Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Great Food Truck Race - Vegas & Salt Lake

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

Last year, I heard about The Great Food Truck Race the week it ended so it was too late to enjoy the show. This made me extra excited for this year's return. I've really enjoyed it so far, because it both fascinates me (I don't see "gourmet" food trucks often in my area) and I like to snark at the competitors. I had some DVR problems and watched the first two together so this post will cover the action in those, but from now on I'll do each episode separately.

First, a rundown... Basically, eight teams are competing for $100,000 (it was $50,000 last season). They move to a new city each week, with each team transporting themselves with their food truck and another vehicle. They get seed money to buy their ingredients and they cook their food and find a spot and sell it, hoping to make the most money. Each week, the team that makes the least amount of money goes home - everyone else moves on and does it again in another city. There are challenges that are imposed to make things more difficult, and anything that happens because of your own fault (like a flat tire), you're fixing on your own, out of your seed money. They were allowed to bring their own spices and condiments, but that's it!

Season 2 Contestants:
The Lime Truck: Jason, Daniel, and Jesse from California. They wear lime-colored headbands. They are ingredient-driven, meaning they change their menu based on where they are. They tend to make Californian-inspired food. [they intrigue me.]
Seabirds: Stephanie, Thea, Nicole from California. Vegan food truck - no meat, no dairy, no eggs. [I'm not into vegan cuisine, but I'm interested to see how they do in different parts of the country.]
Sky's Gourmet Tacos: Barbara, her son Victor, and Kevin, from Los Angeles. They blend traditional Mexican with soul. [not loving this group.]
Cafe Con Leche: Gabriel, Maria, and Frankie - lifelong friends based in Van Nuys (part of Los Angeles). They have a Cuban food truck, including Cuban coffee. [I don't care too much for these guys, but they're okay.]
Devilicious: Diane, Mark, and Christina from San Diego. Over-the-top comfort food. [meh. take 'em or leave 'em.]
Hodge Podge: From Cleveland, Chris started it because he saw a food truck and knew he could do the concept better. They do stuff thrown together, really. His sister Katie and his girlfriend Jacquelyn are the other members of his team. [like 'em!]
Roxy's Grilled Cheese: Brothers James and Mike, from Boston, have a grilled cheese truck because they couldn't afford to open a grilled cheese bar. Marc is their experienced chef who makes it have a gourmet flair. [love 'em! can't wait to see if everyone loves grilled cheese as much as I do!]
Korilla BBQ: Eddie, Paul, and Steve. Friends from Columbia University who couldn't get jobs, they started this food truck in NYC (particularly Queens). They have Korean food that's fused into other things, like burritos. [I'm game.]
Now, onto the show!

The Great Food Truck Race "What Happens in Vegas" (S02E01): In Malibu we meet all of the teams. Then, everyone drives to Vegas for the first weekend of competition. $500 is how much they get for seed money. When there are 6 hours left on Sunday, a Speed Bump happens, where all of the trucks lose their ability to use propane.
I'll break down the event by team so it's easier to follow who's who.
The Lime Truck: They quickly call in some favors and partner up with a slider truck based in Vegas. [nice opening move.] They also plan to work with the Seabirds. [cliques starting?] They base themselves in an industrial park near the airport. [interesting choice...] They're doing citrus cabbage slaw, tacos, caramelized jalapeno guacamole. The guys are a little afraid of the location, but partnering served them well. They get a tip for where to be Sunday, but Roxy's is in the same spot. They have butane as well, so they use that when the propane dies. They go to 50% off on prices as time winds down. They come in first, with $3,145 in sales.
Korilla BBQ: They also have some friends who have a food truck in Vegas and they set up a partnering in Chinatown. [great choice.] They serve marinated rib-eye, among other things. They're thrown by the fact that Sky's just pulls up without calling or talking to them. [that might be a regionalism... I'm not sure of general food truck etiquette.] The next day, they go to the same spot, but so does Sky's. They get another truck to let them use half of their grill when the propane problem happens. [quick and clever solution.] They comes in second with $2,550 in sales. [I was surprised that there was such a gap between first and second place!]
Hodge Podge:  We don't see too much of them on Saturday. [I wonder why not... that was really strange.] Sunday, they head to a mega-church that meets at a college. A lot of people just walk by though, not even giving the food truck a look. They start offering to feed small families for $10-12 and get some business. But, when the service empties, it's a ghost town so they have to move. [I am surprised that they are kinda taken aback by this.] They get a tip from a food blogger about the Chinatown area so they head there. [food bloggers... interesting idea.] They go for a salad when the propane goes out. With $1,970 they come in third.
Partnering with Lime serves them well, as they have a line almost immediately. [we don't hear anything about their thoughts on that partnership, though.] They're doing grilled cheese and fries. They hit downtown on Sunday. To deal with the propane, they're not worried, as they switch to raw foods. They try to give free kisses with the purchase of a $2 taco. [hahahaha.] They come in fourth, with $1,471.
Devilicious: They want to find the locals. [good idea, but Vegas is just SO touristy...] They want to pair up with others. [this wasn't a big strength for them, though.] They go for locals downtown on Sunday. [I don't know why this truck wasn't covered very much, but I also don't really care for them so I'm not sure I care.] They take fifth with $1,364.
Cafe Con Leche: They want to park on the Strip, but realize you can't. [hahaha. They don't know anything about Vegas nor do they look it up at all before they get there??] There's a Latin Festival going on, so they head there. [at least they know how to figure out what's going on.] They give out free (less than an ounce) shots of coffee to get people to buy more. [good concept.] Plus, Maria is out talking to people about the options. They hit up a flea market and push the Latin aspect, not just Cuban. [...okay.] Maria is out talking to people about the food again, but it's not doing much. They get someone to let them use part of their grill when the propane goes out. 6th place with $1,327.
Roxy's Grilled Cheese:  They head downtown and have very few customers. [looks like a sad amount, really.] At 1pm, they decide to drive around until they find other food trucks and hang there. [I'm curious as to how much time it took them to find their new spot.] They end up mot doing too much business, but a local food truck guy hooks them up with an idea of where to be the next day. [strangely, we don't see the local again.] It's the same spot Lime goes to, and they have some issues at the beginning with trying to use the same space. [This seems to be a very territorial game...] They use an electric griddle when the propane goes out. [easy peasy!] They take 7th place with $1177.
Sky's Gourmet Tacos:  On the way to Vegas the truck blows a tire. [well that sucks!] Barbara freaks out a bit, and the fact that a new tire costs $185. [that's a big hit. Though I don't understand why they had to take that from their seed money...] They were supposed to have an exclusive lock on a fundraiser, but the flat tire killed it. [nice idea on exclusivity, wonder what the fundraiser did instead?] They head to a park but it's empty. [I wouldn't have thought that a park would be a great choice...] They drive around and decide to park in the same area that Korilla is using. They repeat that on Sunday as well. When the propane goes out, they try to find someone to let them use their grill, but it doesn't work. [too little, too late.] They did as much as they could while the grills cooled down. Sky's Tacos has last place, no amount actually given. [ouch. did they lose by that much??]

[The Lime Truck and Roxy's don't like each other, but I was more interested in finding out why Lime wanted to pair with Seabirds - that's never mentioned. and we know that the teams have somewhat of an idea about how much they're bringing in... are they not allowed to keep track on their own after a certain point? Otherwise it would be fairly simple to see how you stood.] 

The Great Food Truck Race "A Pinch of Salt Lake City" (S02E02): This week they're in Salt Lake City, Utah. Weather is going to be 50-55 degrees. Everyone arrives and they hear that they're starting with only $100 this time. [that's a big difference from the previous week!] The Truck Stop (mini-challenge that gives you an advantage later) is a cooking challenge. SLC is home to a top sausage maker, so each team has to create an original sausage dish. They have to make the sausage by hand at the facility. [this should be interesting!] The basic pantry is on a table and each team can pick 5 ingredients off the table... first one back picks first. [wow... creativity is key here!] They only have 90 minutes to drive 12 miles, make the sausage, drive back, and cook! [...I don't know anything about making sausage, but that sounds tight!] It's judged by a restaurateur in SLC. The winner gets an extra $100 seed money AND immunity from the Speed Bump. [niiiice!] The Speed Bump this time forces everyone to pack up immediately and move at least a mile. Over $25,000 was made by the seven trucks this time.

Korilla BBQ: They want to duck out of the sausage challenge and just plan on using the meat to supplement their $100 instead, since they don't think they can win. They don't even fake a dish. [interesting idea from the strategy perspective - though I would have liked to hear what more of their competitors had to say about this move.] They hear about a Korean restaurant that helps the community so they buy food on credit. [sweet hookup!] They head to a mall to sell. They fill their orders fast - like 30 seconds! Because of the Speed Bump, they head to Highland and 21st. They're running out of food and start getting creative. [which apparently works well for them.] They take 1st place with $5,665.
Cafe Con Leche: They called the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and got some ideas from them about where to go. [definitely an improvement from their ideas last week.] They go for chorizo with quinoa as their sausage dish. They're pissed the didn't win. [it's not that big of a deal, guys.] They hook up with a local business that asks them to cater for 200 people, and they agree to $5 per person - they get a down-payment of $300, plus the guy lets them buy stuff from his supply. [Nice break for them. I didn't care for how much Maria was jumping around. Lechoncito - I'm not sure exactly what this is. Literally I think it's a baby pig.] Maria is still going outside the truck and getting the orders. They go to downtown on Sunday. Because of the Speed Bump, they just drive and find a spot and go with it. [...okay then.] They take 2nd place  with $3,709. 
Hodge Podge:  They know how to make sausage so they go to town, serving sausage in a pita (which they made themselves) with tapenade. They win. [which I'm happy about since they actually knew exactly what they were doing and that was interesting to watch.] They hit EarthJam - a hippie event. Chris has a hookup and they order the food through a distributor. [this guy saying he has friends everywhere is kind of suspect...] They go back to the festival on Sunday and end up with 3rd place, bringing in $3,646. 
The Lime Truck: They decide to zero in on a pet adoption. They hit the Roxy truck when there's a parking snafu. [Lime and Roxy are starting to get cutthroat!] They enter two dishes: top sirloin pork and sausage-stuffed pepper. They decide not to use meat in their dishes for the weekend because of the money. They go shopping again after they have $1150 quickly. They go to downtown on Sunday. Because of the Speed Bump, they go back to the pet adoption. In the end, they get 4th place with $3,281.
Seabirds: They're going to use a garbanzo bean base for the sausage in the challenge. The smell of the factory freaks them out. [I totally believe it!] This causes them to get back first. They make fennel "sausage" and roasted red pepper on crostini, and possibly "sausage"-kale-lentil soup as well (though they don't enter that one). Talking about what to serve, they decide on soup, since it's cold outside. They use phones to try and look up what's going on in the area and see a pet adoption. They figure that's a good market. But when they call the pet adoption place, it turns out that Lime Truck beat them to it and got an exclusive contract. [tricky, tricky! and smart!] They hit an Asian market for some quick and cheap shopping, and spend $97. There's a vegan area of town so they call a coffee shop and pull up there. They also call and get a natural food store to deliver more food. [I like how so many of these teams are getting local help!] They head back to the same spot the next day, but Korilla got there first. Because of the Speed Bump, they head to Pioneer Park where nobody is getting in line. They end up in 5th place - $3,036.
Roxy's Grilled Cheese: They make Sausage with eggplant, basil, tomato sauce on potato (no bread available). [I thought that sounded creative and yummy.] They pick up their food through a connection with a distributor. They think they'll have an advantage with the low seed startup because money goes far on bread and cheese. They're meeting with a local food truck and doing business, even getting a line before the window opens! They make to order so they can't jump the gun with opening. Their grill is only 24". [that sounds pretty small to me... especially for a truck that specializes in grilling...] The property manager calls them and says they have to leave immediately or the police will be called... so they pack up and head for Liberty Park, since someone suggested that. [I thought they were partnered with a local truck... why didn't the local know they couldn't do business there? And why don't we see anyone talking to the local truck?] They get the biggest line of their life. They run out of fries. [I gotta say, I'm really craving grilled cheese and french fries about now!] They set up near a friend's coffeeshop, but they can't keep up with demand. Because of the Speed Bump, they head to a Ferrari dealership. [...there's a demand for food trucks there??] They wind up in 6th place with $3,006. [I wonder if they're going to be able to compete much longer... if they can't keep up with demand, their only choice is going to be to charge more!]
Devilicious: For the challenge, they go with a sausage soup. They're going with a brand-new menu with one similar item. They've also only been open four months. [that's disappointing. I thought the competitors in this event were serious players!] They want to do duck, but the low seed amount worries them.They find a commissary in town and decide to go with cheap foods. They set up near a furniture store and have a line immediately. [crowds form at the strangest places...] They move to downtown where there's a bar that doesn't serve food. [decent idea.] There's not a lot of foot traffic and they're going to close before dark. [that sounds like a BAD idea!] On Sunday they're by the mall and offering $1 off every order. Because of the Speed Bump, they just trust a local and follow them to a new spot. They end up losing with just $2,847. [perhaps those $1 off deals killed them!]

Next week: in Denver, CO. 
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