In 2011, Adam Sobel’s mobile vegan kitchen The Cinnamon Snail won the Maker’s Mark challenge for its bourbon creme brulee doughnuts. In 2012, his seitan street food claimed the People’s Taste Award, and in 2013, the Red Bank chef brought the Hero Award back to its New Jersey home after being honored for feeding the storm-stricken shore communities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Saturday afternoon on Governors Island, he finally claimed the Street Vendor Project’s sole panel-judged award, winning over local chefs and culinary celebrities like City Grit’s Sarah Simmons and Man V Food star Adam Richman, who handed Sobel his first Vendy Cup.
“It’s like a dive,” Richman said, describing his decision to give high marks to the Cinnamon Snail’s sage tempeh sausage sliders and Korean BBQ seitan tacos. “The execution of one dive may not necessarily be as good as another, but because it’s a higher level of difficulty — I’m that Hungarian judge who factored in that higher level of difficulty.”
In past years the Cinnamon Snail crew operated in costume and with an animated controlled chaos that kept the crowd entertained as their winding line progressed, but this year, Sobel arrived in a billowing brown chef’s jacket and striped pants; asked if his more subdued uniform signaled he was all grown up, he assured that wasn’t the case. “It used to be we could buy a few costumes, but it’s not that cheap anymore. Now we have two trucks and 50 employees.”
And Sobel’s wasn’t the only success story of the day. Other top honors went to Nuchas, its empanadas earning it the People’s Taste trophy, and Calexico, which wowed the crowd with massive platters including an iPhone 6-sized pork quesadilla, spicy fish taco, and chips with a trio of sauces, to take home the first Masters Cup. Best dessert went to ice cream pop-up Ice & Vice, a regular at the LIC Flea and Brooklyn Night Bazaar.
Rookie of the Year was awarded to the equally sweet Snowday. Founded last spring by Jordyn Lexton, a former high school English teacher at Rikers Island, the truck known for its savory New York maple syrup infusions is a mobile fundraiser for her non-profit Drive Change. Inspired a by culinary arts program at the prison, Snowday employs the formerly incarcerated young adults giving them a new opportunity to succeed.
This year’s Vendy Hero Award went to Baare Batchiri, who served as a reminder that street vending is most commonly the domain of the New York’s sometimes invisible immigrant population, as 90 percent of the city’s vendors are new to this country. Batchiri moved from Nigeria to New York a decade ago and was selling cellphone accessories on the street in SoHo last June when he was stabbed by a homeless man that he pursued until police arrived.
Nisha Agarwal, the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office on Immigrant Affairs, honored Baare, stating, “Everyone from the residents to the shopkeepers call him a compassionate, caring individual. People shared anecdotes of him bringing them food and water in the summer heat, or giving them a pair of gloves in the winter. These are the traits we want in the people of New York City, and Baare represents another trait of New York City, which is resilience.”
See more photos of the Vendy Awards in our slide show.