Food trucks are a natural fit for TV -- part restaurant and part carnival attraction. Each chef and rolling kitchen has a unique story. As host of Cooking Channel's Eat Street, the new series that follows the street food craze around the country, James Cunninghan has his work cut out for him -- namely eating his way through miles and miles of burgers, tacos, schnitzels, perogies and sandwiches. James told Short Order about his adventures on the road, naming his craziest finds and inventing his own truck.
New Times: You're a stand-up comedian, but don't really have a food background. How did you get the gig hosting Eat Street?
James Cunningham: I auditioned for a completely different show. Apparently, my audition was passed around and I got a call from Vancouver. The production company that was doing Eat Street said we have a new food show on the Cooking Channel, would you like to try out. They wanted me to fly out to New York and do a test shoot that weekend with The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck and Schnitzel & Things. My girlfriend lives in New York, so I thought, sure! We shot some test segments and it went so well and there was so much chemistry between everyone that we shot the first couple of segments right then and there!
You don't focus on one city at a time like other food/travel shows. What's your strategy for an episode?
Each segment is like a magazine article. For one 20-minute episode, our show has 1,400 cuts on average. That's insane editing.
How do you choose the trucks in a city for the show?
One of the biggest reasons why we chose the trucks that we did was the online buzz. We used Facebook and Twitter to help us determine the most popular trucks in a city.
You had to have chosen trucks by other methods, too -- food, truck graphics, colorful personalities -- come on. What else?
Yeah, we tried to find interesting people to work with. It's not only the truck. The food and the chef are the real stars of the show. I'm just the host, I introduce the city, but the chef has to really do the talking.
Are the chefs characters?
They're pretty cool people. I'm finding that food truck owners fall basically into two categories. There are the stockbrokers and teachers who always thought about owning a restaurant and there are the chefs who want to pursue their own food concept. Either way, these people are pursuing a dream of owning their own business. It's not easy. They work hard.
Who did you film in Miami?
What was the craziest truck you've ever encountered?
The pig truck in Seattle, Maximus Minimus, is insane! The craziest food that we had was the Redonkadonk Burger from The Brunch Box in Portland. It was a burger with spam and two grilled cheese sandwiches for the bun. That burger had about four million calories in that thing.
I wasn't a huge foodie before the show, but we'd travel from city to city and find something even better in each location. This is the great thing about being the Food Truck guy. You walk into a gaggle of food truck, is that the right way to say a group of trucks?
I love it -- a gaggle!
And you're with the cooking channel and you -- whoomp! You have all this free food.
What cities have the best food truck scene?
Portland's unbelievable. Portland alone has like 400 food trucks. New York's always been a big food truck city, and Philadelphia and Washington D.C. I feel are really good. And Miami. Miami is really hot right now. For the first season we filmed 52 trucks and most of the trucks were under two years old. It's a whole new wickedly awesome thing.
Did the whole food truck mania surprise you? I mean you started filming the show really at the start of this wave..
It totally surprised me. I never thought I would say "Hey, I'm the food truck guy. I eat stuff off food trucks!" But the thing that you do as a comic is eat street food. When you come out of a club after a few sets early in the morning, you eat at the schwarma guy. I think the food truck industry owes a lot to comedians and the whole club scene.
Speaking of your job, let's say that you wanted to get in the food truck business. What truck would you build and what would you serve? Name and concept, please.
Wow! You caught me off guard. OK, I'll "borrow" a concept. There's a guy that we met who bought an Army surplus trailer that's propane powered. Basically the idea behind this vehicle was you make your chili, your mashed potatoes, your Army slop and you serve it to the troops from the back of this trailer. I can't cook well, but I can make a mean crock pot dish. I'd serve from that Army truck and call it the Bald Crock or something.
How is the show doing? What's feedback like from fans?
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The show is rocking! The show is doing really, really well. As a comedian, as a performer, I'm used to getting immediate feedback from the audience. Because of social media, now the television audience tells you exactly how they feel about your show immediately. We live blog during every episode so we know exactly what everyone is thinking.
Are you shooting Season Two? Have you been picked up for another season?
Yes! We were in Los Angeles last week and I think we're shooting in Miami in the summer. Hey! If you know any good food trucks, you can let us know. We can be in Miami with the food truck girl. We can get a boat and you can drive it and I can water-ski behind it!