If you see a pale lime-green food truck cruising the back streets around Tysons Corner, you have just spotted Tortuga, the property of chef-owner Andrew Smiedala.
What’s he cooking up in this tortoise-logoed truck? A whole range of Hispanic and Caribbean delights shaped into a torta, or sandwich, all intended to tantalize his patrons’ palates.
What better wakeup call for midday doldrums than his Havana sandwich of roasted pork belly, serrano ham and the faintest sliver of Emmenthaler Swiss cheese, all grilled together into a tasty whole? That plus a Mexican Coca-Cola, and lunch takes on a special meaning.
“I base the recipes on a different city,” he said, and these include Havana, Guadalajara, Lima, Cuzco, Salamanca and Xalapa. “Xalapa is the capital city of the state of Veracruz,” he said, and this particular all-veg sandwich contains grilled summer squash, salsa Veracruz, and an avocado-goat cheese spread.
Smiedala’s back story proves that people can follow their dreams and make them work out. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he took up cooking as a hobby while working as an operations manager for a local company. Growing up, he was exposed to unusual cuisines, many of which seemed strange to him at the time, but are all very commonplace now. He also worked at several food places, furthering his interest in cooking.
As an adult and before culinary school, he says he pushed himself to copy dishes he had enjoyed at restaurants. “I then set out to learn about different types of cuisines,” he says. “I was really pushing myself to find unfamiliar ones, especially Latino ones. My wife is from Bolivia, so I had a crash course in Bolivian and Peruvian dishes.”
All that helped to spark his interest in a culinary profession and, when he opted for a career change, Smiedala enrolled in Gaithersburg’s L’Academie de Cuisine. “It was so hard to start over,” he says. “But I had gotten to the point that I was not fulfilled with my former career.”
After receiving his diploma, he worked for José Andrés’ Mexican restaurant, Oyamel, for two years, and during that time had the chance to work in several other of Andrés’ local restaurants. He then went to work for the Chef’s Warehouse to learn about different and trendy ingredients. While there, he realized he could establish his own restaurant — only one on wheels.
Smiedala launched Tortuga about one year ago, and finds that parking near an office building assures a steady stream of patrons. As one customer, Doug Francis of Re/Max in Fairfax noted, “I track him down wherever he is. My favorite is the Guadalajara because the chicken is fresh and light, the avocado is perfect. ... It keeps me coming back.”
Tortugatruck, www.tortugatruck.com. Check for daily locations on Twitter and Facebook or email Smiedala at firstname.lastname@example.org.