Photo courtesy of the Food Network
By KELLI SHIROMA
Traveling across the U.S. always sounded like a fun idea to Shawn Felipe, but he never imagined doing so in a food truck.
However, when the opportunity came to participate in the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race,” which airs on Sundays at 9 pm/8 c, Felipe and his friends-turned-teammates — brothers Adam and Lanai Tabura — decided to roll with it. Literally.
“I don’t know if I ever thought a food truck would lead us to what we wanted to do,” Felipe said, laughing. “But that’s what I like about my teammates. They were able to work with what was going on, and I think that’s why we were such a good team.”
Felipe and the Taburas are currently on season four of “The Great Food Truck Race” with their truck, the Aloha Plate. Each week, teams travel to different cities and are presented with unique challenges, as they compete against one another to win the championship title.
When he had the opportunity to get involved in the current season of “The Great Food Truck Race,” Felipe — a stand-up comedian by profession — immediately contacted Lanai, his longtime friend and a fellow comedian. Adam, a former executive chef and current owner of The Spice Rack company, which sells high-end spices to restaurants and resorts, joined the team after Lanai told him about the venture. The three friends then spent two months traveling across the nation, cooking and serving Hawaii-inspired dishes in various towns, including Washington, D.C., Beverly Hills, Calif. and Portland, Ore.
When it came to choosing a name for their truck, from the beginning, Adam had a concept in mind.
“Hawaii is known for the plantation days with workers coming from the Philippines, China, Japan and Korea,” he said. “There was no better one [name] than Aloha Plate, because that has both meaning and spirit. Aloha means a bunch of words — goodbye, hello, love — and in Hawaii, everything goes on a plate, like plate lunch.”
The Aloha Plate’s menu includes dishes that features flavors and ingredients that can be found in Hawaii. Adam — who used to work as the executive chef at renowned restaurants and resorts including Ruth’s Chris Steak House and the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas on Maui — is the main chef and works in the truck. Lanai is the group’s general manager, taking charge of sales and marketing for the truck, while Felipe serves as the truck driver and sous chef.
As “The Great Food Truck Race” progressed, the Aloha Plate team realized that the competition involved many challenges and necessary adjustments.
“The competitions change by the week, by the hour and by the day,” Adam said. “We were the only ones [among our competitors] that didn’t stick to our menu. We went based off what the challenge at hand was.”
“You really had to be able to improvise,” Lanai said. “Improvising and thinking on your feet were two things that were needed in this race.”
While their menu items changed depending on the city and the nature of the competition, the truck’s original concept remained the same.
“Our strategy was not to narrow ourselves to one item, like hot dogs, burgers or bowls,” Adam said. “The three of us being born and raised here in Hawaii … we wanted to share the flavors of Hawaii and keep the presentation as real as possible.”
With that in mind, the team came up with unique dishes for each city that had local flair. For example, for their first challenge in Beverly Hills, the Aloha Plate featured a marinated steak and garlic shrimp atop an orzo pasta. In San Francisco, the group cooked up a savory teri burger served with fresh pineapple and volcanic mayo.
“We’re from Hawaii — a melting pot where all kinds of ethnicities come together,” Adam said. “I used all the flavors and ingredients we use back at home and put that on our food truck.”
Reflecting on their experience on this season of “The Great Food Truck Race” — which concludes with the finale on Sept. 29 — the Taburas and Felipe acknowledge there were many highlights, one of which was seeing the tremendous support from Hawaiians all over the mainland.
“That was the most exciting thing for me — to see the kind of support that Hawaii people have for each other,” Lanai said. “It was the kind of thing where you tell one Hawaiian where you’re going to be, and they’ll tell the rest of the Hawaiians for you. The Hawaiians, the Polynesians, they all really supported our team.”
Another highlight from the competition was the strengthened friendships among the teammates.
“I grew closer to my brother Lanai and I made great friends with Shawn,” Adam said. “That’s the best thing that happened because of the show.”
Kelli Shiroma is a second-year graduate student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She is currently working toward her master’s degree in journalism.