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Graduates of culinary schools usually have to prove their chops in the backs of kitchens. Now, some have found a fast track to becoming star chefs. Theyre starting up food trucks.

Charla Bear of member station KPLU reports.

(Soundbite of hammering)

CHARLA BEAR: If you stretch your arms out, you can just about touch the walls of Skillet. The mobile kitchen is crammed into a shiny silver 1962 Airstream trailer. It heats up like an oven as three chefs scramble during the lunch rush.

Mr. JOSH HENDERSON (Chef, Skillet): Ill cut it down and we'll just get it out there in the hole. Were almost ready.

BEAR: It looks like an episode of "Iron Chef" in a sardine can. Not exactly where you picture a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, yet this is exactly what Josh Henderson had in mind when he conceived Skillet.

Mr. HENDERSON: I was tired of working at restaurants. And I kind of wanted to do something that was a little bit more my style, which was a little chaotic. You know, and I enjoy being outside. You know, like, some days were, like, next to a mountain and other days were in the urban downtown, you know, homeless people asking us for free food.

BEAR: Good thing for Henderson, foodies are willing to shell out $11 for one of his burgers.

He starts with grass fed beef and slathers it with buttery French cheese. His fresh linguini is topped with Reggiano, asparagus and pine nuts.

Mr. HENDERSON: In cooking, there's so many different ways. I mean, you can cook on a boat, you can cook on an Airstream trailer, you know, you can cook a Michelin star restaurant - it really doesn't matter, as long as what goes in that box is something we can be proud of.

BEAR: He fills a brown to-go box to the brim with the creamy linguini so I can be the judge.

All right. Lets see what this is all about.

Henderson isnt the only chef making mouthwatering cuisine in a trailer. Cooks in New York, Portland and Los Angeles have led the way in mobile gastronomy. Now, gourmet vendors are rolling out from Austin to Washington, D.C. And theyre serving up everything from appetizers to desserts.

(Soundbite of banging)

Ms. ADRIA SHIMADA (Chef, Parfait): Have you guys had my ice cream before? You havent? OK. So, I make everything from scratch.

BEAR: When customers walk up to the peach and brown Parfait ice cream truck, chef Adria Shimada gives them a sample and a spiel. She says, otherwise, they might expect her mint to be green and candy cane flavored.

Ms. SHIMADA: I infuse my ice cream custard with fresh spearmint leaves, and then at the end when I churn it, I drizzle in a warm chocolate stream into the cold custard and it breaks up into these little, flaky, light chocolate chips.

BEAR: The trained pastry chef says she holds her ice cream to the same standards as a high-end French bakery. She just couldnt afford the bakery part.

Ms. SHIMADA: The primary concern for me and focus was the quality of the product that Im making. And having a mobile truck has really allowed me to keep that quality very high.

BEAR: She says now that Parfait has built up a following, she could go the more conventional brick and mortar route. Other food cart chefs have recently gone down that road, but the trucks arent going anywhere. Chefs say its a great way to put the word on the street about their new ventures.

For NPR News, Im Charla Bear.

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