One Salt Lake City food truck owner will get a $10,000 tip from chef, writer and TV personality Andrew Zimmern on Oct. 3, when the show “Big Food Truck Tip” airs on the Food Network.
Will the cash go to The Salty Pineapple, a Hawaiian lunch plate truck that serves kalua pig, garlic chicken and a hand-mashed fruit drink called ’otai?
Maybe the lucky winner will be Havana Eats, whose owner uses family recipes to make Cuban-inspired dishes such as pressed sandwiches or savory pastries called picadillo empanaditas.
There’s also Nella, one of the state’s newest food trucks. Constructed from a shipping container and equipped with an enormous wood-fired pizza oven, it cooks pizzas in 60 seconds.
During each episode of “Big Food Truck Tip,” which premiered Sept. 19, Zimmern travels to a different U.S. city in search of food truck entrepreneurs chasing the American dream. In each location, three operators share their dishes and stories. Zimmern then gives one deserving culinary dreamer a $10,000 tip to help take that business to the next level.
The reaction when the food truck owner learns of the prize ranges from “stunned and shocked” to “breaking down in tears, unable to gather themselves,” Zimmern said during a recent telephone interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.
While food quality is important, Zimmern said he is looking at "who the owners are and what I think they can contribute to the community.”
In addition to Salt Lake City, “Big Food Truck Tip” visits Minneapolis, Zimmern’s hometown; Birmingham, Ala.; Charleston, S.C.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Huntington Beach, Calif.
How did Utah’s capital measure up?
“It has a very vibrant food truck scene and represents a nice, broad swath of cultures,” he said. “It’s becoming a legitimate food town.”
Zimmern, who operated food trucks in Minneapolis and Miami for several years, knows that profit margins are low and “most food truck operators are literally operating on fumes,” often just a day away from shutting down if the refrigerator breaks or the stove has to be replaced.
Receiving a $10,000 tip “literally can change the future of someone’s business,” he said. “And it’s a blast to give someone something that is going to change their lives.”