Freestyle Munchies Food Truck Gives A Gourmet Twist To Burgers, Sandwiches And More
Chef Spotlight • By Karla Wall
After serving as chef in, and actually owning, some of the area’s top high-end restaurants, chef Don Gillett has focused his attention on serving up a menu of next-level sandwiches and other lunch items.
Gillett “grew up cooking wild game” and comes from a family who loves to cook. But he didn’t consider making it a career until the chance to work in a professional kitchen dropped unexpectedly into his lap.
“I was 19 or 20, and was working at a restaurant, and one of the cooks didn’t feel well,” Gillett recalls. “I was asked to take over for him, and I found that I really liked it. It just felt right.”
Gillett learned a lot in the kitchen during that first cooking gig, and decided to make it his career. He attended the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, then came south again to work in the Hyatt Regency New Orleans as a rounds chef, a position which allowed him to work in different areas of the kitchen. “I worked banquet, bakery, buffett, everything,” he says. “It was a real learning experience.
He left the Hyatt Regency to split his time between the Northeast and the Southeast. He worked winters in Ft. Lauderdale at the Hillsboro Club; his summers were spent on Cape Cod, Mass., working at two restaurants there.
He came home to Lake Charles to work at what was then perhaps the Lake Area’s highest-end restaurant: Chez Oca. From there, he went on to become chef and owner of two other area fine dining establishments: The Vineyard and Chateau Nouveau. That was followed by stints at the City Club, Harrah’s and L’Auberge.
But he found that he felt a bit isolated in the kitchen. “As a chef, you’re stuck in the kitchen. I wanted to go back to being around people,” he explains.
He found the answer when he purchased a used food truck, re-fitted it and named it Freestyle Munchies.
“The food truck is just so much more personal,” he says. “You can visit with the people who eat your food, and they get to visit with the person who cooks their food.”
Another advantage of the food truck, Gillett says, is that it allows him to offer the freshest food possible.
“You get fresh, local food cooked to order,” he says. “Food that’s sold on a food truck doesn’t sit around.”
Freestyle Munchies has quickly become one of the most sought-after food trucks in the Lake Area. Gillett has earned quite a following with his casual high-end dishes.
You’ll definitely want to check out the popular Munchie Melt, which Gillett describes as “a cross between a mushroom cheeseburger and a patty melt.” It consists of a ground chuck, brisket and short rib patty, Swiss and American cheeses, jalapeno mayo, sautéed mushrooms and onions, and bacon jam, all served up between two toasted slices of sourdough Texas toast.
Or try his shrimp and grits dish: shrimp cooked in an etoufee sauce made from shrimp stock served over panko-crusted deep-fried grits. There’s also the Goudalicious burger: a patty of beef and pork belly, with smoked Gouda cheese, pork belly confit, baby greens and balsamic caramelized onions. And the cordon bleu sandwich, with a fried chicken breast, grilled ham, pork belly confit, smoked Gouda cheese, baby greens, grilled onions and whole grain mustard aioli.
Freestyle Munchies can be found at all of the big food truck events in Lake Charles: Downtown at Sundown, Live at the Lakefront, at Walnut Grove’s Groovin’ at the Grove and Crying Eagle’s food truck events on the second Thursday of each month.
On a regular basis, you can find Freestyle Munchies open from 11:30 am-1:30 pm in the parking lot of Carl’s Furniture Rentals on Ryan St. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; at Navarra’s Jewelry across from the Courthouse on Wednesdays; and in the parking lot of Dr. Lee Monlezun’s office in Bayou Pines West off of Lake St. on Fridays.
Follow Freestyle Munchies on Facebook, or call 540-1051 for schedule updates and other information.