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Susan Axelrod

Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business for 15 years before turning to journalism. By day, she is the social media editor for Portland Press Herald. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs, preferably followed by a cocktail or a Maine beer. Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod@mainetoday.com On Twitter: @susansaxelrod

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Posted: April 18, 2014

Maine chef going mobile for Good Shepherd Food Bank

Written by: Susan Axelrod

Matt Brown in the driver’s seat of the Good Shepherd Food Truck, which will be parked at Rising Tide beer-inspired menu on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Photo by Ted Axelrod

The Portland food truck fleet continues to grow, with new mobile eateries specializing in fish and chips, Salvadoran cuisine, and vegan Indian food hitting the road this summer. One truck, however, stands out from the rest. In addition to serving delicious food, its mission is to raise awareness about hunger and money for the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

Running the truck is Matt Brown, who left a career as a salesman for Portland’s Browne Trading Co. to be the food bank’s in-house chef. A native of Portland, raised by a single mother who was both working and going to school, Brown says at 7 years old he was “sick of eating Chef Boyardee.” so convinced his mother to go to the farmers market. He worked in kitchens through high school and college, but got out of the restaurant business for a better schedule, moving into sales. But he’d “jump in and play whenever I could” at restaurants like Hugo’s and Back Bay Grill.

Now a resident of South Portland, Brown is on the Wellness Committee at his kids’ (ages 8 and 10) school. “I have a lot of passion for helping people learn how to cook, and how to eat at all, obviously,” he says about his new position at Good Shepherd.

In addition to the food truck, Brown is the chef for the non-profit’s catering operations at its headquarters in Auburn. He also teaches through Cooking Matters, a program that helps food bank clients learn how to cook and stretch their budgets. “Five dollars at McDonald’s gets you one meal; five dollars at the supermarket gets you leftovers for lunch,” he said.

The Good Shepherd Food Truck made its debut in April 2013, with chefs Rob Evans of Duckfat and Karl Deuben of Small Axe Truck serving guests cheeseburger hand pies at the organization’s annual gala. At the time, there were several ideas kicking around about how to use the new truck, including serving free food in poor neighborhoods and letting chefs rent it to try out ideas before investing in their own mobile kitchens. (See Meredith Goad’s story in the Portland Press Herald, “Good Shepherd Food Bank ready to rock and roll”)

“We had the truck and we were so excited about it; we knew it could be such a great tool for the organization,” said Brown. But there was no one (from Good Shepherd) thinking like a chef.”

Chef Matt Brown. Photo by Ted Axelrod

With Brown in the driver’s seat and behind the stove, the food truck will regularly show up at fairs and festivals, as well as various locations around Portland. On Saturday May 3, it will be part of Street Eats & Beats, a food truck festival at Portland’s Ocean Gateway parking lot. Brown will also bring the truck to the Wolfe’s Neck Farm Spring Festival in Freeport on May 31 and to Flea Bites, a food truck gathering at the Portland Flea-For-All in conjunction with First Friday Art Walk beginning June 1.

At the truck’s first appearance, earlier this month at Portland’s Rising Tide Brewing, Brown offered a beer-inspired menu, including homemade pierogi, locally made beer brats and meatloaf sandwiches.

“I’m trying to do healthier, fun and nutritious food in a fun and delicious way,” he says. “Not just quinoa and kale salads.”

Brown will change his menu according to the season and the venue, but plans to keep the truck’s offerings wholesome and affordable. Any profits will go to Good Shepherd, but fund raising is not its only goal.

“I think the truck being sort of hip and cool might help reach a different audience and make some more friends for the food bank,” Brown said.

For more on the Good Shepherd Food Truck, including where to find it, see the Facebook page.

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