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26.07.2017. Best of the Coast
Two men. One Ape.
No, not the simian kind: that’s Ape as in the famous Italian three-wheeler utility vehicles, the ones with motorbike handlebars rather than a steering wheel inside their tiny drivers’ cabins. Still made by Piaggio, these classic mini-pickups are often seen on country roads, but over the last few years a few smart catering entrepreneurs have realized that, with a little conversion, they also make great pop-up food and drink stations.
Those smart entrepreneurs include Alfonso Ferrara, a guy from Maiori who after a successful bartending career was ready for a new challenge. He dreamed of opening a small, chic variation on the street food van, one which would serve up gourmet finger food, artisanal cocktails and an original, highly curated wine and beer selection.
It wasn’t long before he had found a local bodyshop that specialized in Ape conversions, and had one made to his specifications – including a hydraulic roof that could be raised when the vehicle was parked, to accommodate chef and servers.
As for who would be manning the saucepans, Alfonso says he knew right from the start that it would be his friend Andy Reid, a Londoner who had moved to Praiano after meeting and marrying a girl from Cava dei Tirreni. Having done his culinary apprenticeship in Britain’s Royal Air Force, Andy plied his trade in some of the Amalfi Coast’s leading restaurants and bars – including Le Sirenuse’s Champagne Bar, where Alfonso was also working. It was a rewarding experience for both of them, and they have remained firm friends ever since. “He’s a magician”, says Alfonso of the British chef. “I knew he’d be able to give 100% even in such a confined space”.
The food van’s name, Bee Chic, is a play on that of the vehicle – ape means ‘bee’ (while the Vespa, another iconic Piaggio creation, is of course a wasp – with both names nodding at the high-pitched sound of the engine). During the season, from April through to October, it can be found parked from 6pm onwards at various locations along the coast, with Praiano, Maiori and Postiano being the most frequent ports of call. Alfonso and Andy’s three-wheeled bar-bistro is also a regular sight at weddings and other convivial social events.
The regular menu consists of what Andy jokingly calls ‘conFusion food’. The Neapolitan tradition of fried snacks (calamari, pizzelle) and fresh seafood is given an Asian, British and Pacific spin in dishes like lobster roll, fish and chips, pan-seared tuna or ‘Hawaiian sushi’ – which comes served in an ice-cream cone!
There are generally around ten cocktails on offer each evening, including one of Alfonso’s own creations, the Sentiero degli Dei or ‘Path of the Gods’ – the name of a spectacular trekking route above Praiano. He devised this blend of bay-leaf liqueur, soda water, rosemary extract and Amalfi lemon marmalade for a competition in honour of his illustrious colleague Salvatore Calabrese, a.k.a. Il Maestro – another Maiori bartender who rose to become one of London’s most famous mixologists. The serious wine list, which includes Perrier-Jouët champagne and Strasserhof Riesling by the glass, also flags the fact that this is no ordinary street-food van.
Given the limited space, Bee Chic is very much a “while stocks last” kind of operation. “Quando è furnut, è furnut”, says Alfonso with a smile, lapsing into local dialect: “When it’s gone, it’s gone”. At least, that is, until the following evening, when the duo are sure to buzz into view again, somewhere along this eternally chic coastline.
Photo © Roberto Salomone