Two Philadelphia-area teams — one specializing in breakfast and the other in empanadas — are competing for $50,000 this season of the Food Network series The Great Food Truck Race.
This season's route wends through the South, starting in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where on the Aug. 20 premiere, seven teams were charged with creating a beignet to sell in the French Market and making a dish using the fruity-rum flavors of a New Orleans hurricane. The series, telecast at 9 p.m. Sundays, will wrap Sept. 24 from Savannah, Ga. The producers provide food trucks to the teams to compete in the various challenges from week to week.
"The Breakfast Club," based in the Ambler area, won the challenge on the premiere. The team stars 19-year-old caterer Mikey Robins of Lower Gwynedd — who in 2013 was the youngest winner on the game show Chopped — paired with friends Taylor Randolph, 19, and Ashanti Dixon, 23.
"We wanted to break a lot of the myths about millennials," Mikey said. "We're not lazy and we're not obsessed with social media. We use that common insult to our advantage."
The Jamaican-born Ashanti, who designed the truck, graduated from Temple University with a degree in advertising. She works part time as a model and has waitressed at From the Boot and Gypsy Blu. Taylor, who also waits tables at Gypsy Blu, is a Penn State student who hopes to become a middle-school English teacher.
"We're a millennial team that's fun, strong, and united," Mikey said. "We play off each other, and together. We're like a superhuman."
Ashanti said Mikey — as team captain — "sometimes looks at the big picture and not at the smaller details. That's where I come in. Taylor is very 'get this done — let's rock and roll.' "
Papi Chulo's Empanadas, out of Cherry Hill, was safe on the premiere. This truck features cook/restaurateur Luis Lara Polanco, 56, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, working with his daughter Carleena Lara-Bregatta, 25, a full-time yoga instructor and meditation teacher, and niece Sarah Hasbuns.
Luis Lara Polanco owned two restaurants called Ramona's (in Haddonfield and Camden, now closed), named after his wife, who on the sly applied to Food Network on his behalf.
"She said my dad would be a great candidate to compete, because he has such a bold personality," Carleena said. Initially, daughter Maria was supposed to participate, but shooting would have conflicted with her college graduation. "We invited my cousin because she's Dominican and has that same powerful personality," she said.
Turns out, Luis and Ramona Polanco almost had a food truck. They bought one used several years ago. "It had good bones," Carleena said. "It had a few appliances — refrigerator, grill, fryer, etc. … and it needed a lot of mechanical work. They had parked it somewhere in Camden so it could get worked on. They went back a few weeks later, and everything was stolen out of the truck. It probably wasn't the safest place to leave a truck full of merchandise, but it was locked up and everything, but stuff got stolen out of the truck. That plan was kind of foiled. My mom had spent a lot of money on the truck."
So Luis went back to work.
The Great Food Truck Race turned into a bonding session. "We worked well together," Carleena said. "My dad and I always had great communication growing up, but we've never worked together in the kitchen. He taught me [cooking] when I was younger, but never from a professional standpoint. I guess I worked at the restaurant with them, when they had a restaurant in Camden. I worked the front of the restaurant and my dad was in the back. These are different dynamics than being all together in a food truck."
"My daughter is an unbelievable sales person," Luis said. "She has so much charisma and also knows how to put the word out to attract people. [The experience] was priceless for me because we never have an opportunity to spend so much time together."