Quick Take: The Great Food Truck Race, "What Happens in Vegas"
A second season of Food Network's food truck race speeds into action.
Review: The Great Food Truck Race, "What Happens in Vegas"
(S0201) Admittedly, I never got into the first season of Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race. While it has become a new phenomenon -- getting a gourmet or eclectic meal from a truck -- I keep thinking of the old-school food trucks I would see on the streets of New York City. Or, I think back to "dirty-water" dogs -- they have always made me cringe. But, I decided to keep an open mind and check it out. Most of the shows I have seen on Food Network have been decent so why shouldn't this one be any different. I am happy to say that it was well worth the watch.
Before I delve into the nuts and bolts of the season premiere, here's a little background on the teams competing. As with Season One, the west is once again dominating the competition with five out of the eight teams hailing from California, two from the northeast (New York City and Boston) and one from the midwest (Cleveland).
The teams in alphabetical order are:
Cafe Con Leche (Los Angeles, CA) - Gabriel Martinez, Maria Felipe & Frankie Tosta started their truck after craving Cuban food and some good "cafe con leche" in Los Angeles and found it difficult to quench that craving.
Devilicious (San Diego, CA) - Dyann Huffman, Kristina Repp and Mark Manning are dishing up over-the-top comfort food such as lobster grilled cheese and hot dogs with habanero kimichi.
Hodge Podge (Cleveland, OH) - Chef Chris Hodgson has teamed up with his sister, Catie Hodgson, and fiancée, Jacquelyn Romanin to bring a mix of different dishes to the masses - hence "Hodge Podge." (Chris is no stranger to food trucks; Hodge Podge is actually his second one. His first one, Dim and Den Sum, serves up Asian-fusion food.)
Korilla BBQ (New York, NY) - After graduating from Columbia and then culinary school Edward Song recruited his two high school friends, Stephan Park and Paul Lee to start their food truck serving up tacos and burritos with a Korean flare. (Being a native New Yorker I am going to have to track this truck down.)
Roxy's Grilled Cheese (Boston, MA) - Struggling musicians and brothers James and Mitchell DiSabatino and Chef Marc Melanson are serving up over 30 different versions of the childhood favorite. (Next time I'm in Boston I will be looking for this truck!)
Seabirds (Costa Mesa, CA) - Dishing up true vegan food -- no meat, dairy or eggs -- are Stephanie Morgan, Raya Belna, and Nicole Daddona. One of their signature dishes are jerk jackfruit tacos.
Sky's Gourmet Tacos (Los Angeles, CA) - After being in the restaurant business for over 15 years and serving numerous celebrities, mother and son Barbara and Victor Burrell along with business partner Kevin Minor decided to take their signature shrimp tacos to the streets of Los Angeles. They are serving up what they like to refer as "Mexican food with a splash of soul."
The Lime Truck (Irvine, CA) - Serving gourmet meals on wheels, Daniel Shemtob, Jason Quinn, and Jesse Brockman are ingredient driven and plan on having different menus at each stop along the race. (Sounds cool, but very stressful. I can barely get a menu down for one day of the week.)
Our host, Tyler Florence, meets up with the eight teams in Malibu, California and gives them a breakdown of the competition. The theme behind this season is more -- more teams, more cities and more money. The prize money has doubled this season to $100,000, which inevitably gets the attention of all of the contestants. Each weekend they will compete in a different city and be given $500 to buy all of their ingredients.
Oh yeah, all they are driving around with in their trucks are condiments and spices! Within an allotted time they will have to buy their food, cook it, promote it and sell it. When all of these formalities are out of the way Tyler informs them that their first city is not Malibu, but 304 miles away in Les Vegas! It must be noted that this is not a city that is food truck friendly. You can't just park your truck on the strip and start selling food.
The drama begins not long after all the teams hit the road. One of the front wheels on Sky's Gourmet Tacos truck blows out and this forces them to pull over and replace it. Not only have they lost precious time, but, they have to pay for the tire using part of their $500 food money -- they are now down $185. This stinks for them, but for us the viewer it's great drama.
As the other teams make their way to Las Vegas they use whatever contacts they may have in Sin City to get an edge on the competition. But, then The Lime Truck contestants -- who say that alliances are important -- decide to let the Seabirds team in on their hot spot for the first day. I'm immediately thinking of Survivor and Amazing Race, where alliances never work out for the best! Korilla BBQ has edged out a spot in Chinatown with the help of a local food truck that they know. Unfortunately for the other five teams, finding a spot won't be as easy.
Cafe Con Leche ultimately finds a niche spot setting up at a local Latin Festival. But, they still have to lure people in by giving away free shots of "cafe con leche." Roxy's Grilled Cheese has a shaky day. At their first location it was completely dead and at their second spot things were going well and then they died down. But, all was not lost. They learned from a local of a popular food truck meet-up spot for the following day. You kind of know at this point it can't be so cut and dry and some drama is sure to ensue. And while Korilla BBQ is basking in the glory of their success of the day guess who shows up... Sky's Gourmet Taco. They were initially supposed to be the exclusive food truck at a student festival but that blown tire deflated that plan. Needless to say Korilla BBQ is not happy. They are accustomed to how things work in New York City, where one food truck just doesn't park next to another one to cut them out. Well guys, this is a competition and someone has to go down. There will be no niceties.
On the second day there was a bit of a showdown between the guys from Roxy's Grilled Cheese and The Lime Truck. They both show up at the food truck meet-up spot and Roxy's Grilled Cheese decides to park in a way that blocks The Lime Truck from receiving customers. Really? Are the Roxy guys that insecure about their grilled cheeses that they need pull a stunt like that? They end up moving after the The Lime Truck guys complain to whomever will listen. Meanwhile the Hodge Podge team thinks they have hit the jackpot showing up at a church service at UNLV thinking that the foot traffic from people leaving the service will make them a pretty penny. They were wrong. Chris has to start wheeling and dealing to sell his food. By the end of the day Hodge Podge, Sky's Gourmet Taco and Korilla BBQ are all at the same hot spot Korilla BBQ initially discovered. Needless to say Korilla BBQ is not happy once again. They are going to have to get used to this sort of thing if they plan on making it to the end of the competition. Meanwhile Cafe Con Leche are at a local flea market having a hard time drumming up business. They can't decide whether to market their food as Cuban or Latin. The final two teams, Seabirds and Devilicious are downtown trying their lucks with some success. A humorous part to the end of the competition was Seabirds offering their tacos for $2 and a free kiss.
An interesting twist this season is the "speed bump," where at some point during the competition a monkey wrench will be thrown in. It can be the food truck being towed away, tires being popped, all power being shut off and so forth. This week that wrench was the propane being turned off. It was interesting to see the teams scramble to make do. Of course Seabirds were fine with this since all of their food can be served raw. Once again, I am reminded of "Amazing Race" and the "yield" which enables one team to stop another team from competing for a certain amount of time. Is it me, or a lot of these competition reality shows somehow taking ideas from one another and just tweaking it a bit to make it right for them? I think some sort of copywriting needs to be done soon because if not we the viewer will just be watching cookie cutter versions of the same show over and over again. Oh, can I just say I got a little annoyed Chris from the Hodge Podge truck for snapping at his teammates when they were trying to brainstorm with him on how to handle the no propane. He needs to learn about teamwork.
At the end of the two days The Lime Truck comes in first, making $3,145. Coming in last and going home was Sky's Gourmet Tacos. All of their years of experience just couldn't overcome their mishap early in the competition.
More than likely I will be tuning in for the remainder of the season. I do have one complaint though: the episode seemed to go by really fast without anything of substance happening. I would like to know more about what each team is cooking, not just see them serve it up to the customers.
Next week the teams travel 424 miles northeast to Salt Lake City, Utah. There, they will have 90 minutes to create a sausage meal and the "speed bump" will have them shutting down at the location they are at. I can't wait to see what a vegan sausage will have in it...