Craig Sefton, 35, and Kei Akiyama, 38, serve global street food from their food truck, Beat Kitchen. The duo met while working at C1 Espresso in Christchurch. On weekdays, they serve lunch and dinner from a former library bus on the corner of Wellington’s Cuba and Vivian streets.
CRAIG/ Kei was designing a menu for C1’s sliders, which are delivered to tables through a pneumatic tube. She needed a helper and that ended up being me. She was an absolute ninja; she was cooking circles around me. It’d been awhile since that had happened.
Working together was so easy, we never had to yell at each other or stitch each other up. It was pretty rare to be able to work with a chef that well.
I was there for under a year, then moved to Wellington. I gave her a call late one night, saying I was thinking about putting a kitchen in the back of a bus. She was like, that’s really dumb. I want in.
I bought the bus at the start of 2015. It took about a year to fit out. Kei moved to Wellington at the end of that year, a couple of weeks before we opened. It was New Year’s Eve and we were at McEwan Park in Petone at the Fat Freddy’s [Drop] concert. That was our maiden voyage. We were literally straight out of the garage.
We make as much as we can from scratch – we only buy our burger buns. We change the menu every day. We don’t really have a particular cuisine – we go from country to country. Kei, being Japanese, is all over that side of things. She’s done a lot of travelling in South America and she’s quite good on that, too.
I’ve done more of Europe. I learnt how to cook French food in France and picked up a few things in other places, and Thailand.
We have a warehouse where we park the truck and keep all our miscellaneous things. We turn up around 9.30am-ish. We pack the truck up, head into town, set up for lunch, get through lunch. Normally, we leave about 3pm to get to a dinner gig. A lot of our suppliers will deliver to wherever we are – we’ll pull up somewhere and 20 minutes later, the vege guy will arrive, the fish guy will arrive, the bread guy.
I do all the office work and admin, and the driving. Kei does most of the cooking. We both do prep. I’ll normally sit there taking orders and smash through emails while she’s doing service.
I can run a kitchen but running a business is another story. That’s been my hardest learning curve. We must be doing something right. We’re booked out for weddings next year.
Kei’s definitely the calm and collected one. Quite methodical and focused.
Our go-to meals? I don’t know what hers would be. Probably a big bowl of ramen? She might punch me for that. I’m into comfort food when I’m at home – probably nachos. We both like a wine here and there.
I’m in a band as well so that takes up most of my spare time, playing drums. That’s my stress relief.
How would I describe her? I normally say “short Japanese girl with dreadlocks” but that’s probably not very appropriate. Amazing Japanese chef. She knows karate – don’t mess with her. I’m not 100 per cent sure if she does actually know karate or not. I just tell people that. I know she’s really good at origami.
KEI/ We met four or five years ago in Christchurch. I was working at C1 Espresso and Craig joined the team. First impression: he’s good. He’s casual as, knows what he’s doing. You don’t see many chefs like that – very easy to work with. We were having Craig’s leaving drinks in Christchurch and I asked him, “Do you want to do something in the future?” He was keen.
I was up in Whangarei and I got a phone call – he’d remembered. I stayed in Whangarei for a year and we just kept ringing each other looking for the food truck. We found the bus in Auckland, so Craig flew up and I drove down. That was the beginning.
One of Craig’s friends said: “You’re the drummer, what about calling it the Beat Kitchen?” My sister did the logo. We haven’t named the bus. We have discussed if it is a boy or a girl. We weren’t sure. I think it’s more like a girl. Temperamental.
Our first gig was booked in for New Year’s Eve. I was so overwhelmed. All I was thinking was, “I hope it’s going to work!”
When we first started, no one knew who we were.
I remember looking at all the other food trucks getting customers thinking “Oh my God we are quiet – what are we going to do?” I was getting worried.
At first, we were looking for events and applying. Now we don’t have to. They ask us to come.
Craig takes orders and does the emailing. I’m very s... about that. I don’t like talking to people! He does all the baking as well, because I suck at that. I cook the food and plan wedding menus.
We catered a South African wedding and the crowd was half South African. People said the flavours were awesome. We made bunny chow – it’s a curry served inside hollowed-out loaves of bread – and savoury, deep-fried brioche doughnuts filled up with mince. We served them with Korean daikon salsa.
Craig takes things more seriously; he is dealing with people, so I think he stresses more than I do. He’s maybe annoyed that I’m too cruisy. He doesn’t bulls... people, but he’s got a very kind heart.
“I gave her a call saying I was thinking of putting a kitchen in the back of a bus. She was like, that’s really dumb. I want in.”