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Southern Gourmasian: the best kind of fusion 

Chef Justin Patterson eyes transitioning from truck to storefront.

click to enlarge THE SOUTHERN GOURMASIAN: Justin Patterson at work image
  • Matt Amaro
  • THE SOUTHERN GOURMASIAN: Justin Patterson at work.

The road to Little Rock food truck dominance for The Southern Gourmasian wasn't an easy one. When Justin Patterson first left his job at the Country Club of Little Rock and decided he would open his own gourmet eatery on wheels with a "Southern cooking meets Asian cuisine" theme, many folks had no idea what to expect — and there were fears that the new truck would be an experiment in fusion cuisine gone horribly wrong. After all, Little Rock had never seen the sort of menu presented by Patterson and crew, and it's unlikely that anyone could replicate it easily.

Patterson drew his initial inspiration from David Chang, the James Beard award-winning chef who made his name with New York City's Momofuku restaurant group. Chang's specialty is classic steamed buns served with sliced pork belly — a simple sandwich of pork, pickle and hoisin sauce that was trendy in the early 2000s. Patterson made Chang's buns for a party once, and they were such a hit that friends and family encouraged him to make them part of a professional menu. Coincidentally, Patterson had also been looking for work that would allow him to spend more time with his young daughter, and opening his own business seemed to be the best route toward that end.

The Southern Gourmasian food truck debuted in the summer of 2012 at the now-defunct University Market at 4 Corners and immediately exceeded all expectations among local food truck lovers. Keeping the idea of the steamed bun as the main thrust of his menu, Patterson tweaked the recipe by replacing the pork belly with smoky Southern-style pulled pork, chopped beef brisket and shredded chicken, creating something that combines the best of good barbecue with unique Asian-influenced techniques. This genius is also on display with Patterson's chicken and dumplings, a spicy broth loaded with shredded chicken poured over rice cake "dumplings" that quickly has become one of his most popular dishes.

By the fall of 2012, the University Market had fallen apart, and Patterson's crew had its own internal issues to contend with, including a stolen generator that sidelined them for a time. Running a kitchen from the back of a truck means two things: Having all the problems that come with maintaining kitchen equipment and all that comes with maintaining a work truck — and problems on both sides have grounded the Gourmasian truck several times over the years. Undaunted, Patterson and his crew still seem to be everywhere, popping up for lunch all around Little Rock, serving a breakfast menu at the Hillcrest and Bernice Garden farmers markets, and maintaining a catering schedule that keeps them booked months in advance.

As for the future, Patterson has his eye on several brick and mortar locations, although he won't reveal any specific locations. The transition from truck to storefront brings with it an entirely new set of challenges, especially for a chef like Patterson who refuses to lower his standards on ingredients to squeeze a little more profit out of his food. Given the steady rise in popularity that Gourmasian has experienced since its inception, a brick and mortar store seems inevitable, and Patterson has plans drawn up for how he wants the stationary location to look. While more at home creating menus and executing them, Patterson has proven himself to be a capable businessman, weighing issues of location, lease price and kitchen equipment prices simultaneously as he poaches an egg and crisps up a pan full of his beloved Benton's ham. This new chapter in the story of Southern Gourmasian will see if the ingenuity and resolve that have pulled the yellow truck with the red dragon to the top of the food truck game in Little Rock can see it through when it's competing with established favorites. If the lines that stretch out from the truck window are any indication, success seems almost inevitable.

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