I’m a fan of chaos. If mayhem had a Facebook page, I’d click “like” without hesitation. Things that go according to plan bore me. Like a cupcake without sprinkles, or a BLT with only the L and T. It may explain my fascination with the food truck phenomenon and why I’m looking forward to what is being billed as The World’s Largest Food Truck Rally on Saturday at the Florida State Fairgrounds. At around 9 a.m. near Cass Street and Nebraska Avenue, Tampa’s first foodie mayor, Bob Buckhorn, will climb aboard the TropicCool, a converted British double-decker bus that now serves tropical sorbet. Hizzoner, who hosts his own monthly food truck fiesta, will give his official blessing to the event.
And from there, an estimated 100 trucks will drive east on Interstate 4 like a low-speed greasy parade to set up shop at the fairgrounds for nine hours of food, music and entertainment. If you can’t see the beauty and majesty of such a spectacle — and its potential for pandemonium — you aren’t looking closely enough. Organizer Jeremy Gomez, who will be selling Kangaroo On a Stick at his Not Your Ordinary Food Truck, is anticipating such a possibility. “Are you kidding me?” he said with a laugh. “It’s a food truck event. Nothing goes right.” That isn’t to say the event hasn’t been planned down to the smallest detail, including a playground area for kids, a tent where rallygoers can drink beer and watch college football, and the souvenir Pepto-Bismol for sale. The fairgrounds approached Gomez after the food trucks he organized for May’s Funshine Music Festival were well received. “The fairgrounds folks asked me how many food trucks I could pull together at once,” he said. “I stuck my foot in my mouth and said, ‘Probably 100. No problem.’ I didn’t think there was any chance they would say, ‘Go ahead and do it.’ ” To understand this kind of confidence, it helps to know that Gomez started his Generation Food Truck event planning business in 2012 as a mini-rebellion. Gomez bumped heads with Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally, which in September 2011 was the first group to hold rallies in the area. When Generation Food Truck got into the rally business, local food trucks were caught in a Gettysburg of grub. Feelings got hurt, and truck owners worried that picking one side would keep them from getting gigs from the other. When word got out about the rally, not everyone slinging rolling hash in Tampa jumped at the chance to help Gomez steal the world record of 62 trucks set in April in Miami. And when South Florida trucks were invited to join, they expressed hesitation about offending Miami food truck cartels by coming north to Tampa. Gomez admits he may have overblown the rivalry locally. “It’s been more mouthy on my part, but that’s just me,” Gomez says. Whatever anyone might think of Gomez’s occasionally polarizing personality — he has the mindset of a drummer in a 1970s rock band — his truck makes unique and delicious food truck fare. Not many would try to serve escargot with Madeira-poached garlic cloves on a skewer from a mobile kitchen. There’s something irresistible about someone bold enough to put antelope burgers and foie gras french fries on a food truck menu. Not that everyone agrees. Gomez said he was taken aback in July when St. Petersburg-based columnist Dan Ruth of the Tampa Bay Times slagged the world-record attempt, writing, “As major record-setting accomplishments go, this barely ranks right up there with the world’s largest hair ball, or the ability to consume 69 hot dogs in one sitting.” The rally, Ruth wrote, “holds the promise of being one of the least important events to occur in the Tampa Bay area.” He then wrote that he had not eaten from a food truck. Reading that, Gomez said, reality set in that not everyone was on board. “That’s when I was like, OK, it’s gonna be one of those kinds of deals,” he said. To me, criticizing the menu misses the point about food truck culture. Food is only a fraction of the story. This was a phenomenon born from the sinking fortunes of the Great Recession. Many of those who got into food trucks did so as an attempt to find the on-ramp to a better life. Starting a brick-and-mortar restaurant was out of the financial question. Putting one on wheels was a more accessible way to make a buck. When Tammy Young’s tortilla company in Tampa hit the rocks, she started the Rollin’ Zoinks truck. Hung Nguyen’s South Pacific Grill, from which he serves Hawaiian and Asian dishes, is the Vietnamese refugee’s attempt to reinvent himself the way his father did driving a food truck on the western shore of Oahu. The success of the Stinky Bunz truck operated by Xuan Pham “Sing” Hurt and her husband, Kevin, allowed them to open Anise Global Gastro Bar at SkyPoint in downtown Tampa. That promise of success is why Margaret Aiken Loflin of Maggie on the Move will make her Mediterranean food tonight at the Museum of Science & Industry’s Food Truck Madness from 6 to 10 in Tampa and then get up early Saturday morning to do it all again at the fairground. “I am so fired up about The Worlds Largest Food Truck Rally,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “This is what a food truck rally should be ... BIG and FULL OF EXCITEMENT.” And a little bit of chaos, please. Just to make it memorable. [email protected] (813) 259-7324