Colin Fukunaga has cooked for millionaires and CEOs. He’s met celebrities and done catering inside mansions.
Sunday, though, will mark one of the highlights of his culinary career. That’s when Fukunaga and his pals will drive a rented food truck into the players lot at the Oakland Coliseum, and prepare 300 burgers for the Washington Redskins.
“Basically it’s a boyhood dream come true,” Fukunaga told me recently. “Everybody knows the NFL. I was telling my [employees], this is like the pinnacle. Besides the White House, this is the most talked about company you will ever do. This is a huge opportunity for a freaking food truck.”
This is a wacky story, so you’ll have to stick with me for a while. Fukunaga, 42, is a Fairfax County native, a former starting fullback at Robinson High who grew up a Redskins fan. He’s been in the restaurant business for 22 years, and launched his Las Vegas “Fukuburger” food truck in 2010, mixing West Coast burger sensibilities with Japanese flavors.
A close friend of his played high school football with Redskins guard Chris Chester, whom Fukunaga met several times and became friends with. Chester, unbeknownst to me, is something of a foodie, and became a big fan of Fukunaga’s product; he and ex-teammate Marshall Yanda “ate about 10 burgers apiece” the first time they visited Fukunaga’s truck.
“When can we do that Fuku party for the Redskins O-line?” Fukunaga asked Chester over Twitter last winter.
“My fellow Hogs would dominate some Fukuburgers with a great deal of pleasure,” Chester responded. “We gotta make it happen.”
After serving as a celebrity judge at a food truck competition in Vegas, Chester told Fukunaga that he’d love for the chef to feed the Redskins at some point.
“Yeah, whatever. I don’t know how that’s going to happen,” Fukunaga remembered thinking. “I grew up in D.C., but I don’t see how I would get my food truck there.”
So Chester suggested he serve the team after a West Coast road game. They looked at the schedule, and Chester suggested this Sunday’s Raiders game. Even that seemed sort of far-fetched.
Then Fukunaga got a phone call from Redskins Director of Football Operations Paul Kelly.
Next thing Fukunaga knew, he was sourcing a food truck in the Bay Area that he could use in the Oakland Coliseum parking lot. (The food truck, whose owners he’s never met, have a clientele consisting largely of Raiders fans; they made Fukunaga promise not to reveal his truck’s every-day identity.) Chester would pay for the transportation costs for Fukunaga and three colleagues; they’ll fly in on Saturday, pick up their temporary food truck, and head to his friend’s seafood warehouse in San Francisco’s Pier 39 to do the prep work.
Kelly warned Fukunaga that he would only have an hour to feed 100 people after the game, and that it was doubtful anyone would have time for more than one burger. Remembering the damage Chester and Yanda did, Fukunaga decided to prepare for 300.
“They were pounding our food,” he recalled. “I literally thought I was gonna run out of food, just between those two guys.”
Fukunaga picked out three menu items: the No. 1 (an original Fuku burger with the Japanese cuisine-inspired Fuku sauce), the No. 2 (a Fuku patty with a fried egg and crispy onion strings on top), and the No. 6 (a hand-breaded, Panko-crusted Japanese chicken sandwich with Wasabi mayo). (To see the rest of the menu, go to Fukuburger.com.)
As for the timing, fret not.
“We did 200 people in 45 minutes last week,” he said. “That’s not an issue. It’s a huge opportunity for us, but we’re gonna bang this out.”
Fukunaga hopes to make it inside the stadium to watch the first half of the game. But for him, the bright lights come on after the television cameras have turned off, after the players have showered and the the reporters have cleared out of the locker room.
“The pressure’s on us then,” he said. “Chris is taking a chance on us; now we need to make him look good. He’s putting his trust in us to feed the team. I take food super seriously; this is a huge responsibility and honor for somebody to trust me to make something with my hands, and to put it in their body.”