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At Third Culture Kitchen, Chefs Billy Fuqua and Jon Free Explore Their Globe-Trotting Childhoods Through Food

The new Hinterland food cart pulls inspiration from a number of different places the two chefs grew up, from Okinawa to Peru

A bowl of fries with steak, onions, and green sauce at Third Culture Kitchen.
Lomo saltado at Third Culture Kitchen
Third Culture Kitchen [Official]

Billy Fuqua grew up in Peru, but he would hesitate to call himself Peruvian. His parents had moved to the country from the United States, and eventually his family moved back to Los Angeles. But he didn’t feel 100 percent American, either. It was an experience that Jon Free, Fuqua’s colleague at the now-closed Tasty n Sons, understood very well: Free grew up in Okinawa, Japan with American parents, before eventually landing in Texas.

“I moved away from America before I could fully get an idea of what the culture is like,” Free says. “We’re Americans, but we have an outsider’s perspective on America.”

The term often used to describe people like Fuqua and Free is “third culture kids,” children who grow up in a culture different from their parents’. It left them somewhere in between, not quite identifying with the country in which they lived, but not quite identifying with their parents’ country, either. It was that shared experience that inspired their food cart, Third Culture Kitchen. “We had this weird, fusion childhood, and that’s what we want to put forward in our food,” Fuqua says.

The menu at Third Culture Kitchen, now parked in the new Hinterland bar and food cart pod, is a reflection of Fuqua and Free’s combined culinary influences: Ceviche comes with Chile Picante Corn Nuts as opposed to cancha, a nod to Free’s Texan years, as well as Japanese sweet potato puree in place of the traditional Peruvian camote. The fried chicken sandwich comes with a house Peruvian chile hot sauce they call Forest Fire, with the potential addition of a grilled slab of queso fresco.

Some of the dishes at the menu are closer to the original inspiration than others — the cart’s lomo saltado is just lightly tweaked with cold-smoked tomatoes, and the restaurant’s tantan ramen comes topped with yu choy, seaweed, and a soft-boiled egg. But Fuqua and Free are very conscious of the fact that their approach to this food is distinct. “The thing we always say when we try to describe it is, ‘It’s not Peruvian and it’s not American, it’s some third thing,’” Fuqua says. “We want to have people come in, and then try out these other Peruvian restaurants and carts, like Salt & Pepper, or El Inka.”

The cart is now open at Hinterland, 2216 SE 50th Avenue.

Third Culture Kitchen [Official]
A Guide to the Hinterland Food Cart Pod, Opening This Week [EPDX]
Third Culture Kids: Citizens of everywhere and nowhere [BBC]

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