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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Taco Truck Confidential: My Moment with Tony

Posted By on Tue, Jul 28, 2009 at 3:40 PM

click to enlarge Don't ask -- we won't tell. - MANGOANDTABASCO/FLICKR
  • mangoandtabasco/Flickr
  • Don't ask -- we won't tell.
We're counting down to the August 10 broadcast of the San Francisco/Oakland episode of No Reservations, the Anthony Bourdain food-and-travel show with an avidly sweaty following. Tomorrow we'll launch details of a contest that will yield five committed readers access to a private viewing party with eats and a stellar guest list. In the meantime, we're spilling selective details about our taping with Tony.

When Bourdain and his production crew rolled into the bay last spring, they unleashed a frenzy of speculation in blog world: where was Tony likely to show up, what would he be eating, what color sweater would he be wearing? (Made that last one up -- of course it was gray.) Turns out SFoodie has been sitting on the real story all along. Both I and SFoodie blogger Mary Ladd were on hand for Tony's local taping: Mary in San Francisco, and I in Oakland. Today I'll tell what I can about Bourdain's East Bay appearance (Mary will drop select details about S.F. in a future post). I say what we can, since we feel bound not to spill details that'd spoil the broadcast. So here goes.

Before I became SFoodie editor in May, I was a freelance food writer. In February, the East Bay Express published my cover feature La Vida Taco, a month-long crawl around the taco trucks of Fruitvale. Then, in March, I got a sort of mysterious email from a guy in New York. I called him, and he dropped a pant-load of questions regarding my epic crawl: why I did it, why taco culture seemed to flourish in Oakland, and if I could hook him up with a local vendor organizer I mentioned in my piece.

Big surprise -- he was the producer of No Reservations. Tony was coming to tape a show, and wanted to visit Fruitvale. Would I be willing to help out with scouting locations? Hell yes, I said (I may have used words with less swagger). A few Saturdays later, I spent a few hours guiding the show's advance scout on a tour of the three or four trucks I deemed most Tony-worthy. We scarfed menudo, tongue tacos, and snarly ground-chile salsa at a truck run by a Michoacano I like (sorry -- being cagey about details, remember?), sipped barbacoa broth and chomped on carnitas tortas at another. Finally, I led the scout to a Salvadoran tamale and pupusa truck on Foothill.

Turned out to be the money truck, thanks in part to its setting near an outdoor produce market. The scout told me I was welcome to show up the following Saturday when Tony'd be there, but please, pleeease keep it a secret. Which I did.

The taping was remarkably mellow: Tony, two camera guys, the director and producer, and the scout manning the vehicles a block away. One breathless girl did run up to Tony -- a Web site speculated he'd be at another truck blocks away, but she'd spotted his two-car entourage en route here. She kind of flapped around, groupie style, then ran off again. Tony asked me what he should order (86ing my suggestion of tamales, since he'd just eaten those at the S.F. taping that morning), then settled down on the curb for the cameras with a plate of pupusas and the community organizer I'd written about.

In the end, Tony was charming -- made small talk with me about the places he was checking out in the city, mentioned just how much Alice Waters bugged him, graciously posed for an awkward fan shot with me, and told me he liked my taco crawl piece. "Keep it up," he said. Me? I was starstruck, later wished I could have led him on the multitruck tour I'd taken his scout on.

But that, I now know, would have been plain greedy. Even as I started to have doubts about the pupusa truck I'd led his production staff to, I realized that even a small slice of Tony is totally delicious.

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