You may or may not have had the pleasure of viewing Food Network’s wildly popular competition series ‘The Great Food Truck Race,’ which is now in its 12th season. The competition is just as it sounds, throwing many culinary-clad pros into a series of challenges while traveling to different cities in the country—all entertaining, and of course delicious.
This season, Philly has an extra special reason to watch. Competing this season in ‘The Great Food Truck Race: Gold Coast’ are local, soulful style cooking whizzes Crystal and Steve Ashby from Crystal’s Comfort Food in Lansdowne. Joining the husband and wife team is their CCF partner Aleeyah West, and together the trio have brought plenty of Philly flavor to the intensely entertaining series.
Crystal and Steven sat down with Metro to discuss more about their experience on the show.
What motivated you to try out for ‘The Great Food Truck Race’?
C: Steve and I have actually been watching it since the first or second season. Every time we would watch it, we would say we can do this. Having a food truck was also something we have always wanted, even before the brick and mortar—we got that because financially, it was cheaper. As soon as we did get that, we decided to apply for the show.
Why was now a good time to do the show?
C: When we created the business was when I started pushing more for it, but [at first] I just never thought that we would get on—me being a mom and cooking at home. But when we got the business, that’s when I really started to apply.
S: We also knew we had worlds of creative ideas in our heads. We knew when we created our sauces that it would set us apart from a lot of different restaurants, even just with our sauces by themselves.
Once you did find out you were one the show, what did you do to prepare?
C: We started to think of more creative things to do so we could stand out. We were already working at the restaurant at that time, so we started playing around with new sauces and tweaking our menu a little.
What would you say were some of the most difficult aspects of the show?
S: I think the biggest challenge was being on another side of the country. That was a whole new avenue with just completely different people over there, different ways of eating and different lifestyles. For us it wasn’t a complete culture shock, but we did have to readjust for the situation.
C: I think for me more so, it was trying to pull in customers. I wasn’t used to having to pull in customers because I’m comfortable where I am. People know who we are and people know our food, so then you’re jumping to where nobody knows who you are and trying to explain to them who you are and what your food is was the hardest thing. You need to get people to like you first before they even try your food— that was definitely the hardest part for me.
What did you find were the most positive aspects of the experience as a whole?
S: The one big thing for me, we got to work with things that we never have before in our lives or at the restaurant. We tried things that we never have before and it pushed us way outside of our comfort zone. You go there, and think you know what you’re doing and then they throw on a bombshell on you and you have to think, ok how am I going to do this? At that point, you have to reach out of your comfort zone and just figure out a way. Because of that, it makes us follow our hearts even more. I’ve always wanted to be different from everybody and not always just in the restaurant, so being on the show made that happen.
What advice would you give to people who also are thinking of trying out for the show?
C: I would tell them, you really can’t prepare for it and to try not to go in with a set mind on what you want to do, be prepared for what you have to do. I think that would go for anybody in the competition—you go there and you have a set plan and trust me, it’s not going to work that way. You have to already be willing to put everything out there and just think differently before the show because that is going to be the best way to compete.
S: You have to push and don’t let anyone tell you no. We did that ourselves, we pushed it. It’s going to be hard, no matter how many seasons or episodes you’ve watched, nothing is going to prepare you to be there. Going from a brick and mortar to trying to sell yourself and your food and just getting people to know who you are—I have a lot of respect for the food truck industry now—a lot, that is a hard business.
What’s next for Crystal’s Comfort Food?
C: I would say right now we’re trying to expand because we do have a small store— that’s number one. We want to accommodate more people because we do offer more take-out. Also, we do have the store but we have a brand as well and we have a lot of product so I think we are really going to push to sell our product and continue to grow the business, especially with our sauces and our sauce line and eventually have Crystal’s Comfort Food on the shelves of every market.
S: Definitely [have our brand] in the frozen food section and everything, but start off with our sauce line first. We just want to build our brand. We first started just as a restaurant but now we’re much bigger than that.
‘The Great Food Truck Race’ premieres on Food Network March 19.