Keep on truckin'? Not if you get eliminated from this season of The Great Food Truck Race.
In the Food Network series' third outing (premieres Sunday, 10/9c), everyday folks with nothing more than a clever food concept, determination and a dream compete to see if they can take the heat in the growing food truck industry. But these are not the veterans of seasons past. In fact, they don't even own their own food truck — yet.
"In Season 1 and Season 2, they were real professionals who do this on a daily basis... but if they lost, they could just go back and be in business tomorrow. It wasn't that big of a deal," host Tyler Florence tells TVGuide.com. "But this season's contestants lose everything if they're eliminated. They have put their lives on hold. They have put everything on the line."
Like a benevolent patron of the culinary arts, Food Network funded and supported these fledgling mobile food purveyors, setting them up with everything they needed. But what Food Network giveth, Food Network can also taketh away.
"We start off the entire season with everyone kitted out," Florence explained. "They gave us ideas, they gave us a name, they gave us a notion of what the brand was all about. We had branding agency come up with a logo and we skinned the truck for them and came up with uniforms. Basically, we put them in business. This is food truck boot camp, and if you can make it, you can make it anywhere. So we started in Long Beach, Calif., with eight teams and we moved on from one city to the next across the country. But if they lost that round of the competition in a city, I'd take their truck away."
Florence also tells us why the show changed up the formula, how this affects competition and what his concept for a food truck would be:
You take the eliminated contestants' food truck away? That's so cruel!
Tyler Florence: It is, but at the end of the day, if we're going to put our endorsement on a food truck, they need to be good. We wouldn't want to put some team out there that didn't necessarily deserve it. Everyone came out just absolutely prepared for battle. That's what I loved about it. What became obvious in about three or four episodes was which teams deserved to be there and which teams didn't really understand what it was all about.
Why the twist this year, focusing on first-time truckers?
Florence: We were paying attention to who watches this show, and a lot of people online were starting to ask questions: "I would love to do this. Is there any sort of guide to start a food truck? Is there anything I can look at on Food Truck 101?" As soon as the show was over last season, we thought, "Wouldn't it be great if we started off with eight trucks, eight teams of people that have never done this before?"
What makes these newbies compelling to watch?
Florence: We took eight teams of just everyday people from all walks of life. In some cases, they had something to do with the food service industry, but often not at all. They just have this passion for having a restaurant. Because the buy-in for a food truck — the barrier is much lower than having to actually open a restaurant with four walls, [so] it's a much easier process for someone off the street, a civilian if you will, to say, "OK, I think I want to do this." We just role-play a bunch of fantasies this season.
What criteria did you use to select these first-timers? What sets them apart?
Florence: The stories are real. That's what I like about it. We had this team called Pizza Mike's, who's from Columbus, Ohio. He had a pizzeria for 25 to 30 years, and one day, it burned down. This was his small little business where he made pizzas every day and loved it, loved his community. His community loved him back. He thought this was a way to get back in the game because we're giving away a food truck this season. We also had a few hipster kids from Los Angeles who had this company called Seoul Sausage, where they make really great pork sausage that has kimchee notes in it, which I think is really stunning. They were kind of big in the Los Angeles festival circuit for a couple years and said, "OK we want to take this and do this every day. We want our own food truck."
What other personalities or teams can we expect?
Florence: There's a team called Barbie Babes. They have this catering company in Los Angeles and are immigrants from Australia. It's three babes putting shrimp on the barbie. And there are three girls from New Jersey called Nonna's Kitchenette and they cook their grandmothers' Italian food. It's just some of the most delicious, really cared-for, authentic food. You can absolutely taste it. All three of them have pictures of their grandmothers tucked inside there aprons. ... And we had a team from Wasilla, Alaska. This mom was a financial analyst and she watched Season 1 and Season 2 from a perspective of an armchair quarterback where she took every single episode and broke it down: This is how this team won, this is the partnership they established when they got to the city, this is what they did to succeed. She's not a cook. She's just a Food Network fan and cooked for her daughter and husband and friends. That's it. She had this thing: Everything can go on spaghetti. So it was definitely a mom-type meal. So she would fajitas on spaghetti and chili on spaghetti. ... We also had another company from Los Angeles called Pop a Waffle. These three guys from L.A. had a really good idea about waffles because you can make savory waffles and sweet waffles, whether it's a fajita on a waffle or fried chicken on a waffle or if it's a sweet waffle.
Going back to Pizza Mike's — how can you do pizza on a truck? The oven and cooking-time situation sounds incompatible.Florence: You know what? He does pizza, and it's very good, but I'll let you watch it and see how he does it. It's a very interesting process of how he breaks it down. He's an older guy, he's in his 60s. What I liked about it was that it was him up against teams much younger than him. But he had way more experience than anyone else. He's the kind of guy who would have no problem busting out 200 to 300 pizzas and have all of them be fantastic. So he has a different twist and angle from everybody else, just from the experience standpoint. He was smokin' everybody for a time. It was great.
What part does social media play for these trucks?
Florence: What happens and what gets tweeted could easily be a spoiler, so there's very specific rules about social media. If everything was tweetable, then you could literally ... piece the story together. It wouldn't be that difficult to find out who won or who got kicked off in which city. But what they have done is create alliances in each city that we go to [and have] people that tweet for them. ... Social media, especially in the food truck environment, is their calling card. It's the way they get their message out today and what block they're going to be on. So we absolutely use it, but in tighter situations about when they can and when they can't.
Did you have them cook with any unusual ingredients as part of a challenge?
Florence: In Santa Fe, N.M., we had them cook with cactus pads, which was really kind of interesting. It's one of those things where it's a local favorite, local flavor. It kind of threw them for a loop.
What can you say about the eventual winners of the race? What qualities made them get the edge to win?
Florence: The team that won absolutely deserved to win. They're going to kill it and redefine food trucks in their community ... What makes them a very successful truck is a couple things. First, who can connect with the city? A lot of our trucks took their own dishes, their own ingredients and made it more about Fayetteville, Ark., or Amarillo, Texas, so it has more of a Southern flavor to it. And then, how cravable the product is. Is it really good? And price for the most part was kind of interesting to watch. It seems that anything goes, anywhere from $6 to $12 goes.
This is my personal thought: You're either part of the situation or you're part of the solution. No single food truck can take on the fast-food industry, but a web of food trucks in a city could easily take on the fast-food industry in their own specific cities. ... At the food truck, the food is incredible, it's organic as possible. You know they bought everything locally. They look their customer in the eye and they know exactly what they want, whereas large fast-food companies can never do that. I really love what we're doing by inspiring people to go out and open their own business and their own food trucks because it's redefining city after city after city. It's starting to become a thing that the Chamber of Commerce and the city will actually promote that Thursday night is food-truck night.
You've had a hand in many businesses. Have you slung food on a food truck before?
Florence: I have done food festivals since I was probably 14 years old working at restaurant. So I actually have slung food on many food trucks before as a kid. Not recently though. We've actually been kicking around a business model of having a food truck. I own four restaurants in the Bay Area, so we certainly have our hands full of what's what.
If you had to do your own food truck, what cuisine would you sell?
Florence: At Wayfare Tavern, my restaurant in San Francisco, we do about 600 covers a day. Our most popular item hands-down is our fried chicken. When I first wrote the menu, my wife said, "Listen, you should really put your fried chicken on the menu. It's fantastic." I didn't really think fit the model of what we wanted to do. But after it balanced out, we are a very authentic American restaurant, and our fried chicken is fantastic. It's not necessarily Southern fried chicken, although I grew up in the South and can own that. It's more California fried chicken. It's turned out to be one of our master recipes that we're proud of. So if we had to do a food truck, I think a fried chicken truck would be a no-brainer.
Check out a preview of Season 3 of The Great Food Truck Race, premiering Sunday at 10/9c on Food Network before moving to its regular timeslot, Sundays at 9/8c.