Exclusive Interview with the Winner of The Great Food Truck Race
Jeremiah Alley, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.
Seven weeks of cooking, selling, marketing and plain physical exhaustion has culminated in the finale of The Great Food Truck Race, Season 5. Lone Star Chuck Wagon and Middle Feast, the remaining two teams to last through Tyler's numerous Speed Bumps and Truck Stop challenges, found themselves starting in Tampa and ending in Key West. This five-city finale running over 450 miles in Florida wouldn't be a breeze. Tyler once again tested their marketing abilities, their food quality and their hustle to sell. But only one team walked away with the keys to their truck and $50,000 to turn their dream into a reality.
Going into the finale, Middle Feast rode in on a high after coming in first in Mobile, Ala., and they had no problem keeping the momentum going. Challenged to cook alligator and frog's legs, they triumphed and got Tyler to double the seed money they had earned together with Lone Star earlier. With that they were able to stock up on the ingredients they needed to sell their five best dishes at prices Tyler had set for both teams. In the final city, Key West, Middle Feast decided to stay close to their competitors, Lone Star, and realized it was going to be a close finish. But in the end, $700 made the difference, and Middle Feast came in victorious. Chef Tommy, his sister Hilla and their friend Arkadi left with their state-of-the-art food truck, $50,000 and an American dream realized.
Coming into the show, what did you think would be the most-difficult part of the race?
Middle Feast: When we first started the show we were afraid that, because our food is different, people might not want to buy it. But as we moved forward we realized that it is for our advantage and people were more interested in our food.
What was it like winning the cooking challenge in the Everglades and for Tyler to say it's the best dish he's tasted from you?
MF: Winning the cooking challenge in the Everglades was one of the greatest things that happened to us in the whole race. We've never won any food challenges before, and this one was the most-important one — the one that would double our seed money and give us a head start in the finale. When Tyler said that it was our best dish so far it made us feel really proud.
Why did you decide not to use the alligator meat and just use the frog’s legs for your dish?
MF: We decided not to use the alligator meat because we didn't really like the taste of the meat and didn't know what to expect on the tenderness level. The frog was easier and surprisingly tasty.
In your radio spot, you started off with a dialogue pointing out how ordinary your competition's food was. Was your strategy to sell the fact that your food was unique and different?
MF: At this point in the race, we understood that our biggest fear of not being an ordinary food truck was actually our biggest advantage. So we decided to use that in our radio commercial and promote ourselves as a unique, different and delicious food truck. We think it was worth it.
What kind of responses did you get about your food?
MF: We got great reviews for our food. People liked seeing something different. They loved the spices and the fresh dishes.
You guys seemed to have a strategy at play in Key West. Do you think it worked?
MF: Our strategy in Key West was to stay close to our competitors by parking near Lone Star Chuck Wagon on both days. We think that it was a good strategy because that way we could see what was going on with Lone Star at all times and see how we were doing compared to them. Plus, by taking first place in Mobile and making over $2,000 in sales more than Lone Star we felt it would definitely put some pressure on them seeing us so close.
Can you talk about your team's relationship? From what it looks like, you three are really close. How did that help during the race?
MF: Being so far away from home, the three of us are the closest thing that we have to a family in the United States. We are very close, sensitive and supportive of each other, and we think that this is the very first reason why we got that far in the race. Of course we had our moments of not agreeing with each other or raising (slightly) our voices, but it didn't last too long because there is no "I" in a team and we all knew to put our egos to sleep.
What was going through your minds when Tyler announced your team had won?
MF: When Tyler announced that we had won we were shocked. It was a dream come true! We parked very close to Lone Star the whole time, but we didn't know how close they were. Until Tyler announced it, we had no clue.
What are you planning to do with the prize money? Where will you be setting up your food truck business?
MF: We are going to start our business in Los Angeles in hopes of growing and becoming known for our passion to create great food. We plan to invest the money into starting our food truck and catering business. The amazing journey on The Great Food Truck Race, however, showed us that there is a nationwide appetite for great Middle Eastern food, and we will definitely be interested in setting up shops/franchises all over in due time. We would like to thank all the people who bought our food and supported us — and the business owners who teamed up with us. Thanks for helping us win!