Road Stoves, the company that ignited L.A.'s nouveau food truck scene, is hoping that its second taco truck concept does as well as its first (you may know it as Kogi). After two weeks of informal previews, Knock Out Tacos (Twitter: @kotacotruck) helmed by former Bottega Louie chef Chris Goossen, makes its formal debut tonight at First Fridays in Venice.
Goossen, 37, once developed a globe-spanning, 42-taco menu for El Pearl Cantina (the restaurant under Busby's in Miracle Mile) but he's reined in Knock Out's menu to a mere 10 tacos. They run the gamut from a classic hard-shell taco that would satisfy the most demanding 10-year-old on Taco Night to traditional carne and pollo asada soft tacos to flamboyant combinations of heavily larded bacon and cheese grits topped with blackened shrimp and a hotter-than-hell Cajun/Scotch Bonnet pepper salsa. (Tres leches cake and freshly fried donuts will be added to the menu in about a month.) And the finishing touch: Hooters-esque girls to dish it all out.
The progeny of a boxing family that still runs a well-known boxing gym in Van Nuys (Ten Goose Boxing), Goossen was already a veteran streetfighter, albeit in an unofficial capacity, when he shattered his hand at age 19. “I was helping out training my cousin,” Goossen says. “We were all drinking. I was probably drinking too much. I was a bad influence.”
In a parallel life, Goossen was simultaneously a student at the Los Angeles Culinary Institute. “I realized had to go in a different direction. Being aggressive and hanging out around this business wasn't working for me. I put down my fists and picked up a knife.”
His first restaurant job: working at the Monkey Bar, made infamous by Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, who got arrested there.
A reformed partier with 11 years of sobriety under his belt, Goossen partnered with Sam Marvin and went on to work at or open a slew of high-profile restaurants including Le Dome, Monsoon Café, Il Grano and El Toro. He did stints as a personal chef for Mark Wahlberg, Adam Sandler and Barbra Streisand. And he cooked with his close friend and mentor Neil Fraser, at Rix in Santa Monica and briefly at Jimmy's in Beverly Hills.
“I'm kind of like a restaurant whore,” Goossen says. “I'd go to one place for two weeks and leave.”
After three years of working brutal hours and watching Kogi blow up, Goossen was ready to trade down from the expansive kitchen of Bottega Louie to the cramped quarters of a taco truck.
“I'm a hustler,” Goossen says. “I just happen to be a chef who hustles. It's what I've always done. And now I'm hustling it up for me.”