“Where?” I found myself blurting out into the receiver,“ Fayetteville, Arkansas, the most northwestern corner of the state” said the man on the other end of the line. I stared around the restaurant waiting to catch the prankster hiding in the corner. I was working in Brule Bistro when I had received a phone call from a producer of “The Great Food Truck Race” on Food Network. I knew of the show and that it was hosted by Tyler Florence. On an ordinary weekday afternoon I was being asked to judge a culinary reality/competition show. Not to sound boastful, but I’ve been contacted by the network before and it wasn’t the first time I thought it a practical joke. “ This was the only way I could track you down” he admitted apologetically. I told him “ I’ll give it some thought and call you back”.
I guess its obvious that I said yes and I did fly out to Fayetteville, Arkansas. In fact, it was on the day of my high school graduation and we literally drove from the commencement ceremony to the airport. I was asked by the producers to keep this quiet until after the show aired, no blog posts, no tweets, complete “Radio Silence”. I informed a few close friends and family members (after swearing them to secrecy), tossed my cap in the air and headed off to Fayetteville. It all seems so picturesque now, but at the time all could think about was vanishing from existence on a landmark day in my life. Not even attending a graduation party.
Not knowing what to expect, we arrived in a farm filled land with tumbleweeds lightly bouncing in the air. Its exactly the way you might picture Arkansas; a grand pastel painting of rolling hills and wind mills. We were picked up by the producer and taken to a nearby Holiday Inn where the contestants and their trucks where resting. “You need to sneak in, shut your door and not come out until tomorrow morning” (Saturday). The directions where questionable yet exciting! Very few knew of my whereabouts and now I felt as if I were part of a top secret operation.
Early Saturday morning the cameras were rolling and I was hooked up to a microphone which was strapped to my chest. I went incognito as I was instructed to order the special from each truck that was parked at the Fayetteville Farmers Market located downtown at the University of Arkansas (UA). As I waited on line I chatted with locals about strawberry season, their fury pets and questioned the consumption of Razorback. (FYI, razorback is wild boar that happens to be the UA mascot). Why was I asking about the hog? It turns out that whichever team was to win this “Truck Stop Challenge” was to receive the taxidermy head of a dead razorback (and I was going to parade it across the market) as a symbol of their victory. (they also won $750, which made up for the head)
The secret ingredient: Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts. The five remaining trucks had to incorporate the ingredient into a breakfast special. I tasted, evaluated, and repeated. Thats how it work’s on camera, “lather, rinse and repeat” over and over again. This continued until I tasted each special, selected a winner and delivered the head.
On Monday morning we got up very early and I ate breakfast...with Tyler Florence. They filmed the scene at a quiete cafe where Tyler was provided with make-up and coffee at his will. I got the make-up, but no coffee for me. I guess that happens when you haven't reached that level of celebrity. During breaks Tyler told me stories of how he hunted for wild boars (after asking him if he ever ate razorback). I listened intently as he offered sage advice and walked me through each step. Even though we never worked together before, I did have the opportunity to meet Tyler four years ago on the set of his show “Tyler’s Ultimate” at the Food Network Studio’s in NYC.
|Tyler and I on the set of "Tyler's Ultimate". September 2008|
|Tyler and I during the taping of The Great Food Truck Race, four years later|
Several hours later the shoot ended and I got to watch this weeks elimination (no spoiler here) which was filmed on a civil war battle field; talk about intense. When it was all over, we said our goodbye’s to the cast and crew and headed back to the airport. I flew home, unpacked, fell asleep and a few days later I finally had that graduation party... However, one question remained unanswered, does anyone eat razorback?!?
I would like to offer my appreciation to Co-Executive Producer Peter Woronov, Executive Produce Dean Olins and Food Network for offering me such an amazing opportunity. I also must give credit to the incredible staff and crew behind the scenes and the great people of Fayettville for their hospitality. Last but not least thank you to the talented contestants and Chef Tyler Florence!
Keep on Cooking! Even if you find your truck booted to the ground.