Morristown’s ESO Artisanal Pasta is competing on the small screen.
AJ Sankofa and his fiancé, Kristina Gambarian, have been running the homemade pasta business since 2020. Sankofa’s childhood friend, Matt McFadden, joined the ESO team earlier this year. Now ESO is on the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, which premiered June 5.
In the series, ESO battles eight other food trucks from across the country for a grand prize of $50,000. A restaurant on wheels is new territory for the ESO team, but that didn’t stop Sankofa from participating.
“When opportunities come up, we make sure to take advantage of them no matter what,” he tells New Jersey Monthly.
In the season premiere, Sankofa, Gambarian and McFadden crafted their fresh pasta in the truck and delighted patrons. ESO moved on to the next round.
“I’m 100 percent Italian. I know pasta, and this stuff is amazing,” said one of ESO’s customers on the show.
In correlation with the show, ESO is preparing to launch a nationwide online ordering service this month. Fans will be able to order ESO’s pastas, sauces and desserts from anywhere in the country.
With the online ordering service on the way, the Food Network has already raised ESO’s profile. Now Sankofa is dreaming of the grand prize.
“Winning The Great Food Truck Race would be life-changing,” he said in the show’s premiere. “It’s how we can turn our business to the max.”
Viewers can watch the ESO team on The Great Food Truck Race on the Food Network on Sundays at 9 pm ET. The finale is set for July 24.
Matt, what was it like joining the ESO team this year?
Matt McFadden: I got into the culinary scene in late 2019. Late last year, AJ asked me to get on board with ESO. I’m definitely settled in and comfortable! We’re all family here. It was an awesome experience being able to tag along and do The Great Food Truck Race.
Did you have the idea for an ESO Food Truck before the show came around?
AJ Sankofa: The funny thing is Kristina brought up the idea for a food truck one day and we went back and forth weighing the pros and cons. I kid you not, when we were done with the conversation, I got an email from the Food Network. It was nuts.
Kristina Gambarian: I always thought it would be so cool to have a food truck because you never see a pasta food truck. You can make fresh pasta and show people that some really good quality food can come from a food truck, not just a restaurant.
What was your biggest challenge?
AJS: I would say the biggest challenge was realizing that making fresh pasta was going to be very difficult to execute day after day. Especially in the short time periods we had to prepare and start selling. We did a lot of adjusting as the season went on.
KG: The marketing was a little hard because we didn’t know where we were going to go next. We had to meet a lot of people and tell them who we are, what we do, and gain a whole social media following. I think we ended up doing pretty good!
What were your biggest takeaways?
AJS: Personally, I learned that you have to bring more to the table than being a great chef. For the Food Network, it’s definitely important to bring out the personality behind the food.
KG: My favorite moment was probably meeting people and seeing their reactions when they eat our pasta. There was a lady who bought a bowl of pasta from us and came back later with all of her friends.
MM: What I learned is that it’s not only important to be good at what you do, it’s important that you’re able to market that. Being out in California, and seeing things on the TV side, like production and all that, was a really unique experience.
Is an ESO food truck in New Jersey’s future?
KG: Our idea would be to open a restaurant first and then have a food truck, because we think that’s the smartest way to do it. It’s hard to make fresh pasta on the food truck, so we would need a place to make the pasta, then bring it on the truck. It’s definitely our goal. In the future, I really hope we will be known all over New Jersey as one of the first pasta food trucks!