REVIEW: JUDGING THE 2016 ASHEVILLE FOOD TRUCK SHOWDOWN

L-R: Larry Blunt, Chef Katie Button, Stu Helm phot0 ©2016 by Micah Mackenzie

L-R: Larry Blunt, Chef Katie Button, Stu Helm. photo ©2016 by Micah Mackenzie

Food Truck Show Down – Masonic Temple, Downtown.

So, my favorite thing in the fucking world right now is being a judge at food competitions. Nom nom nom! Judge judge judge. Best thing ever.

Food Fest Season got off to a great start for me, beginning with the Wing War, where I ate 20 wings, and judged ’em all! Mojo Kitchen and Foggy Mountain Brew Pub won the high honors in that competition, congrats to them both. You can watch a video or two about that HERE.

Next I was asked to judge at the 2016 Food Truck Showdown, which happened on April 2nd at The Asheville Masonic Temple.

I ate lots of great food, and I had a great time hanging out with my fellow judges, Chef Katie Button from Cúrate & The Nightbell; and Larry Blunt from WLOS-TV (Asheville).

Here’s a link to some of the coverage that WLOS gave to the event: http://wlos.com//in-third-year-food-truck-showdown-grows

I always enjoy hanging out with Chef Button, because she’s really fun and down-to-Earth and easy to talk to. This was the first time I had met Larry Blunt and he was super nice too, and very easy going. Every time I meet someone from WLOS they are really nice, and seem very good at making other people feel comfortable.  Also present, was my friend and local photographer extraordinaire, Micah Mackenzie. When you see Micah at any event, you know there’s gonna be some good pictures produced. Check his stuff out at: http://micahmack.com/

So, who won? Let’s cut to the chase… 

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Root Down Food Truck’s winning entry in the Showdown. – Photo by Stu Helm

Here’s the breakdown, straight from the producer, Shay Brown Events’ FaceBook page:

The Top 5 Winners in both categories of ‪#‎foodtruckshowdownasheville‬, because so many are asking and we want you to know:

Best Food Truck in Asheville (Judge’s choice):
1st Place Root Down food truck
2nd Place Smash Box Mobile Kitchen
3rd Place GQC Deli, Market, Food Truck. (GypsyQueen)
4th Place Latino Heat
5th Place Vieux Carre

Fan Favorite:
1st Place Root Down food truck
2nd Place Out of the Blue Peruvian Fusion Cuisine
3rd Place Farm To Fender
4th Place Vitamina T
5th Place Smash Box Mobile Kitchen

So, congrats to Dano Holcomb and his crew at Root Down Food Truck, who took both the judges and the popular vote! According to event founder Carey Harnash, this is the first time that’s happened in the event’s three-year history! There were 14 Trucks competing this year, and they were:

Amazing Pizza Co.
Appalachian Smoke
Appalachian Chic Food Truck
Farm To Fender
Grateful Roots Food Truck
GQC Deli, Market, Food Truck. (GypsyQueen)
Latino Heat
Out of the Blue Peruvian Fusion Cuisine
Root Down food truck
Smash Events, Inc.
Taste & See Food Truck
The Real Food Truck
Vieux Carre
Vitamina T

14 FOOD TRUCKS, all sending 1 sample to the judge’s table, and some of the samples had sides! Holy fuck. It was a lot of food, and we had a duty to taste it all. One truck sent us 3 entire hamburgers, with french fries. I was hungry as fuck, so I ate as much of it as I could handle, but I was grateful when Judge Larry asked the organizers, “Can we get some of this to go?” Fuck yeah! Go, Larry! Go, Larry! They were just gonna toss it otherwise. Anyhoo…

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Above: The three little pig wrap from Vieux Carre was the first thing we ate and it remained a top contender in my book throughout the day. Photo by Stu Helm

As judges, we were tasked by the organizers to rate the competitors on a numeric scale, in the following categories:

Best Looking Food Truck – I got the first part done quickly, scanning the scene and giving one truck the highest rating and one the lowest, and then plopping the rest somewhere in between. Smash Box is the cutest truck in Asheville in my opinion, and Appalachian Smoke got high marks from me for having an actual screen door and wooden elements to the truck. I gave The Amazing Pizza Truck the lowest score, even though another patron made a somewhat convincing argument that their truck is kinda brilliant in the fact that it doesn’t look like a food truck. In the end I said, “Naw, it’s boring.” and he said, “Yeah, you’re right.”

Food Presentation – One of the best dishes we were served was the Three Little Pig Wrap from Vieux Carre. It was fucking awesome tasting, and had pork, sausage, and bacon, with kale, apples, and nuts. I ate the shit outta that thing, but the presentation was pretty average. A foil-wrapped wrap in a cardboard tray / box. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that presentation, but it scored lower than others, like Root Down. At any other time, I wouldn’t have given one shit about the presentation, so I wanna say, if you see Vieux Carre, try the Three Little Pig wrap, it’s fucking good.

Best Dish Execution – Now, this category took some thought, and I basically asked myself each time a dish was presented by a vendor, “Did they do what they set out to do with this dish?” When Gypsy Queen Cusine (aka GQC Deli, Market, Food Truck.) delivered a beautiful, delicious wrap / taco / pita sandwich type dealio of their own, it scored very high marks with me. Then I tasted the hummus and the tabbouleh sides that were included, and surprisingly, they weren’t all that. The hummus was kinda bland, and the tabbouleh was a little heavy on the raw onions, and sparse on the parsley. After conferring with the other judges, I had to take points away for the over-all execution of the entire dish. They could have left the sides off, and scored higher points. That’s something that competitors can keep in mind: The more elements on the plate, the more room for criticism. What if the burger that The Real Food Truck gave us was awesome, but the fries were meh? Fortunately for everyone, both the burger and the fries were fucking awesome, and TRFT scored very high in the “execution” category.

Best use of ingredients – In other food competitions, this category is usually included if all the Chefs are working with the same ingredients. A “rabbit” challenge, or a “ramps” challenge, for example. The Food Truck Showdown was a muh-fucking free-for-all in terms of the ingredients, so I just tried to take each dish as it came and be all, like, “What are the ingredients, and how’d they do with those ingredients?” Our friends at Farm to Fender served us grits, and pork belly. I love the way these guys cook, but the pork belly wasn’t as tender or melt-in-your-mouthy as I like my pork belly to be, so while they scored very high in other categories, I knocked a few points off in this one.  Taste & See Food Truck on the other hand, sent out two deep-fried pork skewers on a bed of slaw. There were peanuts involved, and a sauce, and fresh things sprinkled on top… Ho-lee-fahhhk, that shit was good! The pork was cooked to perfection and was very tender, the crunchy stuff on the outside was killer, the sauce ruled, the slaw was great, and the peanuts went perfectly with each of the other ingredients. This was a masterpiece in my opinion and the only dish of the day that I scored with a “10” in any category. I was surprised that they didn’t win the judges competition, or even place, so I wanna give them a special shout out right now: Taste and See, this dish ruled.

By the end of the day, I was stuffed full, all talked-out, and ready to split the scene. I grabbed my hefty to-go boxes, said my goodbyes to the organizers and other judges, and hot-footed it home. That was a fucking FUN event in my opinion. What a great way for Asheville’s curious eaters to come try an ass-load of food trucks, and hang out with each other, raving about this or slamming that, and then casting their own votes for their own favorite. The fact that the people and the judges both picked Dano and Root Down says something about how special his cooking is, but I want to reiterate that I ate a TON of great food. We should be proud and happy to have such a plucky bunch of hard-working food makers in our food truck scene here in Asheville.

The next food truck event on my schedule is called Loaded Up ‘n’ Truckin’ and that’s happening on April 16th at The Oskar Blues’ Reeb Ranch. See ya there!

#‎foodruckshowdownasheville‬ ‪#‎templehastalent‬ ‪#‎familyevent‬ ‪#‎eatdrinkandbemerry‬ ‪#‎downtownasheville‬ ‪#‎ashevilleeventvenue‬ ‪#‎sbeevents‬ ‪#‎andthewinneris‬ ‪#‎sovereignremedies‬ ‪#‎oskarblues‬ ‪#‎hiwire‬ ‪#‎localbrews‬ ‪#‎craftvendors‬ ‪#‎ashevillehumanesociety‬ ‪#‎masonicchildrenshome‬ ‪#‎whitestonecommunity‬ ‪#‎friendsoftheashevillemasonictemple‬

Thanks to event founder Carey Harnash and promoter Shay Brown for inviting me! Here’s more form Shay’s FaceBook page..

It was a great day with some amazing food, drinks being slung by @SovereignRemedies with donations in part by Oskar Blues, HI Wire, Covington Vodka and Coke! There were so many great Trucks and I know you are all waiting for the Best Food Truck Winner…. Root Down and the Fan Favorite was Root Down.. thanks to our Judges Stu Helm, Katie Button and Larry Blunt for taking the time Judge these amazing Trucks! They are all winners in my book as they really had a packed day did an amazing job turning out some of the best food ever!!! Also thanks to our Craft Vendors, Photographer Micah Mackenzie and our DJ Sound Extreme! The kids has a blast with the bounce house so thanks Incredible inflatables! Also we supported some great causes Asheville Humane Society, Masonic Childrens Foundation, White Stone Community and Friends of the Masonic Temple. Most of all thanks to my amazing team that without them none of this is possible.

 

 — END —

IMG_0273Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.

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External links:

avlfoodfans.com

ashvegas.com

stuhelmfoodfan.wordpress.com

facebook.com/stuhelmfoodfan

instagram.com/stuhelmfoodfan

twitter.com/stuhelmfoodfan

youtube.com/channel/stuhelmfoodfan

wpvmfm.org/show/asheville-food-fan

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