Alex Tolger has created an innovative and unique niche in Truckee’s culinary world. This friendly, effervescent soul with a waxed mustache and the sparkle of passion for food in his eyes, draws you in to partake in his excitement. He is the founder of the Kitchen Collab, a community kitchen space in Truckee that opened last May. He also drives around in his 1973 Unimog, a food truck called MOGROG Rotisserie.
What is a Unimog? Enthusiasts refer to the Mercedes Benz versatile vehicle as a Mog, which has many utilitarian uses both on and off road: industrial, agricultural or transport uses; heavy-duty equipment uses and as food trucks.
In 2010, Tolger moved to Tahoe from Portland and had a hard time finding work in the education field so he fell back into the food industry. The classically French-trained chef found himself working at Drunken Monkey Sushi and remembered how much he loved the industry and playing with food. He realized he wanted to do something on his own. In Portland, the food truck scene was big; here in Tahoe it was relatively small.
“I came up with the idea of a four-wheel-drive, winter capable, mountain food truck that could drive in the snow. And a grog is a hearty stew with alcohol that warms that spirit,” Tolger says.
He had spent time as a child visiting Europe and recalls the Unimogs being used as NATO transport and civil-service vehicles.
“As I did research to start the food truck, I found there was another missing component, a commissary kitchen. I had to open a kitchen to start a food truck,” he says.
In his quest to have a food truck, he designed a state-of-the-art kitchen for other chefs and small businessowners in the food industry to use: Kitchen Collab.
For Tolger, food is a direct connection to culture. He loves the influences of different countries and the way cultures of food and flavors cross over and blend into neighboring areas. From MOGROG Rotisserie, he serves cuisine with central European and crossover influences of the Czech Republic, Austria, Poland, Germany, Scandinavia and France. His truck is set up with two rotisserie spits and serves street food typically found throughout Europe. Turkish immigrant laborers in Germany shared their influences, which can be found in MOGROG’s menus. His Dönner Kabob, which is a play on the European Doner Kebab, pronounced “dough-ner,” is marinated, sliced rotisserie meat wrapped or served with a flatbread. There are many cultural iterations of this type of food: think gyro, taco, pita or lavish. Tolger uses pita for both the Dönner Kabob prepared with a roasted red pepper and fennel-stuffed pork shoulder and the Aleppo Chicken Kabob made with chili-yogurt-marinated chicken thighs. Both kabob dishes are served in a pita with a kraut slaw and choice of a Cacik sauce — the Turkish version of Greek Tzatziki sauce — or mojo sauce, prepared with roasted peppers and preserved lemon sauce, and served with house-pickled cucumbers and pickled red onions.
The Kasha Bowl is another specialty of Tolger’s.
“[Kasha] is better for you than quinoa. It has the 23 required amino acids and is a complete protein and gluten free,” he says.
He roasts the buckwheat, flavors it with apple-cider vinegar and serves it with mustard vinaigrette and a choice of shredded chicken or roasted veggies and housemade pickles. Tolger also serves breakfast kabobs and breakfast bowls. The bowls are served with braised apple and red cabbage, housemade hot sauce, roast pork, potatoes, mojo sauce and a special green spice topped with a fried egg. In addition, the MOGROG team serves family-style whole-bird rotisserie chicken to take home.
Tolger lights up when asked about spices and flavors. He loves blending North African and Middle Eastern spices in his cuisine using clove, nutmeg, dried ginger, cinnamon and cardamom in savory dishes and maybe a touch of coriander, celery seed and cumin.
“We don’t necessarily focus on food as medicine, but it is. How food interacts in our body, the method of cooking it, how we use food, all depends on what we do with it, like fermenting, aging and the process of preparing it. All the flavors I use come from my childhood and eating a broad spectrum of foods,” he says.
“The Kitchen Collab mission is simply to elevate and strengthen the Sierra Nevada food scene by supporting its food entrepreneurs. We are looking to legitimize catering and private food service in the Tahoe area. We want chefs to come out of the dark,” says Togler of the member-based collaborative kitchen.
Kitchen Collab also partners with local nonprofits to help with fundraisers.