Aside from his weekly fresh seafood creations, Slapfish Chef Andrew Gruel has been cooking up another tasty project: He's landed himself a spot on the judges panel for the Cooking Channel's new food truck competition show. The pilot airs this Sunday, September 29, and we recently chatted with the New Jersey native about what viewers can expect, his past adventures in food trucks as well as Slapfish's plan to help seafood lovers all over the globe eat with awareness.
As self-described "ocean-a-holics," Gruel and business partner/international seafood expert Jethro Naude introduced their simple, sustainable seafood to Southern California in 2010 by ways of the familiar food truck. The first roving Slapfish eatery served Orange County, and a couple more began slinging the eco-friendly eats to Los Angeles. Flash-forward to April 2012, and the first Slapfish brick and mortar opens its doors in Huntington Beach's Newland Center. Gruel's culinary background and the surfing-fishing duo's desire to further promote ocean conservation awareness via "boat-to-plate" cuisine in a casual setting made Slapfish the delicious success it is today, offering affordable modern comfort eats like the new Lobster Grilled Cheese special and mainstays like the Fish n Chips and Lobster Shrimp Grinder. Don't forget to try the housemade Fried Slapfish Pickles and various sauce options.
"The menu's always going to change because of the fact that our seafood selections change," says Gruel. Some of the new weekly specials will graduate to menu items, but that all depends on diners' responses. Gruel and Naude source directly from fisherman all over the world to bring HB the freshest, most sustainable ocean eats at low prices. They effectively carve out the middleman, creating more intimate, responsible relationships with the ocean, its inhabitants and those who live off the sea.
Originally only slated to call California home for three years while running a sustainable seafood and ocean conservation program with Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific, Gruel found himself drawn to HB. "As I was really getting stitched into the seafood community and sustainable seafood, I realized that there was a niche in the market for healthy, affordable, responsibly-caught seafood," says Gruel. While building Slapfish's business plan, the two "thought what a better place to do it than Surf City." We concur.
Come Sunday, Slapfish fans can watch Gruel in action as he joins two other well-known judges and a very recognizable host in Food Truck Face Off. Though Gruel remains tight-lipped about the project, he explains that the show invites teams with unique culinary concepts to present their ideas to the judges, who then select two teams to hop behind the wheel and vie for the grand prize. The winner scores a customized food truck for one year.
"Anything can happen," Gruel says of the show, also touching on the beauty of giving people with great food ideas the chance to showcase their dreams on a shoestring budget. "I think the show captures that anybody with a good food recipe, a good food idea or a food theme can setup up and run it as a food truck… Or at least try," he says.
A food show following Slapfish's international expansion should join the pitching queue if it hasn't already, given that Gruel and Naude are currently franchising the "modern seafood shack" across the U.S. The pair are also casting their line into international territory and have 75 Middle East locations in the works. SoCal should expect to see a second Slapfish pop up in early 2014, too.
Tune in to the Cooking Channel this Sunday at 5 p.m. PT (8 p.m. ET) to meet Gruel and witness the power of food, invention and competition.
Slapfish is located at 19696 Beach Boulevard in Huntington Beach, 714-963-3900. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m to 9 p.m., and Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.