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An open letter to SA’s CIA


January 30, 2008
Shelley Grieshaber
Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio
312 Pearl Parkway
Building C
San Antonio, TX 78215

Dear Shelley Grieshaber,

Congratulations on the recent changes! I’m excited the cooking school is now officially affiliated with the Culinary Institute of America. And the new program dedicated to Latin American cuisine should help establish a great niche for the school. I know everyone at CIA SA is working hard trying to promote the new developments. Here’s what I’d like to do to help. In the next 1,110 words I will outline a revolutionary plan that will attract unprecedented attention for San Antonio’s Culinary Institute of America and rewrite the map of San Antonio cuisine. And the cost for this amazing advice? Free* of charge!

Why am I providing this for free*? I want to see the CIA SA succeed and become a San Antonio institution (in the grandest sense of the word.) At the moment, however, the CIA has almost no exposure in the San Antonio community. Though the Center for Foods of the America caught initial attention in several national magazines such as Gourmet, that will ultimately wane unless San Antonio is properly introduced to the Latin American cuisine that is emerging from 312 Pearl Parkway.

One of the reasons for the confusion is that the CIA is hidden in the mysterious “Willie Wonka” Pearl District. Though the potential for the Pearl District is incredibly high, right now the city has no idea what is going on there. Lofts need to be built. Businesses need to be courted. River Walks need to be extended. This will take several years. I understand that. However, there’s no reason for the school to wait for this to happen. The CIA San Antonio needs to become visible outside of its current location as soon as possible.

But how to make this happen?

The CIA San Antonio needs a symbol for the city to rally behind. But it can’t be just a logo or a billboard. It must be something that allows the school to get out and show its amazing cuisine to the city.

But what?

A taco truck! This won’t be just any taco truck: The CIA taco truck will be the most cutting-edge “taco truck” ever built, and I use “taco truck” in quotes because as I will demonstrate, this vehicle will transcend all notions of what a taco truck is capable of through its design, the food it serves, and the role it plays in the community.

1) The design. 

The CIA taco truck will set a new precedent for energy efficiency. The CIA taco truck will be the first taco truck that supplies its own fuel! Biodiesel, cooking oil, whatever you want to call it – the grease and oil that comes from preparing food in the truck will become the truck’s fuel. This obvious but ingenious innovation by itself will create tidal waves of publicity.

Aesthetically, I imagine murals will be painted on the sides of the truck. They will incorporate the CIA logo, of course, and I would love to see a citywide contest for a local artist to design the CIA Taco Truck. Along with the murals and the logo will be a listing for the truck’s website (more on that later.) 

2) The food.

This “taco truck” will be unlike all other taco trucks because it won’t serve just tacos. In fact, it might not ever serve tacos. The CIA taco truck will be a vehicle (literally) for the graduating CIA students to showcase their own original culinary creations. I realize there are a lot of students. so there would have to be an in-house competition to get access to the fabled CIA Taco Truck. Healthy competition among students inherently improves the educational experience. As with the design, all of these facets create a positive feedback loop. There is no drawback.

By going out into the community with the taco truck, the CIA students will be able to show off all that they have learned. The food they create in the CIA Taco Truck will serve as their portfolio. It will be an excellent way for the students to introduce themselves to the top chefs and restaurants in town. It will be incumbent upon the students to promote the taco-truck events (more on that later) as much as possible. As the CIA students prosper, so does the CIA. The positive feedback loop

But how will the people of San Antonio know where the taco truck will be?

The CIA Taco Truck blog! 

The taco truck will have its own website, which will be another innovation. Whereas most taco trucks pass through the night like ghost ships, the CIA Taco Truck will make easy use of the most basic internet technology. One can easily go to the CIA Taco Truck blog and see where the truck will be that night, along with who will be cooking, and what will be on the menu.

3) Community Outreach

It’s too simple to say the CIA Taco Truck will own First Friday, but it’s true. The taco truck will follow the people, and in turn, the people will follow the taco truck.

Fiesta? Obviously. Spurs Championshiop River Parades? You get the idea. It will be everywhere.

But just showing up somewhere will not always be enough. The CIA Taco Truck will create synergy by combining forces with other entities. The result will be greater than the sum of the parts. 

Imagine if the city (I’m talking about the politicians now) helps sponsor a seasonal event at the Pearl District that includes music from a touring band, a film screening, with the CIA Taco Truck providing food? 

I have another event in mind, one that will inaugurate the maiden voyage of the CIA Taco Truck: the 1st Annual San Antonio Taco Truck Competition. A taco truck parade will begin at Pearl and end at a city park for a juried competition to determine the best taco truck in San

The CIA Taco Truck won’t compete but instead act as a Master of Ceremonies. The site for the competition will be a Taco Truck Autonomous Zone. This event will perfectly synthesize the elegant cuisine from the CIA with the established tradition of the taco trucks. We should probably get going on this quickly before Austin or Houston tries to steal our idea. I think I can already hear Anthony Bourdain making travel reservations.

The CIA Taco Truck will become the icon for the school. The more it is seen around town the more people will think of the CIA and the Pearl District. Synergy. Positive feedback loops. Taco Truck Autonomous Zones. It’s all possible. The CIA has already defied the odds by being born. Now, it’s time to stretch its legs and introduce itself to San Antonio.

*All of these ideas are free to use. In exchange all I ask is that if there’s a long line at the taco truck, is it cool if I get to cut to the front?

Best regards,
Mark Jones
Taco Truck Critic
San Antonio Current

cc: Scott White, Director, San Antonio
Convention and Visitors Bureau 
Dennis J. Campa, Director, Community Initiatives

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