CONNOR TOWNSHIP, Maine — When Tina Hotchkiss took her culinary skills on the road last fall, she wasn’t sure how customers would respond to her not-so-traditional food truck style.
But with dozens of public and private events under her belt, Hotchkiss and her mobile kitchen Fork in the Road have already grown an impressive community following.
Food trucks are not new to Aroostook County. Summer festivals and fairs are filled with mobile vendors catering to customers’ sweet tooths or cravings for fried and grilled favorites. Just this year, The County has welcomed food trucks dedicated to Mexican fare, barbecue and coffee. Hotchkiss has found her own niche.
Instead of focusing on just one specialty, the chef dabbles in many styles of “gourmet American cuisine” — from the more typical burgers and fries to Italian and Mexican to less traditional food truck dishes, like toasted ravioli, honey hot chicken sandwich and spinach artichoke quesadillas.
“I wanted to offer something different. There are people already doing barbecue much better than I could,” said Hotchkiss, who lives in Connor Township. “You always need to have a burger on the menu, but people also like something besides the standard.”
A Connecticut native, Hotchkiss grew up in a large Italian family that always cooked homemade dishes together.
It was not until her youngest son Nathan, now 17, started school that Hotchkiss began working for a Connecticut community-supported agriculture farm, which offers local members a share of its seasonal crops.
Hotchkiss noticed that much of the farm’s unsold food wound up in the compost pile. That’s when she took to the kitchen and began experimenting.
“We made our own sauces and soups and sold them at farmers markets,” Hotchkiss said. “I did the same thing at a poultry farm, where we made our own cheeses and cured meat.”
Hotchkiss later gained experience as a restaurant kitchen manager. She graduated from the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in 2014 after completing the school’s online program.
In 2020, Hotchkiss moved with her husband Ron and sons Nathan, 17, and Brody, 19, to northern Maine, following Ron’s job with Consolidated Communications. Nathan and Brody have become their mother’s most consistent employees at Fork in the Road.
Hotchkiss contemplated starting a restaurant after first moving to Aroostook. But with fewer people dining out during the pandemic, she chose to see what would happen in the industry.
Hotchkiss launched Fork in the Road in October and began catering private events. She made her public debut at Caribou’s inaugural SnowBowl festival in March.
“Having a food truck makes us more mobile and not pigeonholed to specific types of food,” Hotchkiss said. “We hope to build a following and maybe later open a brick-and-mortar restaurant.”
Fork in the Road has become a near constant presence at Aroostook’s most popular summer events, including Thursdays on Sweden Street in Caribou, Fourth of July in Limestone and Rockin’ on Riverside in Presque Isle. Hotchkiss maintains a weekly presence at Caribou Wellness & Recreation Center and at Loring Commerce Centre.
This summer, Hotchkiss has also seen requests for private catering increase. Between that and the festivals, she has traveled as far north as Long Lake in the St. John Valley and as far south as Presque Isle.
At a recent employee gathering for Defense Finance & Accounting Service in Fort Fairfield, colleagues Jennifer Campbell, Natalie Cyr and Sare Giberson became enthusiastic first-time customers.
They all tried the spinach artichoke quesadilla, one of Hotchkiss’ most popular menu items. The quesadilla mixes fresh spinach and artichoke hearts with cheddar jack and feta cheese, salsa and sour cream in a grilled flour tortilla.
“I think it’s great,” Cyr said. “She should definitely open a restaurant.”