If you’re a fan of the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race,” you can tune in on Sunday to root for a hometown team.
On Sunday’s finale, airing at 8 p.m. on the Food Network, Khana, a Detroit pop-up led by head chef Maryam Khan and offering Pakistani street food, is up against the Easy Vegan food truck for the top prize of $50,000.
For season 16, taking place entirely in Los Angeles, the theme is David vs. Goliath, pitting food truck operators against up-and-coming rookies who have a concept — such as Khan’s Pakistani street food. Khan has been doing metro Detroit pop-ups since 2018 and doesn’t have her own food truck.
But getting to this point was no easy task for the Khana food truck team over the course of the eight-episode season 16 competition, which is hosted by celebrity chef Tyler Florence.
Spoiler alert ahead for those who haven’t watched any of the past episodes.
Tough race to the finale
Those who have followed the show know that the Khana food truck came up against several issues.
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Citing a lack of communication, Khan had to fire, on camera (a first for the show), original team member Jake Nielsen.
“There was a huge lack of communication and he refused to listen to me,” Khan said in a Friday interview. “It was a horrible reflection on our team. I am the team leader and it continued to be exhibited. It was a severe lack of respect for what we are doing.”
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With Nielsen gone, that left only Khan and Al Jane to cook and compete. But in another twist, team Khana was able to replace Nielsen. The replacement came with a member from an eliminated team. Khan said they chose to fly out Carl Harris from food truck The Block, which was eliminated in a previous episode. Flying Harris out to the competition did cost the team $219, forcing them to start episode three in a deficit.
And then, at the start of last Sunday’s episode when Florence introduced the two rookie teams left and the pro team, Harris was missing. The Khana team said Harris was under the weather and couldn’t be there. That left Khan and Jane on their own, again.
But Khana prevailed, including getting a winning nod on a taste test challenge from guest judge Daniel Shemtob, founder of the Lime Truck and past winner of the “The Great Food Truck Race.”
Shemtob chose Khana’s dish of Chicken Tikka Taquitos as the winning dish. Khan said she was geeked for multiple reasons.
“He’s the owner of the Lime truck and two-time winner (of ‘The Great Food Truck Race’),” she said. “He’s killed it twice on top of that he’s made an incredible brand.”
To make it in front of him and when I managed to impress him … we had a grip on what we were doing,” she said.
At the end of last Sunday’s episode, Khana was the overall first-place winner, putting it in the finals and, as Florence said, “putting them one step closer to the $50,000” prize.
“It felt like we won the competition, let’s wrap it up there’s nothing anyone else can do to beat this,” Khan said.
Food Network show goal
Khan said she’d never seen the Food Network show before competing and that the show reached out to her through Instagram.
“I did my background research, and gathered a team,” she said. “They loved our personality and were in.”
Being on the Food Network has always been a goal of Khan.
Khan has no formal culinary training. Rather, she worked the front of the house in restaurants for years, watched the Food Network growing up and had an aunt who was a professional pastry chef with a commercial kitchen in her basement.
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“I always had a sense of how the kitchen is structured,” she said. “My aunt told me not to become a chef. Don’t dedicate your life to this and I did the opposite. Always one to stick my hand in the fire and it paid off. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Khan’s pop-up started in 2018 and has grown, sans the lull of the pandemic, since then. She’s done pop-ups all over metro Detroit and has done a chef’s residency at Frame in Hazel Park.
“For a while, I thought Khana was dead and that the service industry wasn’t going to come back,” Khan said. “To come back full service wasn’t something that I expected. We ramped up at crazy speed.”
A menu highlight and No. 1 seller is Khan’s Butter Chicken Sandoori.
Getting to the final, Khan said she was grateful for the tough decisions made.
“If there is one thing, we did throughout the show it was take a risk,” Khan said. “It was always worth it in the end. There were quite a few dishes that we didn’t do before instead of just playing the hits.”
She also trusted her gut to make it complete her goal of not getting sent home first.
“To make it to the end of the goal of not getting sent home first and to trust my gut, take risks, make decisions.”
On Sunday, Khana will host a watch party at Kelly’s Bar in Hamtramck at 2403 Holbrook Ave.
You can catch the next Khana pop-ups at 6-11 p.m. Aug. 5 at Summertown Cafe in Corktown and 2-9 pm. Aug. 6. at the 3rd Hospitality Included Festival held at Chroma Detroit lot in the Milwaukee Junction neighborhood on East Grand Boulevard, with more than 30 fine dining, cocktail bars, food trucks, cafes and chef vendors.
Contact Detroit Free Press food and restaurant writer Susan Selasky and send food and restaurant news and tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @SusanMariecooks on Twitter. Subscribe to the Free Press.