If you have any doubt that reality show contestants actually work hard for the payoff at the end, just ask the New Yorkers on the upcoming season of Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race.”
“We thought it was like, alright, we’re just going to just show up and look cute and be big and bright personalities,” says Steven Crowley, a 32-year-old real estate advisor based out of Manhattan, whose three-man team entered the competition with an idea for a chicken wing truck they called “Just Wing It.”
Wing it they did, with plenty of elbow grease over the course of 16-hour days: “We had to do our dishes, we had to clean the truck,” says Staten Island native Sharon Shvarzman, 34, whose spent his childhood in his grandparents’ Brighton Beach restaurant.
“Hold on,” interrupts teammate No. 3, with a distinctive Southern twang. (Kevin Pettice, 25, hails from South Carolina.) “Did you say ‘we?’”
“I mean, you guys?” Shvarzman says, backpedaling. “I was in charge of the box” — “For the first time in his life,” Crowley chimes in — “and I knew how to handle it.”
The playful banter is the norm between the three friends, who met last year as contestants on “Worst Cooks in America,” another Food Network show.
“I think we were the three that grasped the concept of the show before anyone else did. We bonded over that,” Shvarzman recalls. Before filming wrapped, they had already plotted a joint return to one of their favorite channels.
“The Great Food Truck Race” would offer an entirely different kind of challenge: “It’s almost like ‘Worst Cooks’ was a bootcamp for cooking, and this was like a bootcamp for running your own restaurant,” Shvarzman reflects. Season nine, hosted by Tyler Florence, takes seven teams of wannabe food truck owners on a tour of the Southwest, testing their cooking chops and business savvy in a series of elimination rounds to ultimately award the winner a $50,000 grand prize.
Team “Just Wing It” decided to focus their menu on chicken wings, based on a recipe perfected by Pettice’s mom.
“We went into this knowing it was a sales show, so we kind of wanted to do the simplest thing that kind of everyone enjoys and is pretty universal no matter where we were going to be,” says Crowley, the team’s main business strategist.
Pettice attributes the wings’ special appeal in part to the seasoning blend. Beyond that, says the group’s primary chef, “I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just, once it hits your palate, you go crazy.”
Shvarzman’s focus were the sauces: Buffalo, barbecue and garlic parmesan.
Cooking in a food truck is no easy task, the three can attest. Just driving the mammoth vehicle — the largest of the fleet so as to accommodate four huge commercial fryers — was an ordeal, Pettice says.
“They gone put the blindest person behind the wheel,” says the hospitality management graduate student, who wears glasses. “I felt like I was driving an 18-wheeler.”
On top of its sheer size, the truck’s equipment could be finicky, too, Crowley says: “It’s like you’re babysitting a two-year-old all day. You’re just running around with this giant, 4,000-pound child who doesn’t want to listen to anything you have to say, won’t cooperate, and you’re just holding it together, hoping the parents come back.”
“The truck make you stress eat, child,” Pettice adds.
Beyond a few extra pounds, what has the trio taken away from the experience?
“Patience,” according to Crowey. “And I never want to step on a food truck again in my life.” (He admits to ordering from them infrequently, too, citing concerns about their cleanliness: “I was always afraid to eat off food trucks.” Now, “he’s terrified,” Shvarzman says, joking.)
They are, however, game for another Food Network show: “We’re ready to bake the cupcake, we’re ready to make some cookies, whatever they want,” says Shvarzman, a practicing drag queen who used to perform in the city.
“There is,” Crowley observes, “a future after ‘Worst Cooks.’”
“The Great Food Truck Race,” season 9, premieres on Food Network July 26 at 9 p.m.