03 | Apr | 20

Richard Johnson

In The Beginning….

It was Marco Pierre White who first gave me the idea – the youngest ever chef to win three Michelin Stars. It was a summer lunchtime ten years ago – in a New York park – and we were hungover from a night of Sambuca at Jay-Z’s party. Really. Sat on the grass, and eating a two-fisted burger in a fresh brioche bun, fresh from a food truck, we wondered why we couldn’t do the same thing in Britain. I decided, then and there, that I would do something about our street food. Once I had ordered another burger.

In my time as a food writer and broadcaster (check out my work here) I’ve travelled the world. And some of the best food I’ve ever eaten has been on the streets – whether it’s the dusty lanes of Bethlehem, with its hole-in-the-wall falafel shacks serving up pittas fat with hummus, pickle and broad beans, or the highways of Mandalay, with bowls of fishy noodles still salty from the sea.

Coming back home to Britain was always a disappointment. Ten years ago, when I was restaurant critic at the Independent, our food was becoming less of a joke. We had more Michelin-starred restaurants than Italy. But our street food? An embarrassment. It was either a bag of chips, or a cheap sausage on a rusty metal handcart pushed along by a Polish man with three fingers. We needed a revolution. And, like any good revolution, it started on the street.

The first British Street Food Awards – in September 2010 – recognised the best of the mobilers on our streets. The first prize was a food mixer. We have now grown to five regional heats, and a big national final. And we’ve been sponsored by everyone from Universal Music to M&S and (currently) Hellmann’s. We expanded into Europe in 2017, and traders came from Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Stockholm, London…and Dorking….all because they wanted to be voted the Best of the Best.

Launching the USA Street Food Awards in 2020 is an act of homage. Coming back to where it all began, and revelling in the real sense of Hollywood that America brings to food trucks. The business has evolved. The food has improved. And a new generation of pop-ups are coming through; more lightweight, flexible, and adaptable to new opportunities. Because they are also more affordable, they allow entry to more new talent. At the 2020 USA Street Food Awards we will discover the best that’s out there.