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L.A. Popcorn Adventure #161
February 15, 2011

Meals on Wheels

Iron Chef America + Food Truck Adventure

We remember how surprising it was, when we interviewed our kids’ classmates about their favorite TV show, to hear Iron Chef America turn up again and again. Somehow this competition based cooking show made cooking cool, even for boys. We got hooked and all of a sudden found ourselves besieged with requests to learn how to make chili or pumpkin milkshakes on rainy days. Iron Chef America, which is is its ninth season on the Food Network, is based on the Japanese TV game show Iron Chef -- and both have turned out to be huge hits with kids who love watching a contender challenge the current Iron Chef. Each chef has to cook a dish containing a “secret ingredient” which they learn about at the last second, and so the pace is frenetic. Secret ingredients can range from the ordinary (potatoes, salmon, bacon ) to the truly unusual (octopus, passion fruit, pheasant). The competition turns the kitchen into a battle field and inspired us to try our own, much tamer, home cooking competition. (We’re just waiting for the sequel: Iron Chef: Clean-Up!)

Exotic ingredients and unusual culinary combinations by local chefs have created an exciting food phenomenon: LA Food Trucks. Far from the “roach coach” reputation that old-time food trucks sometimes enjoyed, these trucks roam the city, setting up in a new neighborhood every few hours, where salivating patrons await their arrival, alerted by a tweet. Finding the food trucks is a little like a scavenger hunt, and when we set out to explore this trend, it was quickly clear that getting there was half the fun. Our kids have learned to work an iPhone maps app and shouted out directions as we headed out across the city for a meal. It turns out the trucks really do show up at their tweeted address and we were lucky to find a location with a convergence of many trucks. Our meal included everything from luscious fried chicken to imaginative versions of grilled cheese to exotic ice cream flavors. Because it was an adventure, the kids felt free to experiment with flavors and ethnic foods they might never try at home! Yes, we had to wait in some lines (a good lesson in patience, as well as in a real awareness of how long it takes to cook a meal!), but the food was great and certainly tasted extra sweet because of the adventure of hunting it down.

Film Title: Iron Chef America
Directed By: Food Network
2011, Rated U, 1 hour

Our buttery bits of wisdom about Iron Chef:
  • Why It's Worth It: Anything that makes cooking fun is fine with us. Inspiring kids to venture into the kitchen is great and we discovered that the learning is all about technique. As you watch Iron Chef, look for cooking techniques that you can point out to your kids: Boiling, sautéing, chopping, mixing. Sometimes, just watching how a chef cuts up a red pepper, or gauges when a pan is hot enough, is the best tip of all.
  • Secret Ingredients: Come up with your own family list of “secret ingredients” and find ways to incorporate them into meals. You might be surprised to see what your kids come up with. We were so startled to learn that our kids actually love cooked spinach (something the grown-ups in the house aren’t too crazy about), so we’ve found ways to sneak it into pastas and rice pilaf.
  • Start Cooking Early: Kids can start helping in the kitchen at a fairly early age. Even four- and five-year-olds can make toast. First and second graders can make simple sandwiches. As kids move up through elementary school, they can start to cook soup and pasta (with mom or dad draining the boiling water), as well as make simple breakfasts like scrambled eggs or pancakes. By the time they’re teenagers, most kids can handle anything in the kitchen, learning to bake and cook in earnest.
  • What are your family’s special dishes? Start your own family cookbook. We’ve got a whole list of recipes that the kids have marked off for “their” cookbooks when they’re grown-up. Not only will we indeed make them a cookbook, as they get old enough to be safe in the kitchen, each kid will learn to cook the recipes, and make dinner for the whole family (a night off for Mom!).
  • You can be Iron Chef! Have some friends over and stage your own Iron Chef contest, complete with a “secret ingredient” (don’t tell your kids what it is ahead of time!). This is easy to start at breakfast where the options are basic. Hint: Have an adult on each team!

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about Iron Chef:


Exploring LA's Food Trucks


Time Allotment: a few hours

Age Recommendation: Five and up

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about the Food Truck Adventure:

  • Stage a scavenger hunt: Turn your food truck adventure into a scavenger hunt. Maybe you want to find a specific truck, or a specific kind of food. Or maybe you want to find some trucks that are close to home. Have your kids check truck websites and plan the schedule!
  • Map Training: Once you’re ready for your food truck scavenger hunt, hand the kids a map -- either paper or electronic -- and have them help plot your route to find your dinner. Tell them about how people really managed to get where they were going before the invention of GPS and Google maps!
  • Finding the Trucks: You can find the food trucks’ schedules online at websites. Find LA Food Trucks ( provides the Twitter feeds for most of the major food trucks, as well as contact info for the trucks and popular locations where you can find them. Roaming Hunger ( shows you where trucks will be at lunch or dinner time. Many individual trucks also have their own websites, where you can check their schedules by the week. And if you’re on Twitter, you can sign up for your favorite trucks’ Twitter feeds so you always know where to find them.
  • The History of Food Trucks: Food trucks can probably trace their origin all the way back to 1866 and the first Western chuck wagon. Over the years, many big cities have gotten used to the sight of food trucks by construction sites, but most people have avoided them. Korean-American chef Roy Choi turned the whole idea on its head in 2009 with the Kogi Korean BBQ truck. At first, the truck had to give food away to get people to eat there, but now Kogi fans line up all the way down the block!
  • Getting an A: Public health inspectors have started examining the food trucks and giving them letter grades, just as they do with restaurants. Though they won’t get around to every food truck until early 2012, the inspections are already underway. Seeing that big blue letter A in the window will help reassure you that your yummy food is definitely not coming from a “roach coach”! (And yes, the Grilled Cheese Truck got an A!)

Our favorite food trucks? Glad you asked!

  • The Grilled Cheese Truck: ( Always a favorite, with kid-friendly food, ranging from grilled American cheese ($3) to Brie, pears, honey and smoked turkey on cranberry walnut bread ($7.75). Just a warning though: There’s always a line for this truck, and younger kids may not be patient enough to last it out. Try to get to their location the same time they do!
  • The Sweets Truck: ( To die for brownies, cupcakes and cookies. Our faves? The red velvet cupcake (and the red velvet “sandwich”), of course! And what’s not to love about a “Ding Dong” made with real cream and top-grade chocolate! Desserts range from about $2 to $5, and are worth every bite!
  • The Dante Fried Chicken Truck: ( The fried chicken may be a bit spicy for the younger set, but it’s incredibly moist and tasty, leaving just a zing on your tongue when you’re done. It comes with a coconut honey biscuit for only $5.
  • No Reservations: (no website, but follow them on Twitter at norescatering) This California French fusion truck makes wraps that combine exotic and delicious ingredients. Our personal fave: The Rosemary’s Baby, with chicken, pesto, pine nuts, smoked Gouda, sun-dried tomatoes and Israeli couscous. Yum!
  • Lake Street Creamery: ( Amazing ice cream in flavors you’ll never find in your grocer’s freezer. Donut ice cream, anyone? Or how about Pancake Breakfast ice cream (pancakes, maple syrup, bacon and coffee)? We couldn’t decide between the California Zephyr (vanilla, lemon and mint) and the Holiday Chocolate (chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger) -- so we had both! A single scoop in a waffle bowl is $4, a double scoop is $6.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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