Chef Mario Bevilacqua’s food-truck customers rave about his signature pulled-pork tacos.
So much so that he will get to prepare them on national television as he contends for a top prize of $20,000.
Bevilacqua, co-owner with girlfriend Katie Graziosi of the increasingly popular What the Fork food truck, is one of 10 food-truck chefs who are finalists in a nationwide contest sponsored by “LIVE with Kelly and Michael.”
Hosts of the ABC-TV morning show Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan announced the top 10 contenders on May 20 in “LIVE’s Truckin’ Amazing Cook-Off.” The food-truck chefs, from Schenectady, N.Y., to Austin, Texas, will compete for the $20,000 grand prize.
“We’ll be doing the segment on Thursday July 25,” Bevilacqua said. “We have 6 1/2 to 8 minutes to do our cooking demonstration. It will air Friday morning. We are the last truck out of the 10 weeks.”
For 48 hours after show airs, viewers can vote on the “LIVE” website for their favorite food-truck chef.
Kelly and Michael will announce the four with the highest ratings. After an audience vote, the top two chefs will compete on the show in front of the “LIVE” audience and a panel of judges for the grand prize. The runner-up gets $5,000, Bevilacqua said.
So how did this all start?
Bevilacqua, 25, of Dunmore, and Graziosi, 24, of Old Forge, along with James Bodnar, have run their mobile kitchen, which serves “Modern American” cuisine, “street food” and “bistro fare,” since July 2012, after Bevilacqua turned down an executive-chef job in Yardley.
He said he and Graziosi visited the area and thought it was nice, but the cost of living was higher, and a move didn’t make sense for them financially.
“At the time, The Great Food Truck Race was going on (on the Food Network),” said Bodnar, 23, of Scranton. “Katie said (to Mario) why not get a food truck instead of moving two hours away?”
When they first talked about the food-truck idea, Bevilacqua, a graduate of The Restaurant School of Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, said, they thought they couldn’t do it because of a lack of money and experience. The idea lay dormant for about seven months until Graziosi’s uncle brought it up again. Then with the help of family and friends, they created a brand and several recipes.
Food is in Bevilacqua’s blood. His late father opened Whistles, a popular eatery in Scranton, when Bevilacqua was 8 and planted the seed for an exciting career in food.
After he and his girlfriend settled on the food-truck idea, Bevilacqua also partnered with Bodnar, who had worked with him at The University of Scranton DeNaples Center kitchen for four years. Chelsea Alexander, a 25-year-old waitress from Old Forge, also joined the group.
The bright-green truck now offers what its operators call American fusion cuisine. There is no specific specialty, and the menu varies, but customers keep coming back, above all, for the pulled-pork taco.
Greg Roberts, 24, of Dunmore, is among the loyalists.
“I come here all the time,” Roberts said after picking up his order Thursday, when What the Fork was set up for business outside the Goodwill Donation Center in Dunmore. “Wherever they go, we go.”
Cassidy Mischello, 26, of Dunmore, and her sister Arianna, 24, of State College, also like the pulled-pork tacos as well as the beef sliders with bacon jam, which is a bacon and onion relish.
“We absolutely love them,” Arianna said.
She said she visits the truck whenever she is in town.
On Thursday, they were trying to sweet-potato chicken tenders for the first time.
The pulled-pork tacos also include Sriracha slaw and a candy sauce. The sliders are made of grain-fed beef, pepper jack cheese and the bacon jam.
Fran Garvey, 64, of Scranton, was at the truck for the first time Thursday. She wanted to try it because her children told her about it.
“My children live in Virginia and work in D.C.,” she said.
They frequent food trucks in the city, so when they come here, they patronize What the Fork. Garvey’s brother, John Reddington, works at Goodwill, so when the truck came here, she knew where to go.
Garvey planned to try the pork taco.
On this particular day, the menu also included crab-cake slider, grilled cheese, spring rolls, “queso stix,” “house fry,” made of a Russet Burbank potato with Himalayan salt and sweet-potato chicken tenders with candy sauce.
Making the rounds
Although the truck parks at various locations in Scranton, Dunmore and Dickson City, it has been traveling to Wilkes-Barre for special events, such as the recent May Day in Kirby Park and the employee appreciation day at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, for which the hospital hired the food truck, Bodnar said.
Bevilacqua said regulations vary among the various cities and boroughs where he does business.
“In Dunmore, we can only vend from private property,” he said. “In Scranton, we must be 100 feet from brick-and-mortar (restaurants.) There are definitely a lot of hoops with different boroughs.”
Some restaurants are resistant to the food truck, he said, but others welcome it.
In Wilkes-Barre, Bodnar said, they were simply told to be considerate of other businesses.
When Ripa and Strahan announced the contest early last month, viewers nominated their favorite mobile eatery.
“Our production team narrowed that down to 20; the viewers narrowed them down to 10,” said Lauren McTague, LIVE’s publicity coordinator.
Viewers were encouraged to go to the “LIVE” website, watch videos the chefs had submitted, and cast their votes for the top 10, McTague said.
She said the list of 10 is not in the order of votes received. She added the show won’t release vote totals or how many food truck chefs were nominated.
We won’t give away Mario Bevilacqua’s secrets, nor his full recipe for his famous pulled-pork tacos, but we will tell you how to make your own pulled pork, on the chance you’ve never. It actually couldn’t be easier, and you can tweak this basic recipe, repeated in many sources, in any number of ways. Substitute Dr. Pepper for root beer, for example. Or make your own barbecue sauce. Or add your choice of spices to taste.
1 2-pound pork tenderloin
1 12-oz. can of root beer
1 8 oz. bottle barbecue sauce
8 toasted hamburger buns, slider rolls or taco shells
1. Place the tenderloin in a slow cooker and cover with root beer. Cook on low for six or seven hours or until the pork shreds easily.
2. Drain well.
3. Stir in barbecue sauce.
4. Serve on bread or tacos of choice.