Apronomics: Brian Hardesty & Joel Crespo

We’ve all had really great conversations with friends when we discover common interests and truly connect, and that’s exactly what started the adventure for Joel Crespo and Brian Hardesty. While both are St. Louis natives, the two didn’t meet until they were in their 20s. They shared a love for music, comic books, Star Wars and most importantly, food. Hardesty was a self-taught chef with years of restaurant experience, Crespo a self-proclaimed ‘food nerd’ and home cook. From their conversations, an idea emerged, one to shake up St. Louis by introducing something new to the local culinary scene. That idea was Guerrilla Street Food, a Filipino food truck that since has expanded to include two brick-and-mortar locations, with more on the way.

For both Crespo and Hardesty, their love of food began in childhood. “I was in the kitchen at age 5 wearing an apron and chef’s hat my grandma made me,” Hardesty recalls. “It was a part of who I was from a very young age. As I grew older, I wanted to check out other things, but I always came back to cooking.” That passion and focus helped motivate Hardesty to move up in the restaurant industry. He admits that the learning experience had a few stumbles, but he doesn’t regret tackling it on his own. “I’m happy that I’m self-taught; it made me who I am today,” he says.

Crespo refers to the varied jobs he had before Guerrilla Street Food as his “former lives.” He attended George Washington University to study film and spent time in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., working as a production assistant for TV shows like The Drew Carey Show and Dinner and a Movie on TBS. After moving back to St. Louis, he worked in a funeral home for seven years. “It taught me a lot about customer service,” he admits. While he originally never considered a culinary career, cooking always has been important to him. The youngest of eight children, he says food always reminds him of time spent with his family and the places they have visited.

While opening a restaurant felt like a fiscal impossibility, a food truck seemed within reach. At the time, the lack of a food truck scene in St. Louis didn’t phase the duo; in fact, it further motivated them. “We wanted to challenge ourselves and find something unique that was our own,” Crespo says. The same is true of their decision to serve Filipino food. It reflects Crespo’s heritage, and it hadn’t been established locally. “We thought we could make it better than any place trying to do it at the time,” Crespo says. “We wanted to create our own voice for Filipino culture and the St. Louis food scene.”

According to Crespo, Filipino food is perfect for expressing a unique culinary voice because it adapts to what’s available. “There are literally more than 100 ways a dish can be interpreted,” he says. “Everyone has a recipe for adobo, but we aren’t trying to make your mom’s. It’s our expression of what that dish means to us.” When creating a recipe, they first make it and try to understand its roots before adapting it. “We want to respectfully change it to reflect Guerrilla Street Food, which is Filipino, American and St. Louisan,” Hardesty says.

Guerrilla Street Food is on step three of its plan for expansion and growth, according to Hardesty, and there are many more steps ahead. He’s interested in exploring a breakfast spot or a high-end, full-service restaurant. “There are some great breakfast places in St. Louis, but it could have a lot more,” he says. Crespo is honored by the interest and support Guerrilla Street Food has received, especially from the Filipino community around the world. “It really has urged me to spread love for Filipino food and culture as much as possible,” he says. “The fact that people from around the world know who we are and are excited to work with us is super exciting to me.”

filipino cassoulet 
1 1/2 lbs. of dried, split mung beans
1 T safflower
1 t ground coriander
1 t cinnamon
2 oz. minced garlic
1 large yellow onion, julienned
1 t tomato paste
1T fish sauce
3 qt. water
6 longanisa sausages (found at international grocery stores)
2 lb. pork shoulder roast
2 T soy sauce
Garnish: 1 c crushed chicharron, 1/2 c green onions

» Put first nine ingredients in a large pot and simmer until mung beans are tender. Add water when necessary so they don’t dry out.
» Sear the sausages, and place each one on top of a portion of beans.
» Season pork shoulder roast with salt and pepper, and sear on all sides. Place in a deep pan, add soy sauce and cover with aluminum foil. Braise in a 250-degree oven for 4 hours.
» Once tender, shred pork into chunks. Sear it until slightly crispy and place on top of mung beans.

Photos: Bill Barrett