Chef and Detroiter Maryam Khan and her team at Khana Pakistani food are going to be featured on the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” new season, which premieres Sunday.
There’s one major thing she wants her Detroit customers to know, however. Khana is not a food truck.
“I don’t have a food truck, and that is a common misconception,” said Khan.
She’s a nomadic pop-up chef that has done one-off events and residencies all over Metro Detroit since 2018. Her Pakistani-influenced street food has drawn crowds at bars and other spaces, including a monthlong residency at FrameBar in winter 2022. Khan, 30, said she learned to cook Pakistani food from her immigrant parents, but she also blends in some American influences, like nachos and grilled cheese.
The theme of the new season of “The Great Food Truck Race” is David vs. Goliath, and producers pitted seasoned food truck operators with chefs who have a concept of some sort, but no truck of their own. The show surprised Khan and her team — Al Jane and Jake Nielsen — with a truck when they got to Los Angeles to film the show.
The Khana chefs had to not only navigate serving their cuisine from a truck rather than a traditional restaurant kitchen, but also compete on a high culinary level and navigate a food truck through the streets of L.A. One team is eliminated each week based on sales until two remain on July 30 for the final episode. The winning concept gets $50,000.
Khan said that while one of the big challenges was that she had never worked on a food truck, it was comforting to know that half of the contestants were in the same boat as she and her teammates.
“There was a lot that went into learning how to get it fired up, it’s not like walking into a kitchen and you flicking the lights on and you’re good to go,” she said. “You have to get propane, you have to make sure all the gas is lit, every single stove is on. If something’s not working, the time has already started for you start competing … you’re actively losing time while another team might be starting service and that is working against you because the entire premise of the show is to sell as much as you can within the allotted time.”
On top of traversing a city they aren’t familiar and competing for culinary excellence, there’s also the stress of not looking like a dingbat on television. Reality shows like these seem to cast one or two contestants who are a bit of a fish out of water to create drama within the competition. Khan, who has been doing Khana for nearly five years, said that wasn’t the case.
“Every single person brought their A-game, and from the jump we were all like, ‘We’re in a room full of winners,’ and it’s going to be insane to see who actually comes out on top of all of this,” she said. “I thought I was going to come into this with imposter syndrome … someone with no guns … and once I got there and took it all in I realized I’m actually really confident in myself and I’ve done so much work to get here, and I hadn’t reflected on any of it until that moment when I was surrounded by people who I viewed as professionals.”
Of course, Khan couldn’t give us any clues as to how far Khana gets on the show, which pits them against eight other teams, including seasoned pros like Lisa’s Creperie, a cafe and food truck from Atlanta, Georgia, and 4 Hens Creole Kitchen, a fellow “food truck newbie” from St. Louis, Missouri.
Before the eight-episode season kicks off Sunday, Khana will pop-up for service 2-6 p.m. at Talking Dolls Studio, an art studio at 7145 E. Davison in Detroit. Plans are in the works for more pop-ups this summer in Corktown at Folk Detroit and Summertown Fresh Bar. Follow Khana on Instagram at @khanadetroit for future events.
“The Great Food Truck Race: David vs. Goliath”
Season premiere 8 p.m. Sunday