They say when looking for something, sometimes it's right at home and even under your very own nose. That literally was the case when I stumbled across the topic for this post. There have been multiple evenings that I have returned home to my upstairs unit from a rigorous and grueling workout to the fragrant and delicious smell of PANCAKES permeating the entire house. Doused in sweat and hungry for food, all I could think was "LORD - WHY MUST YOU MOCK ME!!" Eventually, I came to find out that it was my culinary genius of a neighbor mocking me by experimenting in her kitchen with different recipes for pancakes in preparation for the launch of Chicago's newest food truck - Babycakes.
I'm sure you're thinking "Pancakes? Food Truck? Really?" YES! I took the opportunity of traversing the lengthy distance down my staircase to connect with Leah and pick her brain to talk Babycakes. I'll sum it up this way. This ain't yo' mama's pancakes. Bongo Room better watch out cause Leah Wilcox is coming up in a big way and she's got a big ole truck loaded with delicious pancakes.
Me: "Why pancakes? Where did you come up with the idea?"
Leah: "I'm not that big of a pancake person because they really don't have a lot of flavor. One day I decided to make ombre pancakes. When I was making them, I realized they were just regular pancakes with food coloring. I thought 'That's boring.' So I started experimenting and flavored them with the colors they were dyed - raspberry, orange, lemon. I took them to work one day and my coworkers started mixing and matching them to customize them to what they like." So that took me back to learning in culinary school how everything is customizable these days compared to in the old days when restaurants only served exactly what was on the menu. I thought that this is a perfect way to customize pancakes. They're cheap, customizable, freezable, can be served hot or cold and reheat easily.
Me: Cold pancakes?
Leah: Yes. Tiramisu is cold and so are the Tiramisu pancakes. Most of the dessert pancakes are served cold and taste great. They wouldn't taste right hot.
- Tiramisu Pancakes - coffee pancakes, mascarpone cheese, strawberries, spiced rum syrup and chocolate shavings
Me: Good point. So most food trucks serve around the lunchtime hour. It looks like you might be a category of one serving during the breakfast time.
Leah: Actually, these can be eaten at any time of day. I make both savory and sweet pancakes. Like the mushroom and cheese one can be eaten during lunch and other ones too.
Me: Nice! I've never had pancakes for anything besides breakfast. This could be interesting! So do you plan on having a set menu for the truck?
Leah: We'll be cycling 3 or 4 of them but the regular one will probably be the Maple Bacon Glazed ones since everyone generally loves bacon so much. They'll be small enough to take in a container but not so large that you end up stuffed.
- Babycakes Signature Pancake - Maple Bacon Glazed - maple pancakes, maple cream cheese glaze and candied maple bacon
Me: Do you have any favorite recipes?
Leah: Yes! The Strawberry Margarita. The Bubble Gum is actually really good. Caramel Apple. Spicy Sausage Apple. The Chocolate Dipped Strawberry one looks really great.
From left to right, top to bottom:
1 - Strawberry Margarita Pancakes- strawberry tequila pancakes, sweet lime glaze, whipped cream, strawberries, lime zest and sugar sprinkles
2 - Bubble Gum Pancakes - bubble gum pancakes, whipped cream, mini marshmallows and candy sprinkles
3 - Caramel Apple Pancakes - caramel pancakes with caramel sauce, fresh diced apples and toasted peanuts
4 - Spicy Sausage and Apple Pancakes - spicy sausage pancakes, maple syrup, candied apples, sausage garnish
5 - Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Pancakes - chocolate dipped strawberry pancakes with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a chocolate dipped strawberry
Me: How about interesting or off the wall concoctions?
Leah: The Guinness Chocolate Stout was interesting.
Leah: Haha! Yeah! The Green Chile Corn is cool and so is the Cotton Candy. Oh wait - The Root Beer Float!
From left to right, top to bottom:
1 - Chocolate Stout Pancakes - chocolate Guinness pancakes with Bailey's Irish Cream glaze, mini chocolate chips and porter sugar
2 - Corn & Green Chile Pancakes - green chile corn pancakes with lime marinated grilled corn, melted butter and fresh cilantro
3 - Carnival Cotton Candy Pancakes - cotton candy pancakes with pink sugar glaze, sprinkles and cotton candy garnish
4 - Root Beer Float Pancakes - root beer pancakes, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and a cherry on top
Me: Since you're not able to actually cook on the food truck, I'm guessing you won't be able to customize them as much right?
Leah: Yeah. If it weren't for that, we could make all of them look really great with garnishes but everything has to be pre-packaged. But if we are doing a private event or are asked to cater an event, then we can totally do anything we want.
Me: Unlike most pancake joints, it seems you not only are changing up the flavor of the pancake but the syrup or topping as well.
Leah: Yeah - like the Tiramisu one is a coffee pancake with rum syrup, mascarpone cheese and chocolate sprinkles.
Me: Wow - I can only imagine. I've never heard of any of those put together in a pancake ever.
Leah: Or you can even mix and match them like the champagne pancake with the orange pancake and you have a mimosa pancake.
Me: That's like Jelly Belly's!!
Leah: Exactly! Everyone has said that when I mention it!
Me: So a question for me and my vegetarian and vegan friends - do you have vegetarian or vegan versions of these that you will have available?
Leah: I'm actually experimenting with and can make that happen. So far, all of them have at least a little egg in them. It won't be too hard to make them vegan because some of them already have the milk replaced with juice or liqueur. If they're made without eggs, it'll make things easier because they'll hold up better and longer. You also can't tell too much of a difference in taste. I'm also working on a gluten free version. I promise they won't taste like dirt.
Me: HAHA!! Have you always been a chef and wanted to cook since you were young or is this something that just happened?
Leah: Over the last 5 or 6 years, I started cooking more and hosting dinner parties with friends since I had the proper space to entertain people. I started learning how to make everything from scratch and started experimenting. Like the last party I had served 12 courses with 12 liquor pairings. It nearly killed me. I already write and paint but they weren't something that I quit my day job over. So this was the first time I thought that could change. I'm in the middle of finishing my one-year personal chef program at Kendall College. It was there that I came up with the idea in the middle of class. I do this because it's creative. It's over-the-top. It's different. It's artistic. It's a sensory thing.
Me: Last question and very importantly - When can we start seeing your truck around the city?
Leah: We're in the final stages of getting our food truck license. As soon as that's done, then we'll be hittin' the road! Until then, we're totally available for catering and private events.
There has been the cupcake craze. Then came the cake pop craze. Who knows - maybe it's time for a pancake craze. Leah and I flipped through multiple images on her Facebook which left me in absolutely awe of her creations as well as with a big pool of drool on the ground. To take a look those images, menu items as well as some videos, visit her webpage at babycakestruck.com or her Facebook page at facebook.com/babycakestruck. If you want to take a look at her blog where she posts recipes and other bits of info, visit Cooking & Entertaining with Leah. I can personally attest to her culinary talent after trying some of her appetizers, like her butternut squash macaroni and cheese "sushi" rolls. (WOW)
According to UrbanDictionary.com, babycakes is an affection term for a girlfriend who is awesome beyond measure. I can say that Leah's culinary talent and her fun personality are definitely that and her pancakes come with a generous pairing of awesomesauce. Stay tuned and I'll be sure to post when Babycakes hits the road or you can follow their twitter handle @babycakestruck. Until then, I'm going to help to explore with Leah on how to create the eggless version of these pancakes so I can start indulging in all of her recipes. Personally, I want to try the Cookies and Cream as well as the Chocolate Fudge Brownie ones.