When classes begin, Texas Christian University students will have a very different kind of meal option.
They can pay cash or use their meal plan card at Tim Love's Big Purple Truck, the celebrity chef's latest down-home gourmet venture.
The French food-service giant, Sodexo, which handles the campus catering, bought Love a $180,000, custom-built mobile kitchen with extra suspension. At 31 feet, the truck is 12 inches longer than the biggest that the website of its maker, Utilimaster, says it assembles. (If Big Purple looks like a UPS truck, little surprise: Utilimaster makes vehicles for the parcel delivery company.)
On Wednesday, Love poked his head out a window during a brief dry run, handing over paper plates with bacon-wrapped smoked jalapeños stuffed with chopped brisket, pork and cheddar hush puppies, as well as smoked chicken salad with fall greens and fries -- thinly julienned potatoes, fried in peanut oil and served with a barbecue-flavored mayonnaise.
"The pulled pork was inspired," Mike Russel, student union director, said of the sandwich served with pickles and spicy slaw.
The purple truck will be parked on the east side of campus from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays. Stephen Miller, the Sodexo general manager at TCU, said a starting date hasn't been determined. And prices have not yet been set but Miller said they will be affordable -- "competitively priced with other food trucks in Fort Worth."
Also undetermined is whether Sodexo gets its contract renewed for the Amon Carter Stadium catering. The company prematurely announced it was a done deal -- even boasting that participation by Love helped swing it. But then Sodexo execs had to row back with a denial.
Although football season is just a few weeks away, Miller said negotiations continue.
Love was enthusiastic about the Big Purple venture, which he said could lead to other Sodexo-related activities. "I hope to expand the relationship first at TCU and then move on from there," he said.
And while he is a latecomer to food trucks, his is no clapped-out FedEx or Good Humor truck retrofitted with used equipment. Everything is new stainless steel, and the work area is larger than at Lonesome Dove, his flagship Stockyards restaurant. Former employee Robert Luna returned from Phoenix to run the daily operation as Love's off-site chef de cuisine.
"More chips in that," Love implored just before slipping a plate through the serving window. Then he asked another cook, "Salted the fries?"