Jurasic Pork is a food truck that’s come on to the Baltimore food scene.
Behind the amazing barbecue that comes out of this truck, there’s a fascinating story of man who’s experienced many lifetimes worth of heartbreak and challenges to fill an entire literary collection.
That man is Tony or BBQ Tony as he preferred I call him.
My story begins one day a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon the Jurasic Pork truck after a meeting in Baltimore. The food truck itself looks like it may have provided craft services for Jurassic Park with it’s spot on lime green color and red dinosaur stripes.
Instead of the outline of a gigantic T-Rex, you have a friendly pig staring you in the face. When I met Tony, his excitement for what he does was contagious. He’s clearly passionate about what he’s cooking and he’s equally as passionate about providing a great customer experience.
Tony’s backstory is tumultuous and is fit for a movie screenplay; it is a story that has it’s own share of heroes and villains. When he was a young child, Tony and his Mother sought refuge from an abusive relationship with his Father, in the home of published New England cook, June Platt, it was there that he first saw the therapeutic effects cooking can have.
In 1967, Tony and his Mother’s refuge was short lived. They would be forced to move again, this time to London, England. Tony described his father as abusive, and his father’s violent behavior ultimately forced Tony’s mother to take Tony with her out of the country.
His traumatic childhood would lead Tony searching for an escape from his chaotic and scary adolescence. At the ripe old age of 14, Tony ran away from home, sleeping in railcars at night to stay warm. It was at this age that he secured his first job in a kitchen as a pot washer in the hotel restaurant of the Atheneum.
Tony describes his culinary experience as an escape from his traumatic childhood and a way to detach himself mentally. Moreover, he felt he could fully envelop himself in the culinary process to become a chef.
From here Tony would go on to enter a culinary apprenticeship in France where he would live for four years mastering his craft. This is where Tony’s journey gets the Hollywood treatment, as he was able to secure a spot on a series of celebrity yachts off the coast of France during the mid 80’s and early 90’s.
The folklore of 80’s excess and over the top everything was on full display for Tony. As a private chef for celebrities, Tony would cook for people like Sade, David Bowie, Phil Collins, and Norma Heyman among others. More often than not, the celebrities were vacationing in the south of France and they would party hard all night. Then they would escape to their luxury yachts with all their friends in tow, at which point Tony and the rest of the team he worked with would have to prepare 5-star meals at a moment’s notice.
Unfortunately or fortunately for Tony (depending on how you spin it), he fell into partying and drinking with his clients. The expensive and drug laden experience that is the celebrity lifestyle, ultimately caught up with Tony.
By the mid-90’s he found himself addicted to drugs and falling into the clutches of cocaine. Tony’s drug addiction ultimately fueled him to commit armed robbery which landed him in Maryland State Prison in 1993.
His journey had seemingly come to an end, the abuse riddled childhood that ultimately led to an exciting culinary career was not being cut short by drug addiction. If we ended the story here, none of you would be shocked or question it.
But Tony’s is a story of the human condition, and the ability to find hope even within the darkest of situations. He described the difficult emotional struggle of prison to me by saying, “when someone goes to prison they must stifle emotions. Sympathy. Empathy. Kindness. These things can get you killed.”
Despite having to stifle these raw human emotions, Tony found a new calling that was adjacent to his career before prison. He became a cook for the officers and with the help of another inmate he learned the secrets and tricks to amazing barbecue. As time passed during his 8 year prison sentence, Tony accumulated a following within the prison for his amazing barbecue. He would sell his delicious product and would then stash away the cash for when he ultimately got out of prison. His journey through prison ultimately led to sobriety which in turn allowed him to start his new chapter of life outside of prison.
Once he was released from prison, Tony set out to restart his culinary career and to help the ex-offender community which he feels is misunderstood. He has opened the Changing Directions halfway house which serves addicted ex-offenders get back on their feet and become contributing members of society again. The biggest misconception in his eyes about inmates is that they are perceived as not intelligent. Junkies must meet their goal (getting high) every day 100% of the time, this fosters an ingenuity that is difficult to teach or learn. When this ingenuity is applied to drug addiction it is destructive, but when it’s applied to healthy avenues it can be life changing.
In the early 2000’s Tony began his culinary journey anew with his first food truck Oy Vey Cafe. Tony would then sell his business and open a series of other restaurants ultimately leading to his previous restaurant Midtown BBQ & Cafe off of Centre Street. He recently sold Midtown BBQ & Cafe in late 2015 to return to the food truck world. His love for serving people and the immediacy of the food truck experience drew him back.
Tony is not shy about how he feels about food, and I admire that. He has the balls to say what he truly believes, whether you agree with him or not.
When I asked him what was more difficult cooking on the road or at sea, he answered,”After working on yachts. Cooking at sea- the food truck is much less difficult. I’d say the problems I face are from the city and state.”
He added, “I think food trucks bring diverse and interesting flavored to the street. The state recently has said that we can only park two at a time. I’d like to see food truck zones where as many trucks could park as the market would handle.”
Tony’s adventure now brings us to the present day and his newest venture, Jurasic Pork. Inside this truck, Tony is producing mouth-watering barbecue dishes with the flare of a French Saucier (which he is). His ability to build flavors and sauces allows him to absolutely eviscerate other BBQ options. He prides himself on using quality ingredients, creating everything in his kitchen from scratch. His attention to detail is on full display with each bite into his creations. You have to try his food.
BBQ Tony’s story in my mind is one of redemption. Here is a man who in spite of the tallest of odds has found his way in life where others would have faltered. His ability to survive and thrive is a testament of how iron-willed a person can be when they have no choice but to keep pressing forward.