As host of “The Great Food Truck Race,” Marin County resident Tyler Florence has seen the revved-up culinary competition travel more than 1 million miles over 14 seasons and criss-cross the country a dozen times.
Only once during that span did the Food Network series manage to make a quick and early stop in Florence’s Bay Area backyard.
But for this latest season — an all-star edition — the race is hunkering down in the Bay Area, from start to finish, and Florence is thrilled.
“As much as I love to travel, it was nice for once to sleep in my own bed and ride my motorcycle to work, while allowing viewers to experience my point of view of the world,” says Florence, who, in addition to his TV-hosting duties, is the owner and executive chef of Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco.
“The Great Food Truck Race All Stars” (9 p.m. Sundays, Food Network), which launched a six-episode season on June 6, welcomes seven standout alumni teams for a high-octane culinary journey. The action kicked off at Fisherman’s Wharf with a bread bowl battle, and this weekend moves to the Napa Valley for a grape-stomping challenge.
In the weeks ahead, the food trucks will make stops amid the Santa Cruz redwoods for a foraging adventure, Ocean Beach for a seaside bites competition and a hoop shooting contest at the Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors. Ultimately, they’ll end up in Chinatown where one team will nab $50,000 and a glitzy championship belt.
“They’re the best of the best,” Florence says of the teams that made the cut. “They’re proven winners and are all super-savvy. You see that fire in their eyes. They roll up their sleeves and get down to it.”
The all-star trucks, each featuring three-person crews, include Aloha Plate from Lanai City, Hawaii; The Lime Truck from Irvine; The Middle Feast out of Los Angeles; Mystikka Masala, based in Santa Monica; NOLA Creations from Shreveport, Louisiana; Seoul Sausage in Los Angeles; and Waffle Love from Provo, Utah.
Filmed during the pandemic last September, the show was anchored to the Bay Area largely due to COVID-19 considerations.
“In trying to figure out how to do this as safely as possible, Food Network was really gracious,” Florence recalls. “They said, ‘We’ll keep you off airplanes and we’ll come to you.’ Everyone was a little nervous at first, but we figured it out, and it was great to be out there shooting again.”
The result, he insists, is “one of the most beautiful seasons we’ve ever done in terms of visual appeal.”
Looking back on the roving series that began in the summer of 2010, Florence expresses pride over its success and staying power.
“We had no idea it would do so well. That first season was kind of a goof,” he says. “Our initial pitch was: ‘Food trucks meet ‘Cannonball Run.’”
But the timing proved to be just right.
“Restaurants were closing across the country and a lot of owners and chefs were migrating from four walls to four wheels,” he says. “They were getting into grab-and-go stuff and setting the world on fire. And we were there to tell the story. Now, there are over 47,000 food trucks in operation. We didn’t invent the trend, but we certainly gassed it.”
It’s not so surprising then that Florence turned to a meals-on-wheels approach himself during the early months of the pandemic as restaurants in the Bay Area and elsewhere felt the detrimental impact of COVID-related restrictions. To keep his Wayfare Tavern humming, he purchased a truck and reached out to customers who craved the idea of neighborhood deliveries.
“We would drive out to a neighborhood, set up a tent and make it happen. The (patrons) were super gracious, and we were super grateful,” he said. “We had never thought of (a delivery system) before. But now it will be part of our business going forward.”
That doesn’t mean Florence isn’t still interested in branching out with additional brick-and-mortar sites. He, in fact, is busy readying a steakhouse called Miller & Lux, located near the Chase Center along Terry Francois Boulevard in San Francisco’s Mission Bay.
“It will be just under 7,000 square feet, covering two levels, and it’ll face the water,” Florence says, energetically. “We’re going to be serving up big, thick cuts and fantastic cabs.”
He adds that the restaurant’s name reflects a bit of San Francisco and California history. Henry Miller and his partner Charles Lux were German immigrants who, by the end of the 19th century, ran the nation’s largest integrated cattle and meatpacking enterprise. It went out of business in 1926, 10 years after Miller died.
“They were known as the Cattle Kings of California,” says Florence, who purchased the company brand to use in conjunction with his restaurant.
NOTE: In addition to its Food Network airings, “The Great Food Truck Race All Stars” can be streamed the same day on discovery+. Meanwhile, fans who seek a deeper dive into the Bay Area culinary scene can view the addendum online series called “The Great Food Truck Race: The Extra Mile,” in which Florence visits areas such as the Ferry Building Farmers Market, while not on set.