Culinary Artists: Dusty Buns’ Dustin and Kristin Stewart
Culinary Artists: Dusty Buns’ Dustin and Kristin Stewart
Story by Katie Fries
Two Cordon Bleu chefs walk into a taco truck . . .
It sounds like the setup to a bad joke, or at least the beginning of a kitchen nightmare on Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous show. But if you follow dining trends, you know that food trucks are one of the hottest things to shake up the industry in the past decade. And if you live in Fresno, you might know that Kristin and Dustin Stewart – two Cordon Bleu-trained chefs who got their start cooking in Bay Area restaurants – are often credited with bringing food trucks and the slow food movement to the Valley.
Dustin, a South Carolina native, and Kristin, who was raised in Dinuba, met while living in Southern California and soon found they enjoyed cooking together. The couple began to talk about opening their own café where Dustin could cook and Kristin, an artist, could display her work. To further their dream, they relocated to the Bay Area to attend the world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Dustin entered the culinary arts program while Kristin enrolled in the baking and pastry arts program.
After their graduation, the Stewarts worked in Bay Area restaurants, in kitchens that followed Alice Waters’ farm-to-table approach. On trips back to the Valley to visit Kristin’s family, they were disappointed to find the concept of eating locally-sourced food hadn’t really caught on. This was a cause close to Kristin’s heart, as she’d grown up in a family of farm workers.
“We would go back and there wasn’t a [restaurant] that focused on what was coming out of the nearby fields,” she says. “We decided to go to Fresno to bring attention back to the farms and what farm workers do.”
The couple thought about setting up a sandwich pushcart but realized a taco truck – a staple in the fields Kristin’s parents had worked in – was essentially “a kitchen on wheels.” They found their truck, painted it orange and green to reflect their fresh mission (as well as the colors seen in Valley fields) and got to work serving food out of their “Bistro Bus”.
From the beginning, the chefs at Dusty Buns have married gourmet techniques with the casual aesthetic of taco truck culture.
“We wanted to do everything from scratch and we wanted to do everything local,” Kristin says. “We do comfort food but we wanted to give it a fancy flair.
“Even though it’s just sandwiches, we use techniques we learned in school.”
One of those techniques ended up turning into their signature menu item, the Dusty Bun. All sandwiches are served on a freshly-made bun garnished with a “dusty” top. Other gourmet touches include marinating their meat using Cordon Bleu techniques and hand-making their corn tortillas (yes, they do have tacos on the menu).
And the “local” part of their mission? That’s evident in every menu item, from the Valley-raised Mary’s chicken they use for their chicken sandwiches and tacos to their Fresno chili marinade. Because Dusty Buns sources locally-grown produce, ingredients and garnishes change with the season, Kristin says.
“If you come in the summer, the slaw will probably have bell peppers [and] in the winter it will have carrots,” she says. “Our grilled cheese will always have bacon and cheddar but will also always have a seasonal fruit – most customers trust it’s going to be something good.”
Though the Stewarts’ unique concept took a little while to catch on, they soon developed a following and planted the seeds for the food truck movement to take root in Fresno. Through negotiations and compromises made with the City of Fresno to obtain the necessary operating permits, they paved the way for other food truck vendors to do the same. They were instrumental in establishing CartHop, held every Thursday on downtown Fresno’s Fulton Mall.
Dusty Buns has been influential in other ways.
“As we go around and eat we notice other places are serving local,” Kristin says. “It definitely is spreading and customers are asking where things are coming from. We tell them which farmers we get products from and where they can find them. We want to make sure we can get the farmers connected with the people.”
Dusty Buns’ success has led to expansion, first in Fresno, with the opening of their brick-and-mortar bistro. Now they’ve taken their concept back to the Bay Area, with a second bistro bus in the SoMa StrEat Food Park and a newly-opened restaurant in the SoMa neighborhood.
Kristin says San Francisco has welcomed them “with open arms.” Despite the change of scenery, the Stewarts have taken a little bit of the Valley with them.
Says Kristin: “Our Fresno chili marinade is a shout-out to Fresno, even when we’re in the Bay.”
The Stewarts have graciously shared their recipe for vegan almond pesto with Central California Life’s readers. Many of the ingredients can be found at local farmer’s markets.
Katie Fries is a Fresno native and graduate of Fresno Pacific University. Formerly based in Chicago and the Bay Area, where she wrote and edited for several publications, she returned to Fresno in 2013, where she continues to freelance on various topics.
Almond Pesto (Vegan)
1-½ cups toasted almonds
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 cups fresh arugula
2 small cloves of peeled garlic
1 oz. apple cider vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt (to taste)
Crush garlic cloves. Place dry ingredients in a food processor. Add vinegar and olive oil to desired thickness. Season to taste with salt.
Substitute roasted garlic or blend one seasonal pepper into the mix for spice and a variety of fresh flavors.
Dusty Buns Original Bistro
608 E. Weldon Ave
Fresno, CA 93704
Hours of operation: Monday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.
Dusty Buns San Francisco
11 Division Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Hours of operation: Monday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Sunday, 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Bistro Bus schedules are available on Dusty Buns’ Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds.
@dustybunsbistro (Twitter and Instagram)