Butler County residents vie for $50K in Food Network food truck contest

Three Butler County residents are competing on the premiere of The Great Food Truck Race: Holiday Hustle, which begins at 10 p.m. today on Food Network.

Vying for their chance to win a $50,000 grand prize are Fairfield High School graduates Matt Williams, of Monroe, and Chris Schulz and Hannah Schulz, of Fairfield, all of whom work at Swine City Brewing Co. in Fairfield.

The four-episode season features five aspiring food truck teams hitting wintry New England locations in New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island for high-stakes food challenges that test their cooking chops, business skills and selling strategies.

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Williams, who also works at 17 West Steakhouse in New Bremen, is a self-described “eclectic” chef who said he cooked up the team’s Beatles-eque “Magical Mystery Heroes” moniker as “a quirky little thing” for the show.

“We had fun with it,” he said. “We didn’t specifically set one style cuisine for our truck. We were more open to do different type of things.”

That, he said, could mean switching from sandwiches one day to tacos the next.

Tonight’s first episode, “Blizzard Brawl,” takes place in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, with host Tyler Florence challenging contestants with “naughty and nice” holiday ingredients, as they compete for sales while battling the elements, according to Food Network.

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Williams, a 2002 Fairfield graduate, said he has been cooking in professional kitchens since he was 18 years old.

“When I was 17, I had testicular cancer, so I couldn’t go to school, so I watched Food Network 24/7 and that got my hooked into it,” he said. “It just kept pushing and working at it.”

Last August, his sister suggested that he apply for the show. His email to the casting company, which provided his back story and concept for a food truck, was followed by a call to join the show.

“It was cool,” he said. “I never thought in my life I’d be able to go on a cooking show.”

The dream-come-true opportunity almost didn’t materialize. When a previous teammate backed out, Williams turned to cousin Chris Schulz, whose wife Hannah, “dropped everything” to fill in.

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“We had to go through the casting process again and luckily, they liked us,” Williams said. “It wasn’t too hard to sell them on another person who could be just as quirky as us and have fun with it.”

To prep for the Great Food Truck Race, Williams held a test cook day at his house to prepare various items they might be asked to serve from the truck. During the show, he handles the behind-the-scenes culinary creativity, Hannah Schulz serves as sous chef and Chris Schulz acts as "hype man," braving the wintry weather to greet customers.

“He was the one screaming, running up and down the streets for us,” Williams said. “He was the one drawing ‘em in.”

Viewers may tell the Food Network via social media who they believe should take home the grand prize by using the hashtag #GreatFoodTruckRace.

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