The French call it “l’esprit d’escalier,” which can be loosely translated as “staircase wit.” It refers to the witty remark or cogent point you should have made but think of too late when it doesn’t matter.
That’s how I felt after being interviewed on camera for a new Travel Channel television show called “Food Wars,” which debuted March 9. The show visits cities across the country and highlights the passionate rivalries surrounding iconic dishes, including who makes them the best.
Among those rivalries, the show will delve into Detroit’s hot dog war, the brouhaha over the top Italian beef sandwich in Chicago, and the long-simmering chicken wing debate in Buffalo, N.Y.
In Los Angeles, “Food Wars” focuses on the tensions between two players in the city’s new wave of gourmet food trucks. In one corner is Baby’s Badass Burgers. The concept was founded in late 2009 by Erica Cohen and Lori Barbera, and offers premium burgers, such as the “Cougar” with St. Andre cheese and truffles. The concept implies that the truck is manned by attractive young “Burger Babes” in tank tops and short shorts.
In the other corner is the Grill ‘Em All truck, which launched in January and is operated by chef Ryan Harkins and Matthew Chernus. Harkins apparently worked with Baby’s Badass Burgers for a few weeks before he left to launch his own truck, which has a heavy-metal theme. His burgers are also premium with interesting toppings, such as the “Molly Hatchet” topped with fennel-smoked sausage gravy, applewood-smoked bacon and a maple drizzle.
Where Baby’s Badass is pink and sexy, Grill ‘Em All is dark and masculine. But both offer high-end burgers and compete for essentially the same market—hence the rivalry. You’ll have to watch the show to find out which burger is declared the best by the panel of experts.
My job was to give the back story about L.A.’s still-growing fleet of food trucks. And, in doing that, I was forced to grapple with the question of whether this is a passing fad or a new niche within foodservice that is here to stay.
Evidence is mounting that the trucks may have longevity. Recently, the first L.A. Street Food Fest was held downtown, featuring a number of the new food trucks. An estimated 10,000 people showed up to stand patiently in long lines, and several of the trucks ran out of food.
Meanwhile, at a recent dinner party, guests passionately described their favorite food trucks, illustrating the widespread allure of buying Vietnamese food, cupcakes or gourmet grilled-cheese sandwiches off a truck. Prices are low, the quality is high and people love getting a tweet that a favorite truck is nearby.
Still, every truck operator I have talked to says he or she is looking for a brick-and-mortar location. Many see the trucks as a way to test the waters and gain brand recognition—not something they want to make a career of. As one truck operator told me, it’s just not clear yet whether anyone can really make a living doing this.
Time will tell whether the popularity of gourmet food trucks is passing, but one thing—what I wished I had said on TV—is certain: As in the brick-and-mortar restaurant world, the bad truck operations will disappear once the novelty wears away, and the operators that offer quality products will find niches that work for them.— email@example.com