It’s a tough job, being a blogger. I’ve been asked to profile the businesses behind the Sexy Men of YEG Food calendars, which feature photos of local coffee roasters, and food truck and restaurant owners. The proceeds from the calendar, now in its second year, benefit the Edmonton Food Bank.
Talk to calendar models and then have lunch? It’ll be tough, but I’ll give it a try. Alexei Boldireff and Mo Yusuf, owners of S’Wich Food Truck, are featured during the month of March in the 2016 calendar.
Winter in Edmonton isn’t usually kind to food trucks, so S’Wich winters at the downtown Grant MacEwan campus, in the Robbins Health Learning Centre. This is where my husband and I find Alexei and Mo, working behind their counter shortly before the noon lunch rush. It’s quiet enough that I can chat with Alexei.
It soon becomes obvious that this is not your ordinary food truck. Started by Alexei and his business partner, Tom, S’Wich is soon to begin its fourth season on the road, after its second at the winter location. Specializing in sandwiches, they make everything themselves — and I do mean everything. S’Wich cure and smoke their own meats, bake their own breads and even make some of their own cheeses (cream and ricotta, but not cheddar, because it takes too long to age). Mo and Alexei come up with their own recipes and dish ideas, using ingredients sourced from local suppliers. Known for their breads, they supply other local restaurants as well, including Get Cooking, Tzin, Cibo, Block 1912, North 53 and the Westin Hotel. The menu changes a little between the winter and summer seasons, since it’s easier to operate carving stations inside. It seems like a hectic business, but with a clear direction and a sophisticated palate. And after talking to the men of S’Wich it’s easy to see where this comes from.
A four-time graduate from NAIT — in accounting, finance, culinary arts and butchery — Alexei, 32, worked locally and then in Calgary, Italy and Ireland, before coming back to Edmonton to start the business. He knew he wanted to work with Mo, 37, after working together at the Marc in Edmonton; as soon as S’Wich had a year-round schedule, Mo was on board. As our chat is interrupted by hungry customers, Alexei and Mo work smoothly and quietly as a team to put together the orders. Both men were happy to be considered for the 2016 edition of the Sexy Men of YEG Food Calendar, and happy to help with the project, which has raised more than $20,000 for the Edmonton Food Bank. Even though he’s now known to his basketball team as “Mr. March,” Alexei takes his celebrity in stride.
The lunch crowd starts to increase, so it’s time to end our chat and sample what S’Wich has to offer. My husband opts for S’Wich’s signature dish, the Root Beer Braised Beef sandwich, while I go for a more prosaic ham and cheese. It doesn’t sound as exciting as the beef, but I’ve been eyeing the ham (cured in-house!) throughout our conversation, and it looks very good.
As expected, the beef sandwich is incredibly tender, and the flavour is subtle. The breads, different for each sandwich, are soft and complementary. The side salad that comes with the sandwich mystifies us at first (Alexei later explains it’s a shredded green papaya base with a homemade vinaigrette) but it’s light, fresh and delicious. My ham sandwich also does not disappoint. The ham is perfect, and the addition of thinly-sliced apple elevates it above your typical ham ‘n’ cheese. All the ingredients are fresh, and it feels good to know you are eating local. The overall impression is like homemade, but better than I could ever produce out of my own kitchen.
We have saved room for dessert, of course, but we are sad to hear that our first choice, the Cap’n Crunch Ice Cream bar, is not available today. Yet another reason to track this food truck down again! We try the chocolate ice cream sandwich instead (called the Kardashian), and it’s roll-your-eyes-back good. The Grant MacEwan students in the Robbins Health Learning Centre, who are training to take care of others, are fortunate to have access to wholesome, delicious food.
It’s been a pleasure talking with Alexei and Mo, and learning about the business behind the beefcake photo. S’Wich got its start as the first food truck at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, and they have a loyal following there. Generally, they stay around central Edmonton, but I put in a request for expansion to the south Edmonton business park where I work. I could get used to lunches like these.