By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ron Jenkins
Her kitchen might be mobile, but Jenny Castor proves food truck fare can be special.
Jenny Castor admits she wasn’t much of a cook until a bout with an autoimmune disease 10 years ago laid her up for almost a year.
“I could barely function, so friends were bringing us food, and we were ordering out a lot,” says Castor. “I told my husband that when I got better, I was going to learn to cook.”
She was slowly improving but still tired when the holidays rolled around. The Castors open their gifts on Christmas Eve, and Jenny saw her name on five boxes from her kids and husband. “The first one was an apron, the second one was what I thought were a really ugly pair of pajama pants, and the third one was a chef’s hat. I had no clue what was going on.” By the time all five gifts were opened, Castor found herself looking at the schedule for The Culinary School of Fort Worth. Jon, her husband, had enrolled her and prepaid her tuition.
“I was scared and didn’t think I would have the energy to go, as classes started early January,” says Jenny. Encouraged by her family, Jenny preserved her strength to attend one day a week for eight hours. “I felt motivated and really enjoyed the challenge,” she says. The former art teacher, who once was an aspiring ballet dancer, saw a new career unfolding. “My whole world changed.”
She took both pastry and savory courses, graduating with honors 21/2 years later. Offered a staff position at the school, she found a way to combine her teaching and cooking skills.
But after a few years, she yearned for more, and she came up with a business plan to open a 15-table restaurant with a set menu. (Castor had worked in the service industry when she was a teen. “Adam Jones, now general manager at Grace, gave me my first job, at Prego Pasta House in downtown Fort Worth.”) “I had a business plan, a vision for what it was going to be, and got my hopes up. Unfortunately, the space I had my eye on fell through.”
Unbowed, Castor bought a food truck without an inkling of how to make it work. Luckybee Kitchen was born (she loves using honey in her dishes and is fascinated by bees). “I admit I had not even eaten from a food truck before I bought one.” But she wisely bought top-notch cooking equipment for the 1989 Chevy van.
On April 1, 2016, she parked in front of their home and cooked for family, friends and neighbors. On the menu was a grilled Monte Cristo with spicy homemade jam and a fried egg; it has become one of her signature dishes.
“My goal is to serve my style of food truck fare — sophisticated, seasonal dishes — and just offer a few things done well,” says Castor, who changes the truck menu almost daily. Her spacious home kitchen serves as a taste laboratory and prep station for dishes such as her chicken Caesar hoagie, candied bacon roasted potatoes and pork belly waffles.
Today, she books everything from corporate gigs to in-home dinner parties (with wine pairings) for clients who love Luckybee’s elevated style of cooking. Custom menus are carefully thought out and include a multicourse meal and nonalcoholic beverages for truck service. Castor’s little extras show her deft touch with details: gold-toned plastic flatware, bamboo plates and bowls, bee-shaped chocolates.
Petite and determined, Castor is a certified road warrior, having replaced the truck’s engine twice and hunkered down in the vehicle during a tornado in Graford.
“It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, and there’s nothing glamorous about it,” she says with a laugh. “But I love it.”