UPDATE (Jan. 15, 2012): The Chirba Chirba Dumpling episode of My Family Recipe Rocks premiered yesterday, Jan. 14, on the Live Well Network. Catch it in full here and embedded below.
ORIGINAL POST FOLLOWS
Last Wednesday, the Chirba Chirba Dumpling truck doled out paper trays of porkedame and juicy buns as part of a routine lunch stop in Morrisville. Employees at ChannelAdvisor, an international e-commerce software company, lined up as as usual, though most of the women in line, and a couple of guys, squirmed, eagerly giddy.
As co-owner Chela Tu helped customers, a new employee nudged into the tiny window space and bellowed orders out in a jovially obnoxious inflection fit for entertainment television. Out peeks the man behind the voice: Joey Fatone, former *NSYNC boy-bander and host of a new food reality television show, wearing a signature yellow Chirba Chirba bandana. And the camera phones started clicking.
Durham food trucks have reached teenybopper levels of stardom. My Family Recipe Rocks launches Jan. 14 on the Live Well cable television network, part of ABC Family and Disney. In the reality-style show, host Fatone and a small crew tour the country looking for authentic family recipes. In each half-hour episode—about six have been filmed—home cooks will create meals unique to their families.
While on set in Raleigh working on a show about a secret collards recipe (look for that in the first few weeks of airtime), a producer dug more deeply into the Triangle's food scene and discovered the truck, the owners’ ties to Chinese culture and the authenticity attached to the menu. Tu received an email, and the crew set out for two days of shooting—one at the Cookery during dumpling prep and one with Fatone working the truck. Producers say the episode should air after the first three or four shows.
According to ChannelAdvisor support analyst Luci Thralls, Fatone was the “funny one” in the boy band. The 28-year-old Thralls says she saw *NYSYNC four times in concert at the height of their popularity. She says she always grabs dumplings for lunch when the truck makes its stop at her workplace, but learned about Fatone’s appearance through a mass email sent by a colleague days earlier. “It was pandemonium from then on,” she says after waiting to get a photo with one of her favorite teenage stars. “I kind of lost my mind and got excited and told everyone I knew.”
An hour before the truck began serving, Fatone upped the humor off-camera, repeating jangly “t” and “z” sounds as per Tu’s impromptu Chinese lesson.
“What am I saying?” he asked. “I like juicy buns?”
Tu smirked, rolled her eyes and got back to work. The entire Chirba Chirba crew, including Tu and another co-owner, Nate Adams, seemed unfazed by the celebrity, poking fun at one other while maintaining order on the cart. The instant rapport made for off-the-cuff moments perfect for when the camera was rolling.
An Italian-American Brooklynite, Fatone says he grew up eating fresh foods and learning to cook from his dad. Now a husband and father of two, he makes hand-made pasta for Christmas. He says his goal for the show is to help families create healthy meals and experiment with simple, new ingredients.
What does he think about dumplings?
“I love pot stickers in general. I’m definitely a dumpling kind of guy. But I never knew about the process. I think it’s a great idea to have a dumpling cart, because it’s easy, quick and on the go.”
He recently cooked on a truck as part of a celebrity challenge for the Food Network’s Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cookoff featuring Guy Fieri and Rachael Ray, to also air in January.
“It was not easy,” he remembers, commenting on the Chirba Chirba owners' dedication. “It takes a lot of guts to figure out how to do this and make a living for themselves.”
“I’m excited that Joey and the whole TV show are here because it’s our local movement that we’re proud of and enthusiastic about that’s getting noticed,” Tu says. “It’s a privilege. It’d be great if more viewers around the country paid attention to awesome places like Durham where local businesses are the star all the time and they really make the local economy tasty, colorful and full of unique things like dumplings. Maybe we’ll put Durham on the map? Durham food trucks as a destination? That would be hot.”
As Fatone taste-tested the dumplings, tray upon tray, he stopped to make his critique.
“If I had a life or death situation it’d be the juicy buns. They’re just really good. It complements the spicy … what is the sauce?”
“Chirba spicy!” screamed Tu.
“I don’t know what that is, but it’s really good.”