By Shelley Hill Young
At her graduation ceremony from the Culinary Institute of America, Melanie Durant asked her mom to hold her diploma for a minute. Her mother jokingly said Melanie better hurry or else she was going to take the certificate. It was the first time Melanie learned that her mother’s dream had been to go to culinary school herself.
“She was always a really great cook,” Melanie said.
Cooking, it seems, is in Melanie’s DNA. Melanie, the former pastry chef at FIG, recently traded her chocolate crepes and peanut butter bon bons for egg sandwiches and crullers made in the confines of a blue food truck called Scram, which parks from 8 a.m. to noon Thursday through Sunday in the Island Plaza parking lot on Folly Road.
Melanie made the decision because she wanted to spend more time with her 4-year-old son. She says she left before he woke up in the morning and didn’t get home some nights until he had already started his dinner. He was tired and it was close to bedtime. “I was missing out on this big chunk,” she says. “It was more important to have that time.”
The food truck was something Melanie and her husband, Gill, had always teased about. Then, on a trip to visit her grandmother in Florida, Gill searched on Craigslist and found the truck. And they said, “Let’s do it.”
“We can be beach bums. It will be so easy,” she says they thought. “No,” she says emphatically.
Melanie says she really wanted to sneak the food truck in and “enjoy this really quiet life at the beach.”
But a couple of weeks in, the truck broke down. Turns out they were overpowering the generators. Too many buns baking at one time. By the Friday after they got the truck back up and running, word had gotten out and there were more than 25 people waiting in line. “We just got smashed,” she says. She called her mom to come help on the truck, but she ended up getting backup from a friend from FIG. Her mom stayed at home with her son.
Melanie credits her mentor, pastry chef Cynthia Wong, with teaching her how to stand up for herself in the aggressive culture of often male-dominated kitchens. The two worked together at Empire State South in Atlanta. Pastry is an afterthought in most kitchens, Melanie says. Cynthia taught her “how to not take BS from anyone.” “She’s the person who made me a boss.”
Cynthia recently moved to Charleston, where she’s the pastry chef at Butcher and Bee. “It was just fortuitous,” Melanie says. The two were planning to get together the day after our interview. “Our kids are six months apart and they are best buddies.”
Melanie says she cooks more than 100 egg sandwiches on most Saturdays and Sundays. But she hasn’t eaten an egg all summer. “It’s been so hot. When I get out of there, I want a salad and vegetables.”
But, she says, she’s adjusted to the crazy. She’s used to the exhaustion. And she and her husband have learned how to manage the demand and the small space a little more efficiently.
“We’re doing it for ourselves,” she says. “It’s going to be a better life for us. We get done and we have the whole rest of the day on the beach.”