Jessie Stament was having trouble figuring out the right way to make siopao, or steamed buns, so he called in his mother, who's been so instrumental to Stament's food truck operation that she's now a full-time staffer. Hours later, Stament realized the siopao could complete a sandwich he'd been contemplating.
"In the middle of the night, I woke up and made dough," Stament recalls. "I cooked it on my little electric griddle."
A "Fili Cheesesteak" of marinated rib eye, Havarti cheese and horseradish mayonnaise, served atop the siopao-inspired bread is now the first item on the menu at Refueler's Mobile Cafe, a 2-year-old food truck that doesn't shy away from fusion.
Although Stament says his mother's recipes (and her kitchen shifts) help keep traditional flavors up front, the hallmark of Refueler's dishes is invention. In addition to the cheesesteak, Refueler's serves nachos with pepper steak, chicken adobo, jalapenos and sriracha cream.
"It's a way to kind of combine flavors," Stament says, adding that the mash-ups mimic what naturally occurred on his childhood plates.
Stament lived on Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines until he was 8 years old, when his family moved to Charleston. He later joined the Air Force himself, spending six years at McConnell Air Force Base in Witchita, Kan., as a refueling (get it?) boom operator.
"When we had our son, he got out of the Air Force," Stament's wife, Sarah, says. "He went into government contracting, but he always had a passion for cooking. I said, 'Now's the time if we're going to do it.' We decided we were going to go all in."
Sarah Stament says many Refueler's customers don't know anything about Filipino cooking when they first approach the truck. "Everyone wants to try something new and different. A lot of times I have to explain the whole menu."
The explanations don't always assuage customers' doubts about oyster sauce and vinegar, Jessie Stament says. Unless, he adds, they're too young to have formed preconceived notions about Filipino food.
"Parents will look at us with skepticism," he says. "But we've found that a lot of their kids really like our food."
What to eat
The standout on Refueler's menu is the sisig, starring pork marinated in cane vinegar and key lime juice. Although sisig is usually made with pig ears, snouts and jowls, Refueler's uses Boston butt. The meat, which vibrates with citrus and spice, is boiled, grilled and then seared to order, so the pork fat becomes alluringly crispy. It's served over excellent garlic fried rice.
Sarah and Jessie Stament are co-owners of Refueler’s Mobile Cafe.×
Jessie Stament cooked this pork sisig with garlic rice and an egg.×
Jessie Stament, co-owner of Refueler’s Mobile Cafe, prepares Filipino food for his customers.×