Saturday, January 26, 2019

Ooh la la: Her French food truck is one of a kind

Paul Maryniak,

La Petite Provence
La Petite Provence appears at various food truck rodeos and special events throughout the East Valley.
Special to AFN

With all the time she spends in the kitchen of her Ahwatukee home making more French dishes and pastries, it’s a miracle that Eve Visconti gets out at all. 

But the fact is, she does quite a bit on the weekends – tooling around to various places in the East Valley in the only all-French food truck in Arizona.
She doesn’t just sell her crepes, quiches, lasagna and other items – along, of course, with a seemingly limitless variety of French pastries – from her specially designed truck with the bold moniker “La Petite Provence.” 
She also caters private gatherings big and small – most recently a 14-course gourmet Christmas dinner for 25 and, next month, 1,000 people for a Mesa church – and even makes dishes she delivers or arranges for pick-up.
And she does it all herself, aided by a young woman who mainly handles paper work and takes orders, since Visconti speaks French, German and Italian – but not English.
As interesting as her menu is, her back story is even more so.
A native of Italy, she ended up with her family in Aix-en-Provence, the home of the painter Cezanne and the former capitol of a region that has long been a tourist capitol of the world, known for its food and wine, its weather and shopping and the French Riviera.
When her father once asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she unhesitatingly replied she wanted to be just like him – a baker – and take over his bakery. It only seemed logical, since she had learned how to bake and made a lot of pastries and bread for her father’s bakery by the time she was 10.
But her father told her owning a bakery was not a job for a woman, so she became a physical therapist, relocating to Italy for a short time.
And it turned out her father was wrong, as Visconti explained through her best friend and interpreter, Pascale Dunton, a longtime Ahwatukee resident.
“She decided to get into the businesses and show her father that a woman could be a baker and she went to Culinary Academy in the south of France,” Dunton said.
And voila, before long, she was the chef and owner of three celebrated restaurants in Provence.
But Visconti had another passion besides good food: She loved Arizona, and had been visiting annually for years, befriending Dunton along the way when they met on the beach at Rocky Point.
That friendship brought her to Ahwatukee three years ago, after Visconti’s son and two daughters were old enough to be on their own.
Dunton, a U.S. State Department-certified public diplomacy [JB emphasis] ambassador who coordinates exchange students visiting in the southwest from abroad, has lived in Ahwatukee since 1991, when her husband began working for Intel.
She introduced Visconti to the community some time ago – and eventually the two women had become such close friends that Visconti decided to move here.
Before closing her three restaurants and moving here three years ago, Visconti had already been thinking about owning a food truck, as those vehicles also are popular in France.
“She came, she bought the truck,” Dunton said. “It was converted into a food truck. Her husband did all the work. He is an architect and he built this food truck.”
Equipping the truck with refrigerating and heating equipment was almost the least of Visconti’s hurdles.
“It was quite a steep learning curve, to learn everything about licensing and getting a different license in different places and figuring out what the American palate likes,” Dunton explained.
To her surprise, Visconti quickly learned that it wasn’t just one palate she needed to adapt to.
Even after operating the truck for more than a year, Visconti is continually amazed – and a little discouraged – by the American – or at least the Arizonan – palate as she works a couple standard places on the weekend in Gilbert and Queen Creek while making appearances at festivals, auto races and other outdoor events.
(She had been invited by the Barrett-Jackson auction organizers to join its vendors, but declined when they told her it would cost $6,000.)
“She’s discovered that in a lot of the places it’s the quantity that attracts a buyer versus the quality,” Dunton said. “So, people will get a block of French fries that are smothered with a yellow cancer-causing cheese versus a nice portion of a spinach goat cheese quiche.”
She even has found that tastes can vary between cities in Arizona, noting that her clientele in Scottsdale seems more adventurous when it comes to trying new things.
“She finds that people are hesitant around here about trying things they don’t recognize,” Dunton said. “Whereas up in Scottsdale, she has people are more adventurous and they want to try everything that she has, even if they don’t recognize what it is. At some of the events, even the croque monsieur – which is a basic ham and cheese sandwich – basically you will have to explain what it is because it looks different than the ham and cheese you would make at home.”
Even at festivals in northern Arizona, she’s found “people come from all these little specks of towns and they are absolutely so adventurous in wanting to try new things,” Dunton said.
Yet, regardless of where Visconti goes, “the truck sells out pretty fast,” Dunton said.
Of course, besides her catering activities and her pickup-delivery services, Visconti also has to make all that stuff.
And that means more driving to places far and wide across the Valley. 
“She goes to many different places because many of the things are specialty items,” Dunton said. “Like chocolate: she needs to be Belgian chocolate. She cooks and bakes with pine nuts. She goes to the restaurant supply warehouses. There’s also a Costco for businesses. She buys the fresh fruit wherever she can find it because she’s very picky about her fruit.”
And of course, there‘s the baking and cooking.
“She is the one that shops. She’s the one that cooks, that stocks the truck and then goes to the events,” Dunton added.
She spends 12 hours a day for two days just to make enough for two food truck appearances on the weekend, storing dozens of handcrafted pastries in the commercial refrigerators in her home.
While La Petite Provence sells items never found on food trucks – croque monsieur and tiramisu, crème brulee among them – there’s one dish she makes only for her catered affairs.
“Her paella is so wonderful,” Dunton said. “The pan she has is as big as a table. She brought it here special from France.”
Customers seem to agree with Dunton’s assessment of her friend’s skills. “The mushroom quiche was the best I have ever had and the rhubarb tart was to die for,” one said on her Facebook page.
Said another, “Tonight my son and I had the opportunity to try La Petite Provence for the first time. It was so hard to narrow down what we were going to get... so we didn’t. We got two Napoleons, tiramisu, creme brulee, strawberry tart, and we got a very nice Nutella tart. the prices are excellent. The desserts are SO GOOD.”
And another wrote, “This was the best food truck I’ve ever visited. The desserts were so fresh and beautiful. The crepes were heaven. I’m for sure following this truck around to try all the desserts.”
Visconti hasn’t operated in Ahwatukee. She tried to sign up for the Sunday farmers market on Warner Road and 48th Street but was discouraged by all the paper work.
La Petite Provence is a regular at AZ Feastival’s food truck rodeo 5:30-9 p.m. Fridays in the parking lot at Sam’s Club, 1225 N. Gilbert Road at Houston, Gilbert. [...]

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