Lisamarie Ault was flying high. For twenty years she had served as the personal Chef to Edgar Bronfman, Sr., the billionaire magnate of the Seagram’s empire, preparing the best of everything for a man who demanded world-class excellence. That's exactly what he got from a devoted chef who was trained at CIA and cooked at restaurants from Switzerland to Hawaii. Lisamarie led a rarefied life in her own culinary paradise.
But then she suddenly fell back to earth. In December of 2013, Bronfman abruptly died, and his family no longer had need for a personal cook. Lisamarie was out of a job … and a dear friend. “Mr. B”, as she calls him, had become the father she lost days before she took the position two decades earlier.
“In March of last year, I had no idea what I was going to do next,” she recalls. “Suddenly, out of the blue, I learned that Mr. Bronfman had included me in his will.” On an impulse, Lisamarie decided to buy an old food truck, and take it on the road under the banner of "PARADISE FOODS.”
“I didn’t think it through,” Chef Ault admits. She found herself steering white-knuckled through a maze of back roads, zoning laws, health requirements, and mechanical breakdowns. “The first time I brought the truck home,” she sighs, “it died in the driveway.”
Ault got the Ex-FedEx vehicle running and brought her fare to out-of-the-way venues like the Brookfield Bay Marina, Elephant Trunk flea market in New Milford, and rural Holbrook Farm in Bethel. She may have wandered into a land far far away from the spires of Park Avenue, but for Lisamarie, any kitchen anywhere is paradise, no matter how plebian.
We recently sampled some of her inventive menu, starting with “Charlotte’s Wrap,” a comforting mélange of thinly sliced fresh turkey, melted brie, and homemade cranberry mayo embraced in a white flour wrap. The visual presentation, of which Lisamarie prides herself, was stunning, the texture surprisingly delicate, the taste both savory and sweet. She likens the turkey wrap to a Thanksgiving meal. “All that’s missing ,” Lisamarie adds, "is the stuffing.”
Incidentally, “Charlotte’s Wrap” is a playful salute to Bronfman, who produced the animated film of Charlotte’s Web. Other homages to her benefactor include a jaunty bee and rugged tree painted on the front of Fern by a local artist. “Bee as in ‘Mr. B.’ And ‘Tree’ was his family’s nickname for him,” Lisamarie explicates, her voice dancing with whimsy.
Fun is an ingredient she likes to serve up. For instance, Lisamarie impishly titles one of her sandwiches “Lisa Marie,” seemingly a play on her own name, but actually not. Featuring peanut butter and banana, the sandwich is obviously a taste tribute to Elvis, invoking his daughter’s name, which unlike Ault’s, is spelled with two words. She drizzles in Honey (as in Bee) to sweeten the deal and adds bacon because, well, just because.
In fact, bacon has become one of Lisamarie’s signature ingredients, despite an early intention to serve healthy. The “Wake and Bacon” breakfast sandwich is made with farm fresh eggs (some from her own small flock of chickens), bacon, and cheese, all snuggled together in a freshly baked croissant, hard roll, or brioche bun. Maple-flavored sausage can be substituted for the bacon.
Not only is “Wake and Bacon” fun to say, it’s a hearty way to start the day – like about 4 a.m. Sunday mornings at Elephant’s Trunk. That’s the insane hour when Lisamarie arrives to serve the hordes of vendors setting up their stands. (Her own day starts at 3 a.m, which helps explain why she enjoys little personal life.)
“I really didn’t know what I was getting into,” this otherwise fearless lady confesses. “I sky-dive, I scuba, I’m a cancer survivor, so I know danger. But driving that truck paralyzed me with fear.”
Upping the ante -- her remote whereabouts. As a result, Paradise Foods is destination dining, relying on word of mouth. We learned about it from a friend, not famous for his adventures in dining, who said Lisamarie served food both he and his gourmet wife could love.
“We need to give our customers choices," Ault explains. "Most trucks are found in urban, high traffic situations like Food Truck Row in New Haven so those vendors tend to specialize in one type of food. In a venue like Holbrook, we're the only game in town."
Why Holbrook Farms? After all, it’s rural, with very light traffic. “I just like the way John and Lynn do business,” Lisamarie says. “My food is farm fresh and their farming is sustainable and responsible.” While the spot may not add up business-wise, Holbrook Farms makes an eloquent statement about her brand to a special clientele. For instance, a crowd-pleaser at Holbrook is the Mother Earth panini, a signature sandwich of grilled veggies nestled in a bed of goat cheese. It's quintessential farm-to-foodtruck fare.
At the more populist Elephant Trunk Fee Market, with its colorful, carny ethos, the crowds prefer grab and go’s. They like food that walks, like Lisamarie's “Devil Dog” a New York style wiener (Sabrette) stuffed with cheese and jalapeños, served in a New England style top cut bun. Street Food for country roads.
All venues enjoy Lisamarie’s take on a Caprese panini, made with vine-ripened tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella imported from New York, then drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Currently, she presses the ingredients on generous slices of rustic white, but is experimenting with other breads, from Kalamata olive to Sourdough. What lifts the sandwich are the addition of her own basil oil and the omission of traditional pesto (it added weight to the hefty sandwich).
Our only quibble with the Caprese was its bland May tomato. “I agree, I agree,” Lisamarie apologized. “Come back in tomato season.” We will, we will.
One of the early graduates of CIA’s School of Pastry and Baking Arts, Lisamarie sells mostly homemade baked goods at farmer’s markets. These lush, cakes, tarts, pies, brownies are as pleasing to the eye as the palate. They are mouthwatering works of art.
Her quiches are especially popular. Each week she swaps out new flavors, such as shiitake and smoked gouda, smoked salmon, asparagus and fresh dill, sun dried tomato and feta, fresh fig and gorgonzola, and leek, tomato and brie. No wonder the quiches sell, yes, like “hot cakes.”
Paradise Foods also caters and offers a corporate menu. In fact, these days Lisamarie blithely tools her beloved truck just about anywhere – off the beaten path or on it. “I just love driving her,” she smiles. "What fun."
We wondered how fast the vehicle goes.
"I don't know," the truck driver/chef shrugs sheepishly. "The gauge has been broken since I bought her."
Paradise Food Truck can be found at Holbrook Farm most Wednesdays and Saturdays and at The Elephant Trunk Flea Market on Sundays. For other locations, schedules and daily specials, follow Paradise Foods on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Paradise-Foods/353737134732354) or phone 203-746-6819