May 01, 2018 01:14PM
● By Maleesa Johnson
Florence “Flo” Chauvet doesn’t get bored. It is simply not in her nature. There are plenty of times where she would probably appreciate the opportunity to be bored, but even if a lull hit, she would likely find something else to fill it.
Her passion for trying new things led her to start a food truck, Chez Flo. That food truck soon branched into two, with her second taking on a different name and concept, Sandwiches Around the World. Most recently, she started serving rolled ice cream in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. To say Flo works full time would be a gross understatement.
“I've worked harder since 2014 when I opened Chez Flo than I have ever worked in my life,” she says.
And that’s saying something. Flo has been cooking since she was 14 years old. Born in raised in France, she attended culinary school at age 16. She then moved to Paris and worked in a Marseille restaurant for three years.
“I was 14 when I started cooking and I'm 46 now,” Flo says. “It's the only job I ever had.”
Chef Around the World
Her second truck, Sandwiches Around the World, is named after its unique concept. Every six months the menu changes, featuring sandwiches inspired by five different countries. The truck’s exterior is a giant map, and on it, the truck’s owner can pinpoint a spectacular amount of places that she has lived or visited.
Her first venture out of home country for work took her to London. Flo worked at the Berkeley Hotel, a five-star hotel. She completed an additional two years of culinary school and learned English at the same time. Remember how we said she is never bored?
From there, she went to work at The Grand Hotel in Amsterdam, where she met the chef that would send her to the United States. Chef Albert Roux offered her a job at a hotel in Key Largo. At age 25, Flo got her visa and moved to the states. She has been here ever since.
“When I got to Florida the chef was like 'These American don't know what good cooking is, I'm going back to England,” Flo laughs. “And I was like, 'You know what Chef, I'm going to stay a little bit longer.'"
After four years of cooking in Florida, Flo was offered a job in Texas. She cooked her way up the ladder and landed a catering job that sponsored her in obtaining a Green Card. Then, in 2011, Flo took her final corporate job as executive sous chef at the Dallas Convention Center for Centerplate.
“The cool part of doing it was I was able to go to Miami, Washington D.C., New York, all those places to cook because the company had conventions all over the country,” Flo explains.
And while she thoroughly enjoyed her time there, three years later, she took the leap.
"Starting a food truck had been in the back of my mind for a while, and I thought 'why not, why not try it?'" she says.
When she was first starting her truck, Chez Flo, Flo continued to work full time at the convention center. It’s hard to say if the chef has ever held only one job at a time.
"I'm always like, why do those French people get five weeks of vacation every year?” she laughs, her own French accent shining through. “That's crazy."
Flo on the Go
The idea of being your own boss may sound like paradise, but Flo knows that a disciplined routine is what it takes to keep her two food trucks fueled and fueling others. Here is her average day in a nutshell.
Resisting the temptation to sleep in, Flo wakes up around 8 o’clock every morning. She gets ready for the day and then prompt heads to her home office to answer emails.
Flo will either get supplies for the truck or pick up one of the food trucks to serve lunch. The food trucks are parked at a food truck commissary in Grand Prairie overnight.
She likes to arrive to every event, be it lunch hour or a festival, at least an hour early to set up.
The lunch rush starts. Even though Flo is trying to be more “hands-off,” you’ll often find her on one of her trucks during lunch.
"I'm trying not to be on one of my trucks everyday,” she says. “Right now, it is our busy season. There are a lot of emails that come for last minute booking and, if you're not quick about it, then people will go somewhere else."
At special events, Flo will cut the menu down to ensure that everyone is fed in a timely manner. She endeavors to keep the line moving, and she and her team try to get food out within two minutes of it being ordered. That’s a tricky time table at her usual spot, Clyde Warren Park, but it’s escalated at festivals.
Even though Flo is home by now, her work is far from done. She spends the rest of her day on the business and administration side of things. This includes booking for big events, keeping tabs on inventory and making sure everyone gets paid. However, if one of her trucks is serving at another event, she may go there to support her team.
This schedule changes drastically for special events, which can equal eight to 12 hour work days on the truck.
"It takes special people to work on food trucks,” she says.
When asked how she ended up in Texas, Flo likes to tell people that she boarded a plane for Paris and ended up in Paris, Texas. All jokes aside, when she first took a job in Texas, she didn’t plan on staying this long. Her plan was to work here for about three years and make her way to California.
"Well, I've been here for 17 years, but it's been a good 17 years,” she says. “No regrets."
Introducing new cuisine to a population of BBQ-lovers is not without its challenges, Flo admits. And this challenge hits her every six months when she changes up the menu of Sandwiches Around the World.
“We had a Brazilian sandwich and people would read the description and not get it,” Flo says. “But when they try it, they say it's the best sandwich they've ever had.”
But even more difficult than getting a Southerner to try a Bauru - the aforementioned Brazilian sandwich - is simply the headache of small business ownership. While Flo is no stranger to the kitchen, the office work presented a learning curve. And with the rigorous hours it takes to keep a food truck running on the weekends, finding workers is still an ever-present obstacle.
"Everything is a learning process,” she explains. “Everything that I have done in my life, like doing the food truck, I've had nobody helping and I've had to learn on my own."
Flo has three people who work full time with her to keep the trucks operational, one of whom, Cathy, has been there from the beginning.
“She is not a cook, but she has great customer service,” Flo says. “She works her tail off at the truck like it is her baby.”
All challenges aside, Flo would be the first to tell you that she wouldn’t have it any other way. Between her two trucks and her latest venture at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, the chef is still happily in her element – cooking amazing culinary creations. Her goal is to introduce unique, tasty dishes, and her trucks are evidence of that.
"As long as I learn something every day, I am happy,” she says. “That is what builds character. If you don't challenge yourself, you'll just be another Joe in the corner of an office building."