11 Questions with Tony Adams from Big Wheel in Central Florida

You can’t deny people are awesome. Who doesn’t like sitting down with good friends to ask them interesting, insightful, and funny questions? With that in mind I’m introducing an ongoing photo and Q&A series called 11 Questions. I’ll be featuring some friends I look up to as well as people within the community I’ve always wanted to get to know. Let’s get started!

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I met Tony Adams through Rebecca Lujan Loveless. Tony loves food and that's just one reason why I love Tony. It's not every day you come across someone who is so passionate about what they do. Tony is that guy. He's the chief of Big Wheel Provisions and Big Wheel Truck where he spreads the gospel of good food made from local and organic ingredients. He's worked under some of the best chefs in the land and is making his mark on the Orlando scene. Take a minute and see what he has to say then go grab a bite from his truck. You won't regret it.

Who do you look up to?

There are so many people that I respect and look up to both inside the industry and outside of the food world. As far as chefs are concerned I really love seeing the food and ideas of chef's like Sean Brock in Charleston at Husk, Matt Jennings in Providence at La Latterie, Jaime Bissonnette in Boston at Coppa and Toro. These guys are working with local ingredients and you can really tell they are in love with their food and cooking just by looking at their stuff. You can tell they are excited to share it with the world each time they cook something and I know exactly how that feels. I think that for me, my family is a huge source if strength too. My grandfather recently had a birthday, I think he's 532, and everyday he gets up and drives his tractor trailer truck loaded with lumber all over New England, even though he's fighting prostate cancer. He's not a rich man and in the conversations I've had with him I know his life hasn't been easy and that being self employed is one of the most difficult things to survive. I'm so inspired by his strength, determination, and wisdom. My dad also owned his own burner and furnace company when I was growing up so I had a good idea of what it meant to sacrifice for your work sometimes. I still call him to talk about frustrations that I experience with owning a small biz. Locally, I think that James and Julie at Rav Pig and Cask & Larder are absolutely killing it and I'm in love with The stuff Matt Cargo (a former student of mine!!) is doing over at Prato. Kevin Fonzo is doing really great stuff as I can see from his menus and tweets but I still haven't been able to gett down there to actually eat a full meal at K restaurant.

Do you have a favorite book?

I think that the most important cookbook I own is The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. I remember looking at it first in culinary school and being so inspired. I had never seen food like that and never even imagined food could be that beautiful. It redefined what I thought was possible. I also have a great book called Letters to a Young Chef by Daniel Boulud. It's only like 90 pages and its more of a compass through the industry, extremely relevant to those not quite yet in the industry, or are already there and need some validation that "yes, this is very hard. You probably aren't sane if you choose to be in this industry. Don't expect to have friends or family or any semblance of any type of normal life because you want to be a chef." I found that book at a difficult time in my career where I had just come off an unpaid stage (internship) at Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons in Oxfordshire UK (a 2 Michelin star restaurant regularly listed in the top 40 in the world), where I was working from 7 am to 1 or 2 am, learned more than I could have imagined and found myself back in Providence in Rhode Island working at a Jazz club slinging crab cakes and stuffed mushrooms. I read LTAYC and literally drove to Manhattan the next night at midnight, slept in my car, and showed up at the back door of Boulud's flagship and namesake restaurant Daniel and worked for two days. Daniel actually cooked me dinner that first night cause he heard that I drove from Providence and slept in my car to work there and he said that took guts. I have read that book maybe a dozen times, whenever I need some validation for my career and sacrifice. I used to give it to my students and have even asked a few of my employees to read it when they are in that place of not knowing what they want.

This might be difficult, favorite place to eat in Orlando?

Honestly? HONESTLY??? Lac Viet, a big bowl of pho. I have had it probably 150 times in the last 8 years I've been in Orlando and I've never had a bad bowl. Their banh Xeo is spectacular too. Same could go for the chicken curry at Singh's Roti Shop. Always better than I remember. If I have to go fancy I love the pizza and pastas at Prato. So good.

What gives you inspiration?

Inspiration is sometimes hard to find in Orlando. We really are behind in the food trends and it makes it that much harder. I used to get a New York Times each Wednesday to read the food section and I try to keep up with great food magazines to keep an eye on the trends and look at the plating pictures and such. I follow a lot of my chef idols on twitter and that is always inspiring. Most of all though I'm really inspired each day by creating food that my employees want to cook, my guests want to eat, where the ingredients are from local farms that are havens and models for how farming should be. It's about respecting each of those things and trying to be true to them that inspires a lot of what I do.

If you had the chance to live in a different decade, what decade would you choose?

Oh wow. I love the idea of what the decade that sits in front of us holds. My prediction and hope for the next 10 years? The fashion of the 50's Mad Men style, the cocktails of the 30's, the innovation of the early 2000's, the culinary growth and creativity of 90's (with none of the bad fusion cooking!), and the simplicity of maybe the 1890's.

What in your personal life has influenced you to choose your career?

I realized at a young age that I wanted to cook. Growing up in Maine, it was bitter cold winters of working outside and smelling like heating oil for my dad and I realized being in the kitchen with mom was such a better option! Cooking with her and near her when I was 10 sparked an interest that festered until junior high. It took one job shadow in a restaurant where I learned that you get to drink all the soda you want and no one cares if you eat croutons by the handful. I was hooked. Who doesn't love endless croutons and soda?! As a fat kid, it was like heaven. Seemed like it anyway.

How do you balance your personal and professional life?

Ask anyone that knows me and they will tell you I don't. I'm a live it, breathe it, do it, be it kind of person and its rare you don't know what I'm thinking. Emotions on the sleeve, fly off at the handle, and push until it gets done whether you're having fun or not. Big wheel is so important and such a struggle most days it consumes a lot of my thoughts and life. BUT, I love sports, both watching and playing, and finding veg time in front of the tv. I've been flying through series' on Netflix lately on the computer while I'm doing office work.

Is there anything that you haven’t done yet that you feel compelled to achieve in the future?

I don't think we are where we want to be yet but I'm not always confident we will get there in Orlando either. We are looking at what our next project is going to be and there are so many things that we want to do (deli, butcher shop, provisions and cheese store, fine dining restaurant) that I just need a little financial backing and I think we'd blow the doors off it. But what it's going to be? Who's to say! I would love to be in the position to be nominated for a James Beard award like my former student Hari Pulapaka out at Cress in Deland. Having worked for Loren Falsone Brassil (now of Orlando's The Table) in Providence I have always had the dream of winning top 10 Best New Chefs Award from Food And Wine Magazine. It's tough though, I don't think food trucks get nods for those type of things so we are hoping what's next for us continues to define our continually shifting goals.

If you could mate two different species of animals what would they be?

Pig and cow. Can you imagine how good that would taste? A cig? A pow? Either way, the whole belly and midsection would probably be so valuable it would become the new currency of a small European country. Deeeelicious.

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What are your other interests?

If I had to have a hobby I think that it would be photography. I'm a pretty sentimental guy who holds value in the things that have happened and the lessons that were learned and I think photography is being able to capture a moment in time. As a chef, the food that I create is destroyed by the guest seconds after I complete my "art" so to speak, so capturing that in pictures is a valuable learning tool and something I continue to have interest in. Food pretty much drives everything in my life so it all relates back to that somehow. The charities we work with are food issue specific and that's important to me as well.

What rejuvenates you?

For me it's reading about food and experiencing great food done by others. By the time I serve a bit of food we have created the idea, worked out its feasibility, checked on availability, ordered the food, inspected it upon delivery, stored it, prepped it, transported it (mobile food truck!), stored it again, tasted it, then to order, cooked it, and served it. By the time I serve it it's so thought about, the process has taken so much energy, that it's such a different food experience when I can eat something that I just get to concentrate on eating. Traveling to great food cities like Boston, New York, Portland (Maine AND Oregon), and Montreal have all been part of the last 18 months for me and I make it a priority to get into the greatest places I can find.

Have any additional questions for Tony? Post them in the comments and I'll make sure he answers them.

Be sure to follow Big Wheel Truck on Twitter and like them on Facebook. You can also do the same with Big Wheel Provisions (Twitter and Facebook). Tony Adams and his gang will be doing an Outstanding in the Field event on January 19th at Lake Meadow Naturals, where we shot these pictures. It's going to be a great event. Tickets go quick so make sure you buy yours soon! You can purchase them here.

One quick side note. I want to give some big props to my great friend Ben Travers. He has been my assistant on countless photo shoots. He's a great guy who contributes way more than expected and always ends up making my photos better. He's getting married soon and will be moving to Tallahassee. It's gonna be hard to survive without him. Good luck friend!