Great Food Truck Race Recap, Episode #5: Jonesborough, Tennessee
Spencer on the Go.
It was really fun to hear Tyler say "Nom Nom truck" four times in a row as they spliced together each winner announcement from the last four weeks. This week, the trucks find themselves in a town of 5,000 people... "quaint, cute" (according to Tyler) Jonesborough, Tennessee. Or, "in the middle of nowhere," according to the Grill 'Em All guys.
Speaking of the burger guys, they're hoping they will have an all-American edge this week. The Nom Nom truck, on the other hand, looks legitimately worried, given that the Asian population of Jonesborough is .17 percent...yikes. They hope they can work the curiosity angle.
Spencer on the Go continues to work the angle of getting in touch with restaurant chefs to buy ingredients at wholesale prices and get a sense of what the folks are eating in each town.
Tyler meets all the teams in the bustling downtown square and states the obvious; there's no tourism or nightlife here. Since each sale will count, Tyler's giving them an extra day (for a total of three) and $400 to spend. Lots of money for a little town! There will still, however, be a Truck Stop Challenge...I'm intrigued to see what he'll pull out for this one, since a celebrity chef is likely not available.
Well, everyone here is excited to have three gourmet food trucks in town--they've all come out and are forming lines outside each one. There is some seriously fine fashion to be found (and some very tall hair). Grill 'Em All opens later than the other two trucks, blaming it on their "prep-heavy" concept.
The French guys have toned down the "Frenchiness" of their menu, adding in Southern touches like catfish and cornbread--smart. None of the Tennesseans are quite sure how to pronounce "banh mi," but they sure are enjoying eating 'em.
Once the burger guys open for business, they develop a fast following. "That burger's so good it'd make a tadpole smack a while," one man says. As a native Tennessean myself, I'm not sure whether to cringe or grin.
Here's the thing about Jonesborough--everybody goes home at about eight. By 8:30, the entire "scene" (if you could call it that) is completely dead. Tyler calls the bored-to-death teams and tells them to show up at "Old Man Johnson's farm" in the morning, "down by the river." Doesn't get more Tennessee than that, does it, folks? The winners are promised exclusive access to "literally thousands of customers."
The next morning, Tyler meets the teams out in a grassy pasture that's been set with fire pits, cast iron implements, firewood and basic ingredients. He explains that food trucks have been around for more than 200 years, since Daniel Boone (random TN reference!). Of course, they were called chuck wagons then, and to honor that heritage, each modern-day food truck team will have two hours to cook a traditional five-course chuckwagon meal: bread, beans, potatoes, meat and some kind of dessert.
Chaos insues: Jesse of Spencer on the Go was apparently a Boy Scout; he has his fire up and going first. Nom Nom kids are scrambling--they seem to have no idea what they are doing and keep burning stuff. The Grill 'Em All guys are holding their own; their food looks pretty good.
Time flies, and the judges arrive--Joe and Frank, real-deal cowboys. They eat with their knives and are silent as the grave while they chow down. They speak only when it comes time to give a verdict--Grill 'Em All wins! They get to go to the "next town over" and attend an auto show, where they are virtually guaranteed tons of business. The other two trucks will have to stay in Jonesborough for the day.
"We're actually in this now!" they cry as they drive up through the beautiful vintage cars, muttering "This is totally our scene." And indeed it appears to be, as they start selling food nonstop. In the evening, a woman named Candy (oh yes) comes up and orders 45 burgers--one for each of her volunteers. Things are going well indeed! Back at the ranch, Nom Nom & Spencer on the Go feel spanked, but press on.
Sunday--"game day"--everyone will be out of church at noon, so both Grill 'Em All and Spencer on the Go are set up and ready to sell then. Nom Nom, on the other hand, is busy buying up more product--"it's a gamble," Misa says, to spend so much money, but she hopes it will pay off.
At first, things are not looking good for Nom Nom--the other two trucks open way before them, and they lose business because they don't open until 12:45. But once they get going, their line grows and the other teams begin to run out of ingredients--a problem Nom Nom isn't going to have.
Spencer on the Go is rescued by chef friend Todd, but Grill 'Em All has to close up and turn customers away to head back to the grocery store. Oops!
As the day ends, everyone's hustling to sell as much as they can, but even Grill 'Em All, who had a distinct advantage in the auto show, says, "We could be number one, we could be going home...it's a weird feeling." Indeed.
On the next sunny morning, Tyler announces that, despite the small-town vibe, each food truck has made more money here than any other city. That's probably because they were busy filleting catfish in NOLA, but still, pretty impressive.
In first place, with $3,117...NOM NOM TRUCK! Those bright-eyed Asians have done it again, holy shit! The other teams just don't know what to say. And really, they're too busy worrying about which one of them will be sent home now anyway--Ryan of Grill 'Em All looks like he's about to cry or throw up or both.
Tyler draws out the agony by announcing that the final two teams are less than $40 apart in sales! So, in second place, with $2,763...the burger guys of Grill 'Em All. Spencer on the Go loses by just $37, which does kinda suck. But they held their own longer than anyone thought they would, largely due to their superior cooking skills. Au revoir, Frenchmen!
NEXT WEEK: FINALE! The trucks are headed to NYC, where they will work their way through all five boroughs and apparently have to run up a skyscraper? The Grill 'Em All guys are determined not to let Nom Nom dominate again--there will be "a fury of burgers everywhere," they promise. Now that, I look forward to watching.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.