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The Next Food Network Star Episode 5: 'Working in a truck is no picnic.'

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Aarti does a demo at The Grove (Photo courtesy The Food Network/Used with permission)


Aarti does a demo at The Grove (Photo courtesy The Food Network/Used with permission)
For its sixth season, The Next Food Network Star was shot in Los Angeles, and among the 12 finalists vying for their very own Food Network show are 3 locals, including food blogger and LAist alum Aarti Sequeira. Each week, Aarti will give us her take on the episode, from her unique insider's perspective. Will she be named The Next Food Network Star? We won't know until the finale. Last week the contestants cooked for L.A. chefs Susan Feniger and Eric Greenspan; here's how Episode 5 looked from inside the kitchen...

Dick Bombay’s.

It just rolls off your tongue, doesn’t it? For me, it conjures up images of a Cary Grant-esque private eye trolling through the crowded streets of Bombay in search of his elusive lady.

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The name also caused quite a stir amongst the committee. Especially after I made a joke about it that made even Paula Deen blush (only after she doubled over cackling though!).

The committee had sauntered over to our fantastic food truck for a sample of our wares. Following our hellos and self-introductions, Tom went over to fry up some funnel cake. I remained at the tiny little window to keep the committee entertained.

“So, Aarti,” Bobby said. “How did you guys come up with the name Dick Bombay's?”

“Well,” I began, feeling that familiar uptick in my heartbeat that always happened whenever I addressed the committee. “Bombay is pretty self-explanatory,” I said, gesturing to my Indian get-up. “And we wanted to play on the concept of every Tom, Dick and Harry to convey the all-American basis of the food. So we were choosing from those three names, and we didn’t like Tom and Harry, and you know, Tom really likes D--."

And I stopped myself before I said something really naughty without even meaning it. (Tom just got married a month or so ago to his supermodel looker lady, Rachel, just to keep the record straight!).

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Paula Deen collapsed in a shower of giggles, Bobby Flay stepped back and hid his face as he laughed, and I’m not even sure what Bobby and Susie did because I started screaming with laughter. Tom, meanwhile, had only caught the tail-end and was yelling in mock anger before he too started laughing.

It was a great moment, catching all of us off-guard and diffusing any anxiety I’d felt about presenting to one of my favorite FN personalities, Her Royal Ladyship Deen. And of course, this was a moment you did NOT see on the show last night!

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Giada preps the finalists for their Midterm Challenge, which they'll soon discover is to work on a lunch truck (Photo courtesy The Food Network/Used with permission)
Before the competition began, I’d hoped that we’d get to work on a food truck. They have been nothing less than a revolution of food, the great democratizing of the restaurant industry, taking the food to the people without the fuss (or the high overhead!) of tablecloths or, you know, rent. I had always imagined running my own food truck, breezing around LA serving up whatever fare took my fancy that day.

But now that I’ve actually worked in a truck, I have a new-found respect for these truck operators. Working in a truck is no picnic.

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Sure, you’re working in the great outdoors, with only yourself as your boss. Our trucks were set up on Venice Beach which was especially luxurious. The breeze swept right off the ocean at our truck, but since we had one of the older models with only a tiny front window, we hardly felt it. Tom and I quickly got intimate with each other - yelling “behind” went out the window, because you literally were rubbing the other one’s behind to get past! I nearly took off Tom gorgeous locks (and my own) when a huge flame erupted from one of the burners (each of which I had to painstakingly light with one of those long-nosed lighters - no automatic lighter on these babies). Later those cramped quarters earned Tom a jaw-dropping burn on his right arm, when he reached down into the oven for some toast and caught the lip of the flat top. Those kinds of burns come with the job, I guess.

The water ran a slow trickle out of the tap, making rinsing out the small number of dishes we had a torturous experience. As soon as Tom threw the 25lbs of tri tip onto the grill, the truck filled with smoke, causing our eyes to sting and our lungs to cry out for mercy. Even the camera woman couldn’t go over to the meat to get a close-up!

But, in case you think I didn’t enjoy working on the truck, let me tell you - it was exhilarating. With only an hour to prepare, Tom and I were whizzing around those precious 10ft of space, quipping at each other and feeding off each other's energy. I felt like a complete bad-ass manning that flat-top, crisping up pieces of tender tri tip, warming up the corn tortillas which were delicately doused (!) in some bacon fat, slathering the tacos with the pungent tomato sauce I’d made, and then serving up the hungry masses gathering at our window. The crowds were insistent, but happy, and getting to see their reactions to our food only 30 seconds after we’d made it for them… well, there’s nothing like it. It was especially touching for us because we ended up feeding a lot of homeless people that day, folks who’d heard about the free food and showed up for enough to feed their whole family for a couple of days. In fact, we fed at least twice as many people as we’d been told we’d feed. Thank goodness we’d bought 25lbs of tri tip.

At the end of that day, as the sun set, Tom and I started to wipe down the counters and clean up. This would be my least favourite part of running my own truck - those puppies get nasty. And after a long day on your feet, cooking and interacting with your customers, the last thing you want to do is scrub away caked-up grease and grime on the flat top. Luckily for us, the extraordinary Food Network culinary team shooed us out of there to tackle the beast. (Thank you guys!)

Tom and I stepped out of the truck, breathing in the fresh air for the first time in hours. Tom’s forearm was carefully bandaged. I felt my forehead for the bindi I’d stuck there this morning. It had disappeared. I quickly tried not to think about where it had fallen, and focused instead on the victory I felt coursing through my veins. I’d been nervous about working on this hot line, with only myself and Tom responsible for feeding hundreds of people. But I'd done it. And done it well.

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As the sun set over the Pacific, I felt like frickin’ Rocky. I was tough, invincible, I could do anything. Tom put his arm on my shoulder. I wrapped mine around his waist and we walked off to the cars, brothers in arms. We were Dick Bombay's, baby. All you other trucks can just eat a d--okay, I still can't say it!.

The Next Food Network Star airs Sundays @9 p.m. on The Food Network.