The fifth season of The Great Food Truck Race premieres Sunday, August 17, at 8 p.m. on Food Network, and the Lone Star Chuck Wagon team will represent Houston with its barbecue Tex-Mex mobile eatery concept.
The reality show competition features a total of eight teams composed of three individuals who have never owned or operated a food truck. Food Network provides each team with a food truck to travel across the country from Santa Barbara, California, to Key West, Florida, partaking in a series of challenges testing their skills in running a food truck. At the end of each competition, one truck will be eliminated; the winning team will be awarded the keys to the food truck and $50,000 to kick-start their new business.
Lance Kramer along with his wife Rachel Young and their best friend Andrea Chesley make up the Lone Star Chuck Wagon food truck team. Kramer is the brains behind the operation, while Chesley serves as his sous chef and Young keeps everything in tip-top shape.
Kramer hails from The Woodlands, where he graduated from The Woodlands High School. Even though the team currently lives in Los Angeles, Texas cuisine is still important to them. They started a rub and barbecue sauce company, Kramer's BBQ, in LA, then decided to put their products to the test in barbecue competitions, such as the Santa Anita BBQ Competition where they placed 3rd two years ago and walked away the winners last year. The trio decided that pursuing a food truck would be the next logical step.
"If you get a brick-and mortar-restaurant, then everybody has to come to you," Kramer says. "Food trucks are hip and people aren't afraid to eat out of a food truck any longer. It's not weird; you can have gourmet food out of a food truck and it makes you limitless. With a brick-and-mortar restaurant, you're limited to your clientele in your area and parking. But, you can go anywhere you want with a food truck and this show literally takes you across the country - if you make it that far - and you get to share your food with everybody. That's what we wanted to do."
Initially, they wanted to serve an entire menu of barbecue dishes. However, limits on time, money and prep area caused the team to reconfigure their menu.
During each episode, the host Tyler Florence, gives the teams "feed money," which is used to purchase all of the ingredients and serving utensils needed to prepare their food; sometimes that amount is $50 or less, and other times it is close to $500 - the competitors never know how much spending money they have. Because of these constrictions, along with the pressure to serve the food as quickly as possible, Kramer says the team's original menu decreased by about 75 percent.
"In real life our food is low and slow barbecue, and when you're in a fast-paced competition, food truck-style, you really don't have 12 hours to smoke a brisket, or 14 hours; you have about 12 to 14 minutes instead," Kramer explains. "So we really had to adapt and do barbecue-esque dishes, and we really rely on the Tex-Mex side of things because we are a Texas truck and Mexican food is fantastic on a food truck, so the best of both worlds is Tex-Mex."
The Snake Bites, featuring chicken wrapped in a jalapeno and bacon, was a dish the team thought they could whip out quickly and easily to customers, but according to Young, the high demand pushed back production time so much that they were forced to change the way it was produced.
"The entire competition is completely field based. So it was literally figuring out how to run your business, how to get people to your food truck, what items you're selling that are popular, and we had to figure that out along the way," Chesley says. "Our most popular item that we had on the menu from the beginning was our Tex-Mex Steak Quesadilla and people just went nuts for this thing. It's something that we have a strong connection to and I would say that's probably our top item because it was easy to make, it was easy to sell [and] people really loved it."
First, the steak is marinated in hot sauce, then grilled on a flat top with corn salsa, cilantro, the team's secret Tex-Mex sauce and their barbecue sauce. This one item is an example of how the team incorporated the salsa and sauces into a wide range of dishes in an effort to cut down on costs and be more efficient in the kitchen.
"We were adaptive and this whole concept is about how well you can adapt," Kramer says. "Each city poses new challenges and they throw new obstacles at you. That's the challenge, but we made a menu that can be adapted to wherever we're at, whatever challenge they throw, or whatever local food we need to use."
Upon meeting the other seven competitors, they didn't see Middle Feast, a Middle Eastern cuisine food truck, as big competition since more people can relate to the flavors of Tex-Mex than Middle Eastern dishes.
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However, despite serving food on opposite sides of the spectrum, the Let There Be Bacon and Beach Cruiser trucks stood out as tough competitors to Lone Star Chuck Wagon. Bacon is a hot item, and so is healthy, fresh food; each is approachable to many customers.
If the Lone Star Chuck Wagon team wins the competition, they will likely open their food truck in Los Angeles, as it is their current hometown. Kramer wants to spread their love for Texas cuisine to the rest of the country.
"The show, I think, will be really exciting," Chesley says. "All of these things we talked about will be made pretty clear on the show that there were lots of fun moments, dramatic moments and we hope that everybody tunes in because it's, I think, going to be a really wild season."
Find out more about the team's barbecue business at www.kramersbbq.com, and make sure to tune in to the Food Network at 8 p.m. on Sunday, August 17, for the premiere of The Great Food Truck Race.