What’s the story behind Mr. Papa?
We have been operating for nearly two years since our first venture at The National Gallery of Australia for the ‘Gold and The Incas’ exhibition as well as the National Multicultural Festival in 2013.
Mr. Papa is all about my childhood dreams and memories back home. Mostly, my adventurous weekends at my grandparents business – a fairly big family catering business in Peru. I used to enjoy waking up at 5am to go with my Uncle Carlos to the local farmers market to do the purchases for the events that day. Meeting street food vendors in person at markets and eating at their tents used to be a like a dream. There was a story behind every dish and vendor. That is how enamoured I am of cooking. Since I was six years old, I didn’t want a Nintendo or Play Station, I wanted to cook.
All I wanted after school on the weekends was to be next to the kitchen at my grandparents’ business and enjoy the noise of it, the smell, be considered in case someone needed my help and of course taste everything. Years later I was in charge of going to the market by myself and cooking lunch for the staff. Win! By creating Mr. Papa I want to pay tribute to what I learnt from my family.
As a funny reference, the name Mr. Papa comes from ‘papa’ which means potato in Spanish and it was chosen because it was the name of the first dish we sold back in the day – ‘Papa rellena’ (Peruvian stuffed potatoes).
Why did you decide to run a food truck?
To have a food truck and a catering business with the street food concept was something I always had in mind.
In 2008, after doing a hotel management internship at Hilton Hotels in the U.S., I decided to go back to Peru to think about my career and future plans.
In the meantime, I met a chef whom I admire and learned a lot from; Mitsuharu Tsumura (Peruvian-Japanese background). Together we opened Maido, a Nikkei style restaurant. I worked there as a Maitre D’/Restaurant Manager for two years.
After this great experience, I arrived in Australia. I got to Canberra in 2010 where I worked nearly three years in the food and beverage management department of a popular hotel chain.
I always had the idea of a food truck in mind but I didn’t have sufficient funds to get it started. I saved some money until I found a guy on Gumtree selling an old truck which was later converted into a proper food truck.
What do you love about it?
I love being able to express my culture to the different people I meet every day. I consider myself so lucky to have this window to showcase what we do and where I come from.
Mr. Papa combines Peru’s exciting street food cuisine with a cheeky touch. We showcase Peruvian cuisine which infuses a little bit of the many cultures that migrated to Peru over the last couple of centuries like Europe, Asia and Africa making their own contributions and traditions. That is what Peruvian food is all about.
Why do you think food trucks are so popular today?
I always believe that bringing a real experience to people is a must. Today you don’t just serve a plate of food. You are giving a piece of you and your own history. By doing it in a food truck we add a special look and feel that people enjoy and appreciate.
It’s like opening a surprise gift box, you don’t know what’s in it but you know that it is going to be enjoyable.
The food truck phenomenon is something that has been always around but now it has been taken to the next level.
What do you love about Canberra? (For you and your business)
Canberra doesn’t have that ‘boring city’ title everyone used to talk about. I can’t be thankful enough to Canberra and its amazing community. It has allowed us to make great friends and is a city that is growing amazingly with its food and cultural offering.
It’s a very supportive city that is always willing to help and explore new cultures and flavours.
If you would have asked me three years ago about Canberra and my plans to live and raise a family here, I would probably have said no for many reasons.
If you would ask me the same question now, my answer is that I love Canberra and I have a thousand reasons to be here. My daughter was born here and I am so privileged to have Canberra as my host and to let me share my culture and love through what we cook.
I would also love to see Canberra as Australia’s top food destination. I believe that is a dream that can be accomplished together if all of Canberra continues working in that direction.
Hopefully we will be able to see more food trucks going around the streets very soon.