It seems like only a few years ago that they came out of nowhere and pulled up into our awareness to feed our appetites and our imaginations. Food trucks have been around for a while now, and for people interested in seriously good and innovative eating, they’re one of the most happening culinary developments around. They boast relatively low overhead and, let’s face it, not a little amount of sex appeal. It’s an attractive business to be in, and more and more people are getting it in their heads to get behind the wheel and behind the stove. And that’s at the heart of the twist behind the new season of Tyler Florence’s The Great Food Truck Race, premiering on Food Network Sunday, Aug. 19 at 10pm ET/PT.
Seasons 1 and 2 of The Great Food Truck Race took some of the country’s best operators and had them racing against each other for the biggest take. But they were established professionals. This time, Florence says, they had a different idea. “We started to pay attention to chatter online and a lot of requests from FoodNetwork.com, that people were very interested in knowing what it takes to start a food truck,” he says. “So we had this great idea this season to, really, reverse the process. Instead of saying, ‘OK, here are eight fantastic food trucks, and we’re going to race them across the country,’ here are eight teams that really want to have a food truck, that have a very compelling idea, but have never done it before. So instead of asking them to leave the race and go home if they make the least amount of money, this season, we’re giving all of them a food truck, and then, when they get eliminated, one city at a time, we take the food truck back.”
It’s a bit of a cruel twist for those who get eliminated, but at least Florence and crew are keeping the playing field as level as possible to start. “The trucks themselves — it’s a bit like NASCAR,” he explains. “They all come ‘stock.’ We went through, everybody had the same truck from end to end, so [no one] would have a possible advantage or disadvantage. … And we kind of let them figure it out.”
So it’s an entirely different game for The Great Food Truck Race this time out, with a prize that has larger implications than just a lump sum of cash. “When we started, we picked the trucks that had a really compelling story and had either everything to lose, or nothing to lose,” he says, “and people that really wanted to be in business for themselves. We thought that was an interesting twist on it. So they’re competing for money, because we [give] them $50,000 — but they’re also competing for the right to be in business for themselves.”
Florence isn’t exaggerating — in addition to the $50,000, the winners get to keep their food truck and all of the publicity that they’ve garnered along the way. And that’s about as solid a start for any business as anyone can expect. So the urge to win for all of these hopefuls is really on from the get-go. “The pressure’s enormous, and it shows from city to city,” he says. “The level of competition was never greater this season, and the drive, determination, the heart and soul — it’s so wonderful to watch.”
Photo: Food Network