuisine, so it makes sense that the culinary star would be at the forefront of bringing food trucks to the next level. Earlier this year, Chef Lefebvre decided to join a team of STEM students. The students were challenged to re-imagine the food truck experience using the six bright energy ideas supported by Shell’s #makethefuture campaign. Instead of running the Hackathon with a winner take all mentality, the judges decided to take the best ideas and tech from each truck.
The idea was to make a tech-savvy food truck that’s repeatable by any would-be food truck chef. The students were set with the task of integrating current and future tech into a functional food truck with Lefebvre creating the menu. It’d be called the Shell Synergy Truck.
“I think it’s important to be responsible about energy and sustainability right now,” Lefebvre told us when we caught up with him in New York this month. “To collaborate with young people, with students, to build a green truck is being responsible right now as a chef. We need to build trucks where we’re going to save the planet.”
It doesn’t end with just making a green truck. This is Ludo Lefebvre after all. The crux of this plan is to make sure the food is going to keep you longing for more. So, while the students were building out their trucks, Lefebvre was building out a menu that would catch eyes, Instas, and, most of all, tastebuds.
At this point, you’re probably wondering, “so, what the hell is this truck all about and what makes it so special?” Which is fair. It’s very easy to slap some solar panels on a roof and a water recycler under a sink and start hashtagging “sustainability” and “green” all day long. This truck goes far beyond that.
When you walk up to the truck, the first thing you notice is a sort of faux-sidewalk that has large colored squares — not unlike a Dance Dance Revolution floor. This is a Pavegen system. Basically, it converts the pressure your feet make on a surface into energy. The Shell Synergy Truck has one when you walk up with a built-in screen on the truck’s wall to measure your activity. You can also do a little exercise (or a little dance) and create more energy for the truck. The amount of energy you create is then deducted from your bill.
Essentially, you can do a quick workout, create free energy, and earn a free lunch. Chef Lefebvre was blown away by this innovation — so much so that he wants to bring it to his brick and mortar properties.
“You know, to create energy where you stand, where you walk, it’s pretty cool. I would love to put one in my restaurant,” Lefebvre says. “In the kitchen, we walk so much, we stand up all the time, so I think it would be pretty amazing to create energy like this.”
Indeed, this sort of technology has wide implications from kitchen floors to behind the bar. But also think of the energy you could produce in a museum, or all that energy lost during decades of soccer fans jumping and chanting.
Another bit of technology that piqued our interest was the Bio-Bean system. This converts used coffee grounds into a flammable log that can be used in place of charcoals as an accelerant while cooking. The biofuel is naturally carbon neutral since it’s not carbon-based which is a huge win for the fire-based cooking world from grilling meat to firing pizzas. Lefebvre is very excited about Bio-Beans and has already started using them outside the food truck.
“I get some for the restaurant because we grill, you know,” he says. “We create energy with the little logs and there’s no smell, and it burns for like two hours. Nonstop.”
The benefits are easy to see with this one. No carbon emission. Cleaner food. No toxic fumes. Upcycling trash. It’s a win all around and you don’t even have to install a system in your kitchen, you can order the Bio-Bean logs online and use them at home during your next backyard barbecue. This one really feels like technology changing the game when it comes to how we cook food with something as primal as fire.
From there, the students at the Palo Alto Hackathon found practical ways to recycle used oil to fuel the truck. There’s a gravity based light system — which simply requires that you pull a string and allow gravity to create light. They use wind turbines and solar to create extra energy to run the kitchen’s appliance, and even installed a sort of winged door (not unlike Doc Brown’s Delorean) to catch more light and create more energy. That last one you can even plug your phone into to charge up while you wait for your order or dance off the price of your meal on the Pavegen pavement.
While these tech items may have a larger upfront price, that shouldn’t hold back anyone’s dreams of starting up their own truck. The money saved by having a constant source of energy and fuel will offset the initial costs in no time. Plus, the added advantage of truly being a ‘green’ food truck means the people will care and people will come. And, eventually, this will be the norm.
Alas, all the green tech in the world needs great food to back it up. Lefebvre has some wise words to ensure that if you do decide to build it, people will actually come … and come back again.
“Above all, yes, be very smart with your menu,” he says. “Always have good execution, of course. But make sure to do food people love. Don’t do too fancy food on the street. Make sure it’s easy to eat. Make sure it’s easy to execute for speed. That’s the key.”
With that in mind, Chef Lefebvre created a menu for the tech-savvy food truck of the future featuring classic French street food. The idea: crepes. Who doesn’t love a great french pancake? They’re made with a flair for the French foundations of the dish, while still being repeatable at the breakneck speeds necessary for a modern food truck.
“Simple ingredients,” Lefebvre insists. “That’s all you need on the streets.”
That’s an ethos that is easily carried over to every other facet of the food and restaurant experience. Simple changes that make sense environmentally, but also mean more money in the proprietor’s pocket and, thereby, the consumer’s pocket. It’s really that simple. Technology is changing the game from carbon-neutral fuels to multiple energy sources to the point where there’s no future without these advancements.
Before digging into a crepe, we asked Chef Lefebvre one last question about what he thinks all of this means.
“It’s time to respect the planet,” he told us. “I’m so excited to build a green food truck, which is simply amazing… But, also, to help the farmer or help people with no money. Food brings people together. So, I think it’s very important chefs are putting the message out there to pull people together. People need to understand to respect the planet. And we need to do that now with everything we do, you know?”