In season 13 of The Food Network’s acclaimed mobile culinary competition “The Great Food Truck Race,” seven teams set up their moveable feasts in Alaska, where they take on various challenges in the face of diverse meteorological and logistical obstacles.
This year’s field of competitors included Houston-based team Misti Buard, Nadia Ahmed and D’Ambria Jacobs, whose food truck Tasty Balls churned out delectable sweet and savory spheres in flavors such as chicken pot pie, churro and crabless crab cake (vegan).
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They came in first, making them the first Black all-female team ever to win The Great Food Truck Race.
The women found each other through word of mouth. Buard, a public relations professional known on Instagram as The Food Truck Lady was first introduced to Jacobs. Immediately, Buard was bowled over by her tantalizing fare.
“It was phenomenal,” she gushes.
Jacobs then connected her to fellow chef and vegan food educator Ahmed, whose creative culinary chops immediately stole both of their hearts. After Buard secured a BeyGood small business grant, the three joined forces to enter the competition. Initially, the team was slated to film a winter challenge in March 2020 in Utah, but those plans (like virtually all of that year) were scrapped due to the pandemic. The network then informed the team they would be competing in Alaska instead, and so in late October 2020 the ladies were on their way to Anchorage with only seven days’ notice.
Contestants on the show are prepared to deal with budgetary constraints, supply stumbles and staffing issues, but the Alaskan environment presented its own unique complications.
“Our biggest challenge was definitely Mother Earth,” Buard says as Ahmed follows up laughing, “The weather was definitely not on our side.”
Buard recounts how “at one point Nadia’s fingers were so cold she couldn’t even hold the knife and I took off my gloves to warm up her hands. And I’m trying to take down orders and the iPad is frozen — literally.”
So, why balls when it comes to the food served on the truck?
“Chef Dee (Jones) thought we needed something that would grab consumers’ attention,” Ahmed explains. “The Network responded well to the batch of balls we sent and kept requesting more. Misti and I were against [naming the truck Tasty Balls] at first, but it worked!”
In addition to national fame and eternal bragging rights, the women also garnered a $50,000 jackpot. But the real prize, according to Buard, Ahmed and Jacobs, has been the opportunity to inspire others, especially culinarily inclined women of color.
“When we were filming in this small town Palmer, we met these young Black girls who waited in the cold just to meet us,” Buard recalls. “And in our hotel in Seward, our Black housekeeping attendant came to visit our truck to tell us we were an inspiration.”
Such encounters have made the already passionate threesome even more committed to serving as educators and advocates.
“Representation matters,” Ahmed says. “There is this stereotype when it comes to food that women are the cooks at home but men are the professionals. And in a field that is already super-dominated by white men, getting this far shows other women of color, ‘you can do this, too.’”
It should come as no surprise that these baller women have even bigger plans.
Buard recently signed on to host her own morning show, while Ahmed and Jacobs, in addition to continuing to run their own ventures, will join her in hosting pop-ups at local high schools. Such endeavors are all in service to the same goal: galvanizing other aspiring culinary professionals.
“We want people to dream out loud,” Buard says.