If you’ve been following Behind the Food Carts for very long, you know that street food, and the wonderful people that cook and serve it, is kind of our obsession. So you can imagine the decibel level of fangirl squealing when Eat St. approached us to interview their host James Cunningham to promote Season 5 of their show (starting Thursday, July 3rd). Phil squealed the loudest.
Photo courtesy of Eat St.
Below James talks about his experiences traveling the U.S. visiting some of the top food trucks in the nation:
We’re such huge fans of Eat St. We feel like you guys have always been way ahead of the curve.
You know what, the timing was so good. I remember when I first got the call three years ago about a show on food trucks. I was like, “You mean hamburger trucks and hot dogs?” And he said, “No, no, there’s this whole movement happening.” So I looked into it and thought it was just so cool.
It was such a strange concept three years ago, and now food trucks are everywhere. I think we’ve done about 98 episodes, so hundreds of trucks by now. We’ve been to Austin, Portland, Boston, New York, all the major metropolitan areas. In season five, we’re doing 104 trucks in 26 episodes, and we’re going to places like Columbus, Ohio; Lafayette, Louisiana; Nashville, and Portland, Maine. All these smaller areas where you wouldn’t think food trucks are, but there’s a booming food truck scene. It’s literally everywhere. We could have done 160 trucks, no problem. And these are standout trucks. They look great, they’ve got great owners, the food was amazing. I mean it just keeps going on and on and on. It’s not slowing down at all.
Jason King of Frencheeze in New Orleans, LA
What’s it like seeing all the different cities and different food truck scenes? Do you see any similarities or differences as you go city to city?
Every city seems to have its own food truck personality. You look at Austin, TX and all the food trucks are more or less stationary in pods. And then you go to Los Angeles where they have their routes and run around all day. And then up north in New York or even Denver, CO, it’s more seasonal. You’ve got food trucks open six months of the year.
Everywhere in the U.S. has a different kind of food truck, so you can’t measure them all with the same sort of ruler. But the one thing we look for, the one common denominator of all the trucks we have on our show, is the passion of the people that are doing what they’re doing. No food truck owner works less than 80 hours a week It’s their life. So at some point in the interview, we want to hear something along the lines of “We’re happy making other people happy with our food.” That’s the level of passion we look for.
Phil filming a Season 5 Eat. St segment on the Cosmic American Voodoo Van
Speaking of food and happiness, what did you grow up eating? What’s comfort food for you personally?
Good question! My last name’s Cunningham, but I come from an Italian and Polish background. So comfort food for me was my grandma’s pierogies, kielbasa, sauerkraut, that kind of thing. And then from my other grandma, my Nona, it was spaghetti and meatballs and butter tarts. Food for me was a passion, but I wouldn’t say that I was a foodie, not at the level I am now, in terms of exposure.
The food journey I’ve been on for the past four or five years has just been astronomical. That’s one of the things I love about food trucks; they allow you to try different things you would never normally try at an affordable price, like Indian American Comfort Food fusion. And the stuff you can get from the window of a food truck now is nothing like you could even imagine before. It has so completely changed.
Erin Lang of Garden Creamery in San Francisco, CA
What was some of the most memorable food you were introduced to?
I’ll give you two examples from season five alone. There’s a great truck in New York called the Taïm Mobile. It’s Israeli vegan food. It was amazing. I had this thing called the Green Falafel sandwich. That was unbelievable. And then there’s this truck in Orlando called the Swede Dish. They served up this thing called the Mashed Potato and Crab Salad Hot Dog. I mean, this is season five. I thought I’d had it all by now. No way. Not even close.
Benoit+Rachel of La Cocinita in New Orleans, LA
We love that you guys focus a lot on customers eating and reacting. It’s a really unique idea. Can you tell us more about that?
A lot of people love that part of the show, the fact that it’s actual people commenting on the actual food. We wanted it to be real. The only scripted part of the show is my part, because we wanted to let everything that happened on the show be organic. So we have a formula. We meet the truck owners and do a pre-interview, we show a prep phase, we show the location, then we show a lunch service. We try not to influence anyone. Generally all the reactions that you see are on the spot. It’s real truck owners, serving real food, doing their own thing their own way, and real patrons reacting in real time. I love that about our show. We’re able to bring a true look into what goes on in these trucks.
The food truck community is just a really beautiful place, a lot of great people doing great work and loving what they do. I’ve had a lot of fun in the past couple years, it’s the best job in the world. I get paid to fly around, eat awesome, and meet great people.
Eric Silverstein of The Peached Tortilla in Austin, TX
A huge thank you to James Cunningham for taking the time to chat with us! Watch the Season 5 U.S. premiere of Eat St. on the Cooking Channel this Thursday, July 3rd. We’re especially excited to see some folks we’ve featured on our blog: Adam’s Grub Truck, Old World Food Truck, and Kargi Gogo. Also keep an eye out for 4 trucks on this season of Eat St. that will be in our upcoming book. You’ll find recipes from Garden Creamery, La Cocinita, Peaced Tortilla, and Frencheeze in Food Truck Road Trip: A Cookbook out Nov. 4 this year!
Bonus: See Phil in this trailer for last season’s Eat St. visit to The Dump Truck in Portland, OR.