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Food trucks roll for the cameras … but not in Chicago

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Restaurant and Foodservice

This post is by SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

You know the food truck trend has arrived when the Food Network launches a show complete with celeb chef host Tyler Florence and seven mobile culinary kitchens racing each other from Los Angeles to New York for six episodes, competing at stops along the way to sell the most food. The show also serves to illustrate the growing diversity that’s spurring the popularity of food trucks –- the list of contestant cuisines includes paninis wrapped in pieces of The Onion from Texas’ Austin Daily Press,  frog legs and other authentic French fare from San Francisco’s Spencer on the Go and gourmet burgers from L.A.’s Grill ‘Em All.

The diversity ends with the cuisine, though. With the exception of the Daily Press, all of the show’s contestants hail from California, the place where the challenge begins and home to thriving street-food scenes in several cities. In the opening episode, set to air Aug. 15, operators drive empty trucks to San Diego and, with equal amounts of seed money, outfit their trucks, cook and sell as much food as they can in three days. The six top sellers will move on to Santa Fe for the second week’s challenge, while the loser heads home.

The mobile teams will perform similar challenges in Fort Worth, Texas; New Orleans; and Jonesborough, Tenn.; before the remaining two mobile foodies face off on the streets of New York in the final episode. One major food market is conspicuously absent from the list, although it may be the southerly path charted by producers as much as strict city regulations that kept Chicago off the race route.

Earlier this year, the Windy City hosted the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention, which shone a spotlight on food trucks and also provided an opportunity to highlight the dearth of a street-food scene in the convention center’s hometown. Stories also broke about efforts by restaurateur Matt Maroni and others to make changes aimed at spawning a vibrant food truck culture.

Chicago’s regulations have proven a major stumbling block in efforts toward a food truck culture, especially a rule that limits trucks to selling food that’s prepared in brick-and-mortar restaurants and commercial kitchens. Restaurateur Matt Maroni is on a mission to change that, but it’s apparently taking longer than many had hoped. Last month, Maroni launched a storefront version of his gaztro-wagon concept, selling his signature “naan-wiches.” He also started a website dedicated to the mission of creating a thriving Chicago street-food culture and a blog aimed at keeping the community posted on efforts to move his ordinance along.

Last week, in a blog post headlined “The Waiting Game…,” Maroni updated anxious foodies on the status of the ordinance, which is still very much a work in progress.  Maroni, Alderman Scott Waguespack and city staffers were working to revise the proposal, based on questions and concerns from unnamed decision makers in the city. It’s unclear when the council might consider the proposal.

If the popularity of “Top Chef,” “Iron Chef” and other food-challenge fare is any indication, more mobile foodies are likely to run in future episodes of “The Great Food Truck Race.”  Time will tell whether the streets of Chicago will one day be legally able to host an episode.

Which city gets your vote for “Best Food Truck Offerings”?

Image credit: sassphotos via iStockphoto