MASHED PART 2: Daniel Shemtob Talks The Great Food Truck Race; The Lime Truck – Exclusive Interview
What it was like to film “The Great Food Truck Race: All-Stars” during COVID
Can you share any other behind-the-scenes things that you wish people were seeing on [“The Great Food Truck Race”]?
I think any show, it doesn’t matter if it’s “Great Food Truck Race” or anything, and it’s the BTS is … You want the competition be down to the wire. Because if one truck just comes through and blows away the other trucks, it’s not going to be fun to watch. Seoul Sausage is a fierce competitor. At no point did we think, “Oh, we got this …” I literally think we all put in 110% to get to that finish line and they did too.
During the COVID, we had, I want to say a 70-person line and a guy came and just started deejaying for the line, which you can’t show obviously on television because the music rights and it’ll be a total sh** show. But it was so fun to see the last day — In San Francisco where it’s a ghost town to get 70, 80 people in line. People were dressed up, they were dancing … It was on a Friday or Thursday. It was a weekday, and it was probably the coolest vibe I saw.
I think going into the pandemic, we lost a lot of what it feels like to serve hospitality out of our businesses. Because if you come to my restaurant, especially during the pandemic, there’s nobody in the restaurant, they’re all outside. I’m serving people, but I’m not really seeing the reaction. I’m not getting energy, the give and take of energy of hospitality. Food truck, same thing. People are really scared, they don’t want to go to the truck. They want everything packaged away. And so it was such a beaming, exciting, peak of the whole show, having a chance to actually do the hospitality the way you love it. And forgetting that we were in that pandemic for a few moments. Looking back now, it feels like it’s sped up. But at the time it was one of the most exciting, relieving, fun things.
Daniel Shemtob dishes on why prepping for “The Great Food Truck Race” was surprisingly challenging
You talked about the fact that “All-Stars” is completely different because everybody comes ready to play. What’s your mentality going in it, 10 years after your first win? Were you more prepared?
It’s two-fold. I have five different businesses … if I didn’t have the five other businesses, I would probably prep a lot for the show. But for me, all my prep was pretty much getting the businesses to not need me for the five weeks that I would be gone because … of course, you want to have confidence. I assumed I’d definitely be in the final two, if not final three or whatever. So, I knew I’d be there for most of the time. I had to be able to get the businesses to a point where they didn’t need me, because I am the operator, I run a lot of things. And I knew if I could get myself to be free and not feel Iike I’m indebted to the business, or I need to help them, I can focus on the show while I’m there.
And by the way, this is the nature of reality TV. I think the pandemic had a lot to do with it. But the first time we went, they were like, “You’re going to be on the show,” four months prior. And we’re like, “Oh, okay, cool, great.” And then, three months prior, “Where’s our contract?” Two months prior, “Where’s our contract?” One month prior, “Where’s our contract?” Two weeks prior, “Where’s our contract?” Four days prior, “Here’s your signed contract, you’re on the show.” In four days we had to do everything.
I was like, ‘Wow, this is really sh***y.” Like I can’t believe they would only give us four days. We had to scramble to get a new truck. This time around, I was like, “Oh, it’s the “All-Stars,” they know they’re dealing with a higher class of people. … We’re going to have more experience.” And I think, honestly, again, I think it’s mostly because of the pandemic. But I don’t think we knew we were going on the show until five days, three days prior. The producer was like, “Listen, you’re going, but there is a chance you won’t go because if we don’t get the permits …”Because they don’t want 50 people together as a crew in a city right now. It’s high risk. And so, because of the last-minute nature of the show too, that was in itself, so challenging.
It took a lot of the prep away. I think when we got there outside of maybe three or four hours of discussions of what makes the most sense menu-wise, knowing the show’s format. And then I watched season 12 and season 9 before just to get two different seasons to understand what the show is like again, because it’s been so long since we’ve done it.
Daniel Shemtob refused to eat his own food during “The Great Food Truck Race”
You’ve talked about how stressful the experience was for you and how it took a toll on your eating habits, what was that like for you?
So the production company only pays for one meal, but that’s not the hindrance of me eating. But the production company only pays for one meal, which is Starbucks in the morning. It’s a Starbucks breakfast sandwich and it’s a coffee. I think eating anything 30 days in a row is going to [make you] feel sick … but eating a sandwich that’s not fresh. Whatever system Starbucks uses, it does not do well for your system.
If you want to eat on your truck, which is what everyone would assume you would do — think about that trucks go home for five bucks. Imagine you ate one taco and that’s the reason you’re going home. You can’t do it … I’m not going to do it. So, what ends up happening? Also, because it’s competition mode, you’re working… Honestly, I won’t take a break and I don’t think anyone did. You’d work a 12-hour day and you wouldn’t take one second off because it’s again, $5 between the first and second place team going home.
At home, I cook all my own meals I eat really healthy. If I don’t eat healthy, I’m still the one making it. I know exactly what’s going on with the dish. The idea of going to store-bought food or Starbucks sandwiches, or then finishing work at 11 o’clock and getting our truck back and then eating at midnight. And that’s not good for your system. It went to absolute crap and I’m very much a believer of mental health from food. Taking it out [of] your hands, not cooking your own food is already a huge problem. Then going to processed, fast food because that’s all that’s open is like the worst possible thing. And then, eating at those hours, it was not good.
Daniel Shemtob discusses what it takes to win “The Great Food Truck Race”
What are the top three things it takes to win a food competition?
Top three is tough … I think teamwork and collaboration is probably the biggest one. I don’t think by any chance would I have won, if I didn’t have good teammates. Zero chance … And then how you work together, how you collaborate. Jason who was on the show with us last time, who’s an extremely talented chef, maximum talent. We don’t work that well together. We used to be business partners. We used to be friends. We’re still friends, but we stopped [being] business partners and it’s because I think we have challenges in aligning. That in itself can create so many ripples while you’re on the show. This time we didn’t have him. And I don’t want to say it was smoother or less smooth or whatever.
But the overall feeling was we were so in sync with each other the whole time that you couldn’t break our team up. If you walked onto our truck, even from the first episode. It was the best production line that it would take … One of the challenges in episode three, was I got to go onto Seoul Sausage’s, truck. There’s s*** everywhere. It’s a mess. It’s disorganized. They don’t know who’s in charge of what. The ticket system doesn’t work. And I was like, “Oh, I forgot what it’s like when you’re with new people.” It doesn’t matter how good you are. If you’re with new people, you don’t really vibe. And so, luckily that teamwork, that collaboration was incredible.
Another one is your network. It is what it is. Your network is a big part of your ability to win in these cities. I’m not from San Francisco. I only have a few friends there. I have no family there. That was a big challenge for me … dipping into networks that already exist to be able to grow. That’s a huge one. And that was a disadvantage for us, I think in that city.
The last one is menu development. Because you’re given $300 to $400 of seed money, and you have to stretch that and you have to be able to stretch that at a market that’s like Whole Foods, ultra premium, it’s called Gustus, it’s an incredible market, but it’s very expensive. To figure out a menu that works there is insane. There would be nights where I go to bed and I’m like Rain Man. I’m like, “$1.98 Cannellini beans … $1.67 salmon belly.” And then if you can plan that altogether and hit on the other two, you have it pretty good.