The business: Carte Blanche Gourmet Tacos
What they're packin': Braised meats, a multitude of salsas and fresh slaws make these girls' version of the Mexican staple unparalleled to anything else you've had off a cart (sober or otherwise). Also keep an eye out for nights when they feature authentic tamales from La Purisima Bakery in Phoenix.
Where you can find them: With hopes of expanding to farmers' markets, you can find the retro-sexy cart (complete with pin-up girl) making rounds at major Valley events and also open to catering private parties. Catch them at the upcoming Briar Patch Marketplace in Gilbert on Dec. 11 and 12, and the Havasu Island Balloon Festival in Lake Havasu City Jan. 21-23.
What you need to know: Expect to pay $7-8 dollars for one wickedly good taco. And don't get too greedy when ordering either -- The braised chicken, pork, and beef are all drip-off-your-elbow juicy and piled high with ingeniously paired salsas, slaws, and cremas, and then encased in an 8-inch flour tortilla from La Purisima. "I'm an eater," Chase says, "And one definitely fills me up."
The story:You may have heard about Carte Blanche before, especially if you were one of the thousands who made it out to the Arizona Taco Festival last October (2010) -- Where they went head-to-head with Valley Mexican food greats to place third in the chicken category and sixth overall. Quite an impressive feat, considering they manned their booth with three people and one tiny Hibachi grill.
What's the idea behind Carte Blanche?
Alana Hankins: We both worked corporate jobs for years. Back in the spring we decided we were done working that hard for other people. We've had lots of Mexican food in our days, since we are natives. Shantal came up with some different recipes, we tested them on neighbors and friends and then decided we were going to go for it with just our cart.
Shantal Chase: We didn't want to do a sloppy Tex-Mex -- even though we love that too -- it's just not our scene. We wanted to go gourmet with it.
Where'd you get the name?
SC: It was originally going to be called Blanche and Stella's Tasty Tacos, which is an inside joke between us, and [our graphic design people] said its too long. So, we put the ball in [Alana's] mother's court, who is 80-years-old and amazing, and 20 minutes later she came back with about 20 names for us. Carte is from, well its a cart. It's a play on words and just fun.
Do either of you have a formal culinary background?
SC: My background is front of the house with restaurants, I was in that for 20 years. I've been cooking for fun for the last three years. I have a little bit of a natural ability, thankfully and without sounding cocky, I know how to season things.
AH: It is a gift. She puts a meat, with a certain type of salsa, with a certain type of slaw, and you take a bite and its amazing.
From salsa to the tortilla, how is every aspect of a taco important?
SC: Salsa is everything. I have a tomato and arbol chile salsa that I have with my chicken, so it brings out the flavor of how I cook and prepare and braise the meats. There's avocado and tomatillo salsa with the steak... salsas and sauces are different on every taco. The reason we get the "wow" is because of all the flavors melding together. Every element is huge.
AH: Everybody who has had good Mexican food knows that there is difference between good tortillas and not-so-good tortillas. What makes it a gourmet taco is [Shantal's] know-how and sense of spicing that puts it all together.
Have you ran into any issues with permits getting your operation off the ground?
AH: Its kind of funny how its played out. We have licenses we didn't even need. But we are very much about going by the books and having every piece of documentation that could be asked of us. When you do these public events, the health inspectors come out and check, and it seems like we've met every health inspector so far.
What's your take on your business and social media?
SB: We were vehemently against using Facebook and Twitter. We discussed it when we came up with the concept, and said we're going to have to do it for business. Its an absolute must.
Do you get people who are a little skeptical of the cart?
AH: It's Phoenix. People are not used to seeing food trucks. The best is when someone comes up and ask, "You guys sell gourmet tacos?" We have fun with it and explain it to them. Its been fun to try out different things, and to expose people to those different things.