Televised cooking competitions are a dime a dozen. This summer alone, we’re looking at “MasterChef,” “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Chopped,” “The Next Food Network Star,” “Top Chef,” “24 Hour Restaurant Battle” and others. So it’s not like audiences are starved for the fun but familiar offerings of “The Great Food Truck Race.” But it is on Food Network. What else are they gonna serve up? Cooking shows and cooking competitions pretty much cover the full menu over there. At least this one gets us out of the kitchen.
Mostly, “The Great Food Truck Race” serves as mainstream acknowledgment that gourmet food trucks are the hip new culinary trend. (Meaning, like the cupcakes in “Cupcake Wars,” they should be old hat in a month or so.) And since these food trucks are mobile, Food Network gets to mix in a slight taste of “The Amazing Race” in the form of a coast-to-coast jaunt.
Eight teams, consisting of three people each, have been recruited for this culinary adventure. The “rules” of the competition are simple as buttered toast. The teams drive to designated cities (starting in San Diego and ending in New York City). There, they are given a fixed budget with which to purchase supplies. It’s up to them to decide where to set up their portable restaurants. The team that makes the most money wins. The team that makes the least gets booted. Last team standing in NYC wins $50,000.
Given the sheer number of cooking competitions on TV, Food Network could have gone the extra distance to make this more complicated than just cook your food, make your money. From the title alone, I pictured some sort of “Wacky Races”-style free-for-all in which competitors would set up roadblocks or pelt each other with pies or coat highways in olive oil in an attempt to prevent each other from reaching the showdown spot. No such luck. The “race” part of this is academic, simply providing a different backdrop each episode. (This week is Santa Fe!)
Since the only actual indicator of victory is profit, there isn’t a lot of subtlety to the competition. Contestants have 48 hours in which to make their money. The winners are the ones who turn the quickest profit—not necessarily the ones who make the best food. In the first episode, for example, the losing team got booted because they—somehow—forgot to fill their propane tanks before taking off on a cross-country cooking competition. Their first day was wasted looking for fuel instead of cooking.
Host Tyler Florence does his best Ryan Seacrest impersonation but doesn’t have much to do other than tally up the receipts at the end of the show. The diverse teams (hamburger flippers, French chefs, Cajun crackups, Vietnamese sandwich makers and the like) have a bit of personality and their food does look tasty. Still, a more interaction-oriented setup would have juiced up the competition considerably. ... Hey, it’s not too late to reconsider that whole pie-pelting thing, Food Network.