Chef George Bieber, the owner-operator of The Sunflower Truck Stop: Mobile Café - a food truck which is a fixture at the Phoenixville Farmer’s Market - and the ‘brick and mortar’ Shorty’s Sunflower Café in Pottstown has enjoyed a bit of celebrity status as of late thanks to an ABC television contest.
Bieber is a current participant in LIVE with Kelly and Michael’s Truckin’ Amazing Cook-Off, a summer-long search for the nation’s best food truck with a $20,000 grand prize. LIVE is America’s top-ranked a morning talk show, and hosted by actress and television producer Kelly Ripa and retired New York Giants defensive end turned TV personality Michael Strahan.
Bieber said that he was nominated for the contest by a family friend, and did not give his entry much thought at first.
“When we had the conversation about getting on the show I said ‘great, sounds cool, go ahead and nominate me’, but then I got an email from the show asking me to email them a recipe and basic information on the truck.”
So it was that Bieber sent in one of the Sunflower Truck Stop’s most popular specialty dishes: Roast Sweet Potato Quesadilla with Quinoa.
“The recipe is a good dish. It is different enough (to stand out) and easy to make,” Bieber explained. “It is also a very flexible dish, if you use a corn tortilla it is gluten free, and you can easily add chicken or pork to it.”
Bieber confessed that the basics of the dish were his wife’s idea.
“She came up with the base recipe and I added the quinoa, pumpkin seed and queso to it,” he said.
Three days after he submitted the recipe he heard back from someone at ABC.
“They told me that I made it through the (first phase of the contest) and asked me to send in a 30 second commercial which would be voted on to get into the Top 10. I asked all of my friends to get online and ‘vote me up’.”
Then, after all of the contest votes were tallied, Bieber was contacted and informed that he had made the Top 10. That is when things became much more interesting.
At the end of May I took a trip up to New York City to be on a live segment that aired on the show (on June 7),” said Bieber. “I was the second of the ten finalists to go on air.”
His two-day trip, up on a Weds and filming on Thursday, gave him opportunities to do more than just be on TV, it gave him a chance to relax and enjoy New York City.
“They put me up in a really nice boutique hotel a block off of Times Square,” Bieber said. “I really had nothing to do on Wednesday so I went to MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art). I also wanted to check out a few Danny Meyer restaurants – I am a big fan of Danny Meyer – there was a restaurant at MoMA, and then I had dinner with my wife at (Meyer’s) first restaurant, the Union Square Cafe.”
On Thursday morning Bieber was taken by a limo to the ABC studio, where he was able to hang out a bit before the segment and talk with the food stylist and segment producer about how his short appearance would play out. He also was able to do a bit of stargazing as well.
“I saw Steven Tyler (of Aerosmith) get out of a limo… …and I also saw (actor) Jesse Eisenberng,” he said.
For the show segment, Bieber and his dish were judged for the recipe itself, the recipe’s appearance and Bieber’s personality. He did not do any of the food preparation, which was handled by the food stylist, but he said that he was able to ‘turn it out’ through the magic of TV.
“If it gets to a stage where flavor comes in I’ll definitely be preparing all of my own ingredients. I’ll do whatever, I am confident in the recipe,” he said.
Bieber’s on-air jitters were curbed because he had done some TV work in the past on the USA Network after winning an Evian Healthy Eating contest.
“I had done a segment on the show ‘Home Matters’, so I was not nervous at all. I felt that (experience) gave me confidence. When I heard that I would be going on the show I thought ‘thank goodness I had been through this before’.”
His confidence was further boosted after the segment by a very telling sign.
“Kelly and Mike were super friendly with me,” he said. “It felt really good when they kept eating the food once the camera was turned off!”
Now Bieber waits for the other competitors to have their segments, and then for the votes to get tallied up (the window on voting for Bieber’s recipe closed within 48 hours of his segment’s airing). Should he emerge as one of the two highest rated chefs, he will get to go head-to-head against the other finalist in a cook-off in front of the “LIVE” studio audience and judges’ panel. The cook-off will culminate in a taste test, and then the judges and the studio audience will evaluate the dishes and determine the winner.
Following the addition of the Sunflower Truck Stop and his appearance on “LIVE”, Bieber said that he has seen an increase in awareness of his business.
“My Facebook numbers have definitely grown a lot from the publicity. A lot of our customers had seen the segment. The quesadilla is normally a big seller, but after the show aired I was selling even more of them. Everyone loved that I mentioned Phoenixville, Boyertown (the home of another farmers market that the Sunflower Truck Stop frequents) and Pottstown.”
Beiber said that adding the truck to his business has worked really well since he rolled it out in December of 2012.
“It helps get the word out about our business and without it I never would have been able to get on the show. The prize money for winning the contest is $20,000 and I would use that money to pay off the truck. Phoenixville was the first spot I locked in on a regular basis. We get a lot of business because of the Phoenixville Farmer’s Market – it is our key spot. The people there have been awesome.”
Visit the Sunflower Truck Stop at the Phoenixville Farmers Market from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Find out more about the Sunflower Truck Stop and Shorty’s Sunflower Café at http://shortyssunflowercafe.com/