Editor’s Note: Reporter Carisa Cegavske participated as a judge in the preliminary round of The Great Umpqua Food Truck Competition, tasting food from about a third of the 33 trucks that competed Tuesday.
The Fuel Mobile Kitchen is a food truck with an unassuming name that doesn’t begin to convey the culinary delights within.
The duck empanadas with cherry mole sauce were good enough to be served in heaven, according to this reporter/food judge.
They joined ahi tuna tacos from the Wok Star and a plate of Vietnamese foods from Tam’s Place in winning their respective chefs top honors at the first annual Great Umpqua Food Truck Competition at the Douglas County Fairgrounds Tuesday.
Fairgrounds Director Harold Phillips estimated about 13,000 people poured into the fairgrounds Tuesday — about the same turnout as a typical Tuesday at the fair. Traffic was at times backed up as if it were fair week, and many of the trucks underestimated the demand and ran out of food by dinnertime. A few local trucks like Rolling Thunder BBQ and Kick Ass Vegan continued to serve food until dusk, with the vegan truck improvising dishes as ingredients ran out.
The food truck competition was followed up by Music on the Half Shell performances by Polyrhythnics and Booker T and the traditional fireworks show began on cue with red lighting up the sky in sync with the National Anthem’s “rockets’ red glare.” Both the concert and the fireworks were at the fairgrounds for the first time this year.
Thirty-three food trucks entered the competition. An initial round of judges, including this reporter, divvied up the trucks, sampling dishes ranging from iced coffee desserts to pulled pork to the aforementioned empanadas, which were a duck-filled pastry.
Each truck’s item was ranked on categories like taste, presentation, aroma, and how much it made you want to go back for more.
The six trucks scoring highest were named finalists and a separate group of judges tasted their dishes. In the end, there was a three-way tie for highest score.
Wok Star, Tam’s Place and Fuel Mobile Kitchen split the prize money three ways, each taking home $5,833. Rolling Thunder BBQ, the only Douglas County truck to make the finals, received a $1,000 check for best local truck.
The Dumpling Group from Eugene and Big Fat Wiener out of Portland were also among the finalists.
Roseburg City Councilor Tom Ryan helped judge the final round.
He said everything was delicious, but his favorite was the duck empanada.
“I liked it well enough that after I tasted it, I’m taking it home. I want the recipe,” he said.
Chef Brian Etienne of Dallas-based Fuel Mobile Kitchen said the event was an incredible experience.
He said he didn’t expect to win, and next year will be even better. Russell Evans of Wok Star, which is from Medford, said he was “totally ecstatic” to tie for first. He said he thought about doing something unusual, but they won with tuna tacos right off of their menu. Tam’s Place is out of Eugene. It’s owned by Heath and Tam Howitt.
Some of the judges were chefs as well. Derrick Bucey, who describes himself as a “humble cook” from Brix in Roseburg, favored the ahi tuna tacos. The sauce, he said, was perfect. He was also happy about the event, which he said was great for the community.
“I’m excited to see the variety they have here,” he said.
Sam Gross, owner of Logger’s Pizza, also judged the preliminary round. His favorite was the duck, but he also just loved the whole event.
“I think this is the most exciting thing that’s happened in Roseburg in a long time,” he said.
It was tough to judge the entries, he said.
“All the food was amazing. The caliber of food coming out of these little food trucks is outstanding,” he said.
Debbie Sabala of Roseburg wasn’t there to be a judge, but she was having a good time, and loved having the whole Fourth of July celebration at the fairgrounds.
“I think it’s great having all the activities in one place,” she said.
Kerri Stookey of Tenmile said the atmosphere was amazing, and she hopes they do the same thing again next year. Her grandson Colby O’Toole liked it, to.
“Everybody around is just chillin’,” he said.
The high turnout led to long waits for drivers waiting to exit the parking lots and head home. Overall, though the event was pronounced a success, and The Partnership for Economic Development Director Wayne Patterson said he expects the event will return to the fairgrounds again next year.