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Television review: 'The Great Food Truck Race'

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It's like "The Apprentice" meets "The Amazing Race." On wheels. With lots and lots of food.

"The Great Food Truck Race" debuts Sunday night on Food Network featuring seven food trucks — including five local vendors — that must race to far-flung locales and see who can make the most money selling their wares.

But here's the big twist: They can't rely on Twitter, Facebook or any other social media in their bid to win the $50,000 prize.

"It's really survival of the fittest," said Tyler Florence, who hosts the competition. "How good of a job can you do getting yourself out there?"

The competitors are forced to get creative: They have access to computers and cellphones, so they can scout locations before they arrive, but their online presence is monitored to make sure they aren't rallying supporters. (They are allowed, however, to have friends do that for them.)

Local food trucks include Crepes Bonaparte out of Fullerton; Ragin' Cajun from Hermosa Beach; Nana Queens from Culver City, which specializes in chicken wings and banana pudding; and the L.A.-based Non Nom Truck, serving Vietnamese sandwiches and tacos, and Grill 'Em All, with its grilled burgers and freshly cooked fries.

The hopefuls had to start each competition from scratch: Producers cleared out the cupboards, and the competitors were given an allowance to stock up on supplies. Florence said allowances were made for trucks that required a particular ingredient unlikely to be found on the road.

"But it wasn't just about how good your food was," Florence said. "It was, are you more clever and business savvy than the next guy?" Example: One team in the debut episode is temporarily sidelined from selling because it runs out of propane.

And it also came down to personal relationships, Florence said: "Some teams couldn't hold it together, the stress started getting to them."

Ryan Harkins and Matt Chernus, the guys behind Grill 'Em All (the name is inspired by Metallica), were chosen for the show just weeks after they launched their food truck. Lucky for them: They said the experience was like getting an "instant MBA."

"It was all the factors of running the business — marketing, cooking, everything," Chernus said. "We really honed our skills. We were pretty good at what we do, but we learned how to take it to another level," Harkins added.

As the competition unfolds, the series also explores how the country's economic crisis created a whole new business model.

"It's like the new smart answer to American fast food," Florence said. "You've got artisanal products, and a focused menu, and these chefs are doing really amazing work with very little overhead."

rene.lynch@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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