Flamur Kalemaj said he was born in the kitchen next to the stove.
Kalemaj moved to the United States from his native country of Albania six years ago to be a chef. He said he has been cooking for 20 years.
A few weeks ago, Kalemaj started his first week cooking in a food truck.
“I was born in Albania, but I love Italian food,” Kalemaj, a partner and chef in Temple’s Best Italian Sandwiches, said.
The truck, which sits across from Tomlinson Theater on Norris Street, specializes in Italian sandwiches made with fresh and locally grown products. Kalemaj said he uses ingredients like broccoli rabe, mozzarella, fennel, peppers, onions and baby arugula in his sandwiches.
“I want to feed people healthy,” Kalemaj said. “People are so busy, it’s like they don’t have time. Kids are busy studying, practicing and don’t have time to cook at home. So, that’s why I’m here.”
Kalemaj said Temple’s Best Italian Sandwiches is still sometimes confused with Temple’s Best Mexican Food, the truck that used to operate from its place in front of Tomlinson Theater, which sold burritos, tacos and nachos. He even kept the name, “Temple’s Best,” which he now considers a mistake.
“When you go to Temple’s Best, don’t ask for a burrito,” Kalemaj said. “Ask for healthy, fresh food.”
His sandwiches are all made on fresh bread and accompany a conversation with the chef himself. Even amid the process of making a student’s lunch, Kalemaj leans out the window to chat.
“My sandwiches take long because they are not fast food,” Kalemaj said. “They require patience. Be patient.”
Menu items – like the Erdeta, named after his wife who still lives in Albania – range in price from $2.50 to $8.99 for sides and sandwiches. Kalemaj said he is busiest between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on any given day.
As the new kid on the block, Kalemaj said that even though he has only been on Main Campus for a week, he wants to meet every student.
“I want every student to try at least one of my sandwiches,” Kalemaj said. “They have to have the experience of trying, at least once.”
Senior graphic design major Kyle Harrison said he heard the truck offers good food for an affordable price.
“All the design kids go there because it’s just so good,” Harrison said.
With the truck being fairly new on Main Campus, Harrison said word is spreading about Kalemaj and what kind of food Temple’s Best offers.
“I plan to go there sooner or later,” Harrison said. “I like to try new stuff.”
When asked why he chose to bring a food truck to a college campus, the Italian-cooking Albanian just shrugged and threw up his hands.
“I want to feed the kids,” he said.
One of his sandwich creations comes complete with eggplant and fresh mozzarella topped with kosher salt, arugula, basil pesto on warm fresh baked bread.
“Every soul needs salt,” Kalemaj said.
He smiled. A large slab of mozzarella, sprinkled with sparkling salt, melted into the eggplant sandwich in his hands.
“And this will turn your mouth upside down.”
Emily Rolen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org