The Food Network, as we all know, has edged away from actual cooking shows and toward entertaining shows having something to do with food--Iron Chef America, Cupcake Wars, Chopped and, now, The Great Food Truck Race. GFTR, which premiered Sunday night, seems promisingly unique in two ways: It builds a food competition without creating a wholly contrived cooking environment, and it makes its elimination decisions without the use of subjective judges. Instead, the competing trucks are eliminated based on which one makes the least amount of money each week. Each week, a new city -- and surely there will be some twists.
The show starts with seven teams, all competing for the $50,000 grand prize. Our host is Tyler Florence (who is wearing a distractingly ugly checkered shirt, tie and club jacket combo). He immediately pisses me off by implying that taco trucks are somehow not worthy of his little show. WTF? Florence delivers some snobby manifesto about the "gourmet" food the trucks participating in this competition deliver. In some cases -- the classically trained French guys with lots of weird hair? -- that seems to be true, but are banh mi sandwiches gourmet? Chicken wings and banana pudding? I don't think so. Why you gotta slam the taco trucks, Tyler? Come to Houston and let @GunsandTacos set you right.
With the parameters all set, a twist (of course) is added--though the trucks have gathered in Los Angeles, the first competition will not be taking place there. To prevent unfair advantages for the teams that hail from LA, everyone has to drive to San Diego, where they have two days and $500 to make as much money selling product as possible.
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In this episode, most of the action is in getting to know the teams--Texas is represented by Austin Daily Press, a hipster sandwich truck (they wrap each sandwich in a piece of The Onion), and our neighboring state of Louisiana has its cuisine in the spotlight with the Ragin' Cajun truck, counterintuitive-ly from LA. The Ragin' Cajun folks are by far the most entertaining in the bunch, stereotypically loud and difficult to understand. The people behind Grill 'Em All, another truck from LA, market themselves as a bunch of heavy-metal badasses, but they aren't exciting to watch, nor do they get much business. I would like to get a hold of their "behemouth" burger, however, which features two grilled cheese sandwiches for buns, bacon, cheddar and beer-soaked onions.
The teams behind Crepes Bonaparte (their truck has a moustache!) and Nom Nom Truck (very peppy Asians selling banh mi) seem to have a mean age of 19, but they held their own in the competition, making smart choices about location and garnering plenty of business. Spencer on the Go, the fancy-pants French guys who use table cloths and serve snails, struggled getting customers at first, but managed to stay "in the cut" for this episode.
In the end, the team that had to go was the Nana Queens, hawking the aforementioned wings and banana pudding. It wasn't a bad concept, but the Nana Queens team made a risky choice -- paying a $600-plus fee to park at a festival, only to discover that their propane tank was empty. Seriously? You run a food truck, but you didn't check your propane tank before you embarked on a televised competition? I think you maybe deserve to go.
Next week: The Great Food Truck Race goes to Albuquerque, and hopefully we'll get some real drama. I want to see tears, people! (Food Network, Sunday 8 .pm.)