Foodie Events / Restaurants

Texas Trio Conquers Alaska’s Freezing Cold, Wins Food Network’s $50,000 Great Food Truck Race

From Hacking Through Ice to Dog Sledding For Groceries

BY // 05.17.21

Frostbite, frozen hair and a frozen iPad, these are just some of the challenges that finalists on the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race: Alaska endured for 35 bone-chilling days while wheeling toward victory. In the end, Houston’s Dallas-led Tasty Balls team rolled through snow and ice into the winner’s circle where the $50,000 grand prize awaited.

This 14th episode in the series was billed as “the most intense season of food truck competition ever.” In something of a cross between Survivor and Chopped, seven food trucks with three members each faced off against one another and Mother Nature. Throughout the filming late last fall, temperatures in Alaska hovered in the teens and at one point dropped as low as minus 16 degrees.

PaperCity sat down with the team leader — Dallas native Misti Buard — for a revealing chat about the life-changing experience. Life changing, she explains, because the one thing she learned is “I can do literally anything that I put my mind to.”

“I say that because it was challenging mentally and physically and spiritually,” Buard says. “I called my mom each morning and said ‘I don’t know if I can keep doing this because it was so cold.’ I’m outside of the food truck while the chefs were in there cooking. But even inside it wasn’t that warm.

“So it taught me that if you put your mind to it and put good energy around it and do your absolute best, you will succeed.”

Buard, a food truck blogger, marketing whiz and entrepreneur; vegan chef Nadia Ahmed of Green Roots Kitchen; and chef D’Ambria Jacobs of Sophisticated Delights battled those excruciating temperatures while enduring food challenges, that were revealed by dreamy host Tyler Florence.

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Their victory was confirmed on the April 11 segment, making the Tasty Balls team only the second all-female team to win The Great Food Truck Race and the first all Black team to take home the prize.

Surprise, Alaska!

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The trio had thought that they would be filming a winter challenge in Utah in March of 2020 but COVID-19 interrupted and they found themselves on their way to Anchorage in late October with only seven days notice. The frozen tundra of the 49th state was a far cry from the wineries of Napa and the palm-shrouded streets of West Palm Beach and the like where previous teams had faced food truck challenges.

Hacking their way through a 200-pound block of ice to retrieve their food truck keys was the first sign that this was not going to be a fun-filled cake walk.  Digging through fresh banks of snow to find critical seed money to purchase groceries was another unimagined challenged made all the more difficult when the snow shoes failed to do their job.

The road trip began in Anchorage then moved on to Palmer,  home to some of the world’s largest vegetables; to Homer for deep sea fishing, then to Seward where they panned for gold and faced the Alaskan crab challenge, and onward to remote Talkeetna, where they engaged in a scavenger hunt, before the finale in Fairbanks, where daylight was at a minimum. Buard recalls darkness until around 10 am and night falling again well before 4 pm.

The Real Food Truck Challenge

The Great Food Truck Race has evolved over the seasons into something rather different from the beginning when real food truck owners would compete for prize money that at one point was as high as $100,000. Now the show is only offered to those who have never worked on a food truck previously.

Thus, the network creates the trucks for the competing teams with member input. Buard said that they had so little time to ready for the adventure that they barely made suggestions for their truck.

When Buard began encouraging her food truck pals to apply for the show in 2019, she wasn’t aware of the new rules. Nevertheless, as none of the chefs queried were interested, the ever-inventive Buard decided to apply herself. She was accepted and was given 24 hours to complete her team. She brought on Ahmed who then convinced Jacobs to sign on.

In the end, you have teams of novices when it comes to cooking on the road in a vehicle that they are unfamiliar with. Some contestants go on to have their own food truck. Others do not. The Tasty Balls ladies have no food truck dreams, but are developing pop-up shops for some of their most requested items from the show.

The food truck race entourage was 70 strong with 21 initial contestants, an executive producer, production assistants, producers and cameramen.

The 16-hour days were another surprise to the contestants, particularly for the team leaders such as Buard who had to end the day after long hours of filming (everything has to be filmed twice) sitting with her producer and counting the proceeds of the day.

Foodie Frozen

The biggest challenge of the experience, Buard says, was the weather. The clothes the team had ordered from Amazon were too flimsy for Alaska’s subzero temperatures. They had to outfit all over again once in Anchorage. Hand warmers were an essential.

It was so cold that when Buard was trying to take orders from customers standing in line outside the food truck, her iPad froze and then the ink in her pen froze. Once after shopping for groceries, they stopped by the restroom and when they went back outside they found that their milk had frozen. One of the trio suffered frostbite on her ear. On another day, the chef’s knife was frozen so the hand warmers came into vital play.

Misty Buard
Misty Buard’s locks froze in the Alaskan winter during filming of the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race: Alaska.

“My hair froze. I literally had to cut inches of my hair off,” Buard says. “I felt so beautiful (in her fur trimmed, hooded jacket). It did not end up well.” She has the photos to prove it.

They never dreamed that one of their challenges would be dog mushing across Alaska to pick up groceries.

The Beyoncé Bonus

One night after a long day filming, Buard received some of the best news of her career via a surprising email. She had been named recipient of one of Beyoncé’s $10,000 grants from the star’s BeyGOOD’s Black-Owned Small Business Impact Fund to assist in growing in growing Buard’s Brand Appetite.

The grant is part of BeyGOOD’s partnership with the NAACP designed to expand economic opportunity for businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Buard’s small firm coordinates food truck appearances for special events including weddings.

The Big Win

The Tasty Balls team landed close to the bottom many of the days and was not expected to survive even though their hand-made pastry balls filled with ingredients such as macaroni and cheese, pulled pork and seafood were a hit with some. “We were definitely the underdog story,” Buard says.

But those vegan crab balls, the churros with hot chocolate, the chicken pot pie balls and the deep-fried Oreos had a certain pull. The final competition was on Thanksgiving Day, though the episode did not reveal such. Most people had eaten dinner and were not hungry when the trucks hit the streets. Buard had the idea of parking outside of a cannabis shop. It’s widely known that cannabis use gives one the munchies.

Yet, she failed at every turn. People were even too full to try the free samples much less pay for more food on the biggest pig-out day of all.

Finally, Buard approached a car with a woman waiting for her boyfriend to return from the shop. Buard told the woman that she was in a competition and from Texas and needed help. The woman from Louisiana agreed to boost Tasty Balls’ bottom line and purchased two $5 hot chocolates.

Tasty Balls was the winner by a mere $5, the closest win in the show’s history. Previously, the closest win had been by a $20 margin.

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