You’ve eaten one waffle, you’ve eaten them all, right? … Wrong! Did you know there are many different variations of waffles? Have you ever used a waffle as a sandwich wrap? Meet Robin Admana and Flo Gardner, co-owners of the Foolish Waffles truck, which offers up sweet and savory treats, throughout the Philadelphia area, featuring two different styles of Belgian waffles — Brussels (a lighter, rectangular waffle) and Liege (a richer, denser and sweeter waffle). We first met the Waffle Maidens — as they refer to themselves — at LOVE Park in Center City Philly. When I sat down to enjoy Foolish Waffles’ pork belly bahn mi waffle (coriander black pepper-glazed pork belly, topped with pickled cabbage, fresh cucumbers, cilantro and jalapenos, drizzled with togarashi sauce and sriracha), I “foolishly” got my fork and knife ready. To my delight, I realized that the meal was prepared to be eaten sandwich-style, using the light Brussels waffle as a wrap. I eventually needed utensils for their Sweet & Salty waffle (a Liege “sugar” waffle, topped with black pepper bacon toffee, mascarpone whipped cream, salted caramel and smoked sea salt), which was so wickedly-delicious that I ate (er, inhaled) the whole dessert just minutes after telling myself I’d only have a couple bites. We next caught up with the Waffle Maidens at The Mann Center for the Performing Arts where Dr. Dog was playing a concert — and where we “learned” that rock ‘n’ roll concerts should always be required to serve Foolish Waffles’ buttermilk fried chicken and waffles, topped with a chili honey glaze, cabbage slaw and pickled bourbon jalapenos. In addition to many other sweet and savory dishes, Foolish Waffles also offers up breakfast-inspired waffles with eggs and bacon and even a PB&J waffle (with berry compote!). The last couple months, we’ve been exchanging emails with the Waffle Maidens, and we’re honored to have Foolish Waffles’ Robin & Flo share their (chocolate covered) memories with us …
How did you find yourself in this niche of the food industry?
Chef/co-owner Robin: I’ve always loved the idea of street food from traveling to other countries, so it was a natural pairing for me.
Co-owner Flo: Robin. 🙂
Any child/teenage food industry jobs?
Robin: Oddly enough, my first job was at a restaurant that focused on fried chicken. I was a hostess and expediter. I didn’t last more than a month.
Flo: I started working at Sweeney’s Bakery in Wilmington, Delaware when I was 14 years old and worked there through high school. Sweeney’s is a great old school bakery that I still have strong ties to as my best friend from home married into the family. I also spent a couple months working at a pizza place in the promenade on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey.
What are your earliest childhood memories of food?
Robin: I helped my dad make pancakes every weekend. And for every family party, there would be lumpia (fried spring rolls) and pancit (noodles). I would help my mom and aunties make the spring rolls and chop veggies for the noodle dishes , while listening to them gossip about the family.
Flo: Unfortunately, my earliest food memories are not good ones. I vividly remember not wanting to disappoint my grandmother who encouraged me to eat a raw tomato with mayonnaise at a Fourth of July party at my grandparents’ house. I blame that experience for my weird relationship with raw tomatoes. I also have acquired a strong dislike for beets that I attribute to my brother, who, when babysitting me, told me that for every canned beet I ate, I could stay up a half an hour later. Needless to say, that did not turn out well. I have not been able to eat a beet since.
Where does your love of food stem from?
Robin: I watched a lot of PBS cooking shows on Saturday afternoons as a kid. My mom didn’t really like cooking, so I always helped and loved guessing what the ingredients were.
But it wasn’t until my first trip to Europe, when I was 22, that I fell in love with food. I went to Italy. I ate gelato every day, veggies that were so bright and full of flavor. I had one dinner in a small city called Toto, not far from Florence, that changed it all for me. A small, family-run restaurant where the chef/dad came out and fed us a tasting menu. It included aperitifs, fresh pastas and breads, game meats, favas, figs and lots of wine. It changed my way of thinking about food. They offered a cooking class, but I was leaving the next morning.
Flo: I think my love of food has stemmed from a combination of family and travel. My mother was a pretty adventurous home cook, and my aunt and uncle are in the hospitality business. I really think that they influenced both myself and my brother (who is an executive chef at a country club in North Carolina) to explore this lifestyle. It’s not just the food and cooking either; it’s the whole experience. I feel pretty lucky to have traveled quite a bit as a kid and had some pretty amazing dining experiences. Exposure to the diverse ways that one can experience food has really inspired me personally.
What foods remind you of childhood? What were your favorite foods growing up?
Robin: Chestnuts will always remind me of childhood. In season, my parents would always roast chestnuts which we would devour while guzzling tons of water. We’d all crack them and compare which ones were best. When my mom would peel a perfect one, she’d give it to either me or my sister, and it was the best treat! My favorite foods growing up: Sweetened condensed milk, for sure! It was a staple in our family. We’d eat it on toast, pancakes and even in our oatmeal. My father would boil a bunch of cans and make a dulce de leche, which we’d eat by the spoonful.
Flo: The first thing that comes to mind strangely enough is bobotie, a South African dish consisting of spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping. Bobotie is a dish that my mom picked up from the wife of my dad’s colleague who stated that “no South African housewife did not know how to make.” I am also slightly obsessed with Fruity Pebbles. My parents were pretty strict about sugary cereal, so when I first moved out of my parents’ house, I pretty much lived off of it during my first year of college. You will notice that Fruity Pebbles is a staple on our food truck.
Any specific food memories/stories that you want to share?
Robin: My mom would take us strawberry picking every year. And every year, my mother would get in trouble for picking in the wrong fields (because to her, those berries looked bigger and better). She would also bring cream or sugar for us to dip our freshly picked strawberries in.
Flo: Not really a memory but rather lack thereof that kills me every time I think of it. When I was 13 years old, I spent a summer in Europe with my parents. My dad was a scientist with DuPont and had the opportunity to teach and do research for three months. We spent a month and a half in Cambridge, England and a month and a half in Grenoble, France and a bunch of places in between. I have a lot of really awesome food memories from that trip — from eating greasy fish and chips out of newspaper in Cambridge to eating fresh seafood and being fawned over as the only diners at restaurant in San Sebastian. But the one thing that I wish I could remember and experience again was a wine dinner at a winery in Saint-Émilion. (I don’t remember the name sadly.) Apparently it was a special dinner for this group of international crystallographers that my dad was part of, and my mom, till this day, says it was the best dining experience of her life. It started at 6pm, and they didn’t serve dessert until 2am. And what do I remember? Kittens. There was a litter of kittens at the chateau, and that is all I remember. Sigh.
Were you a picky eater as a kid? Any foods you couldn’t stand growing up? Have you overcome those childhood fears or do they still remain to this day? Any stuff you loved eating as a child that you would never eat now?
Robin: I had to smell everything before I’d eat it. I hated olives and still do! I was also freaked out by deli meats. I love all kinds of cured meats now. I ate a lot of fast food growing up. I try to avoid that now.
Flo: As I described earlier, I definitely have a weird relationship with tomatoes and am a little picky where they are concerned. I still can’t eat beets. I love the idea of them, and I try them every now and again but still can’t get them down.
Any cooking accidents in the farm/kitchen?
Robin: Thanksgiving 2001. I made buttermilk biscuits. I’m always responsible for breads and desserts. My biscuits were so dense and heavy that they were made into tree ornaments for Christmas that year.
Growing up, what was your favorite meal/food/snack to eat outside?
Robin: Anything on a stick! If there was a BBQ or a picnic, you could guarantee there was some sort of meat on a stick, and it was awesome.
Flo: I used to LOVE Jack & Jill Strawberry Shortcakes, but I haven’t had one in years!
What do you think of the modern food world (from Whole Foods to franchises like Olive Garden and Starbucks, from the Food Network to Groupon, from Yelp to foodie bloggers and especially the modern food truck world)?
Robin: I appreciate stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offering ingredients and products that you can’t otherwise find in standard grocery stores.
Flo: Honestly, at times I find myself a little overwhelmed by the modern food world. There are just so many options and decisions to be made that I often find myself drawn to more simple and straightforward approaches. While I do believe that there can be a time and a place for anything — as long as it is good food — I tend to stay away from commercial food enterprises. For the most part, I try to support local restaurants and establishments and do so when I travel as well. For that reason, Groupon is not for me. I’d rather support the business directly. As far as media goes, sure, I look at Yelp, but I don’t let reviews sway my decision — I know what I like, and I usually only look if I am trying to get a sense of what is in the area and what my options are. Same goes for food blogs. I am always curious as to what people say, and I love reading about new and interesting things, but in many ways one’s relationship with food is a personal one.
As for the modern food truck world, it is an amazing culture to be a part of! I feel really lucky that Robin and I were able to make Foolish Waffles happen. Having a food truck is a little like having a little test kitchen. We can be creative and test recipes and see what works and what doesn’t. And it has been a true blessing that Robin and I work so well together.
What family recipes do you want to share with us?
Robin: I made pancakes with my father on many weekend mornings. His pancakes were super heavy and dense so you could ever only eat one. He’d drizzle them with sweetened condensed milk. This is my lighter, fluffier version that I now make for them on holidays for brunch. Enjoy my father’s buttermilk pancakes!
Every now and then my father would make dulce de leche. It was an all-day process, so when he made it, he’d make five or six cans at a time, which never seemed like enough. We’d put it on toast, pancakes and ice cream, but I’d sneak it by the spoonful when no one was looking. Enjoy my father’s dulce de leche!
Flo: This is a recipe for these vegetarian patties with a cilantro sauce that I literally want to bathe in every time I make it. My Aunt Sheila, an employee of Morton’s steakhouse for over 20 years, and a life-long vegetarian, is an incredible entertainer. She would host an annual birthday father for my grandfather in August every year until he passed. One of her staples at this gathering were these veggie patties and every time I make them, they remind me of my fam. Enjoy my aunt’s vegetarian patties with a cilantro sauce!
Robin Admana and Flo Gardner are longtime friends that share the love of sweets, brunch and all things waffley. Robin began her career in law firms and after a few years, decided she wanted to cook. She attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia and graduated in 2004. For the last decade, she worked as a private chef and caterer while continuing to work in the legal world. In 2012, Robin left the corporate world and quickly started working in restaurant kitchens and food trucks to gain as much experience as possible.
Bonding over their love of cooking and taking care of our friends through food, Flo and Robin joined forces to launch Foolish Waffles. While Flo continues to work full-time in development for a national nonprofit located in Philadelphia, she has over ten years of front of house experience ranging from bakeries to high-end dining and catering in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Flo holds a Bachelor’s degree in music from Temple University and a Master’s degree in arts administration from Drexel University.