NEW YORK, NY – It’s that time of year again! The 12th Annual Vendy Awards, New York City’s leading street food competition, has chosen the four finalists who will duke it out for the coveted top prizes – the Vendy Cup and the People’s Choice Award. The finalists were selected from nominations submitted by everyday street food lovers from around the city, and they will meet for a head-to-head competition on September 17th at Governor’s Island.
The four Vendy Cup finalists are: Cachapas on Wheels, Tacos el Rancho, Traditional Chinese Cuisine and Gladis’ Empanadas. Of these four, just one can win the title of the city’s best food vendor and walk away with the coveted Vendy Cup. The People’s Choice Award, the other big honor up for grabs, will be decided via scorecards by the crowd.
- Cachapas on Wheels: When Ivette and Jesus Villalobos’ dad quit his job as a taxi driver to buy a food truck, they were there to help out with the family business. Since graduating from college, they have taken over the truck while their dad runs a restaurant in Inwood. Having spent part of their childhood in Venezuela, Ivette and Jesus are excited to share the street food they grew up eating. One of their most popular menu items is the yoyo, a sandwich using sweet plantains as the bun, which is a specialty of their hometown of Maracaibo. The Villalobos family is from Maspeth, Queens but you can find their truck at Hanover Square and Varick and Houston Street in Manhattan.
- Tacos el Rancho: As a teenager, Felix Soriano worked as a dishwasher, where he was mentored by a chef in Chelsea who taught him how to prepare Italian and French cuisine. When Felix decided to branch out on his own, he wanted to serve the food he grew up with in Oaxaca, Mexico and decided to launch in Sunset Park, where he has lived for 22 years. Tacos el Rancho makes home-style Oaxacan food with fresh produce, homemade salsa and handmade tortillas. Since finishing school, Felix’s two sons, Dennis and Nelson, have become partners in the business. The Soriano family is passionate about food and loves spending time together – you can taste the love in their tacos!
- Traditional Chinese Cuisine: Yuanzhen Wang lives in Flushing, Queens with his wife and three daughters. He’s been running his food truck for four years with his daughters working alongside him. Before moving to the U.S., Yuanzhen was a chef in China and wanted to share the specialties of Henan, the central Chinese region where he’s from. Every day next to Washington Square Park, you can find his truck serving his signature spicy lamb burgers and fresh hand-pulled noodles to hungry NYU students.
- Gladis’ Empanadas: Gladis Cocha lives and vends in East Williamsburg. She moved to Brooklyn from Quito, Ecuador 12 years ago and has been a street vendor for nine years. Before launching her own business, Gladis sold fruit on the streets of Brooklyn. You can now find her every day selling her chicken, cheese and beef empanadas (also referred to as “pastelitos”) at the corner of Debevoise Street and Grand Avenue in East Williamsburg. Gladis is known throughout the neighborhood for her big smile and fresh “secret recipe” salsa.
More information on the 2016 Vendy Cup contenders can be found here. The Vendy Awards will also be premiering a series of videos featuring each of the Vendy Cup finalists; the videos will launch September 1st and will be available at https://www.vendyawards.streetvendor.org/newyorkcity/
Another honor given out at this year’s event will be the “Hero Award,” which will be given to The Halal Guys, a former Vendy Awards finalist in 2005. Since then, the halal gyro food cart has grown into a global phenomenon and has opened restaurants across New York City. Earlier this year, the owners gave a $30,000 donation to LaGuardia Community College in Queens to provide scholarships to students. President and co-founder of The Halal Guys, Mohamed Abouelenein’s own three children studied at LaGuardia Community College and The Halal Guys continue to operate a cart outside the college.
A panel of seven esteemed culinary experts will judge the competition and declare the winner of the Vendy Cup. They are:
- Chef Chloe Coscarell, special guest judge for Vegan Category: Chloe first earned national attention after winning the Food Network’s reality-competition series “Cupcake Wars” as the first vegan chef to win a culinary competition on national television. Following her television debut, Chloe published three cookbooks: Chloe’s Kitchen (2012); Chloe’s Vegan Desserts (2013) and Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen (2014) with Simon and Schuster; all currently featured on Amazon’s list of “100 Best-Selling” cookbooks. In 2014, Chloe partnered with ESquared Hospitality to bring healthy, delicious and satisfying vegan and plant-based dishes to the masses with the launch of fast casual restaurant concept, by CHLOE. She has also opened restaurants in New York and Los Angeles, with storefronts in Boston coming soon.
- Julia Moskin: a lifelong New Yorker, Julia has been a New York Times Food staff reporter since 2004. She writes news articles (including the first reporting on Korean fried chicken in the U.S.), profiles (of everyone from Paula Deen to Chrissy Teigen), and exposés (startling readers with the fact that most sushi is frozen, not fresh; and revealing the violence faced by food vendors in Midtown Manhattan). More controversially, she has revealed the frequent use of ghostwriters by celebrity cookbook authors, and her investigation into the finances of the James Beard Foundation led to the resignation of its entire board of trustees. Recently, she’s been investigating the best recipes for kitchen classics in her video column Recipe Lab.
- Helen Hollyman: Helen is Editor-in-Chief of MUNCHIES, VICE’s food website. She’s a former cook, truffle dealer and radio host. Helen got her start at Food & Wine Magazine and has worked under award-winning pastry chef Christina Tosi at Momofuku Milk Bar and for food writers Mark Bittman and Amanda Hesser. She has written for a variety of publications that include GQ, Saveur, Lucky Peach and Time Out Magazine. You can check out more of her work at: ulookhungry.com
- Chitra Agrawal: Chitra runs Brooklyn Delhi, an award-winning Indian condiments company. Since 2009, Chitra has been writing about, serving and teaching her family’s vegetarian recipes from India with a slant on seasonality and community-supported agriculture. She is the author of the recipe blog The ABCDs of Cooking and is currently working on her first cookbook (Spring 2017, Penguin Random House) on South Indian home cooking. Chitra’s cooking and condiments have been featured in The New York Times, Saveur, Food & Wine and Zagat.
- Daniel Holzman: is the Chef/Owner of The Meatball Shop. Daniel started his cooking career at the age of 15 at Le Bernardin in New York City and remained there for 4 years until, at the suggestion of chef Eric Ripert, he attended the Culinary Institute of America with a full scholarship from the James Beard Foundation. Daniel’s culinary journey has led him through some of the country’s finest restaurants including Palladin, Napa, The Campton Place, Aqua, Jardinière and Axe. In 2010, Daniel returned to his hometown of New York City to team up with his childhood friend Michael Chernow and debut The Meatball Shop on New York City’s Lower East Side. The mix-and-match menu of meatballs, served in a warm and convivial environment, was an instant hit. Five more locations of The Meatball Shop—in Williamsburg, the West Village, Chelsea, the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side—opened in quick succession. Daniel also co-authored The Meatball Shop Cookbook, which was published to much acclaim in 2011. Daniel has appeared in countless broadcast segments including ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s TODAY Show and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He has also been featured in an array of widely reaching local and national publications such as The New York Times, Food & Wine, Saveur, People, Food Network Magazine and GQ.
- Nicole A. Taylor: Nicole currently hosts Hot Grease, a food culture podcast, and is the author of The UpSouth Cookbook: Chasing Dixie in a Brooklyn Kitchen. She has contributed to First We Feast, Cherry Bombe, Amtrak, Gravy, and Travel Noire. She has been featured in The New York Times, Ebony Magazine, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and New Republic. Taylor lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
- Chef Adam Sobel, special guest judge for Vegan Category: Adam runs the 4-time Vendy award-winning Cinnamon Snail food truck. Adam’s truck still rocks events in NYC and NJ, and his brick and mortar location at 33rd/7th in Manhattan has become a midtown staple. Adam’s cookbook “Street Vegan” tells the story of the adventures and misadventures running one of the country’s most loved food trucks, and it is jam-packed with absurdly yummy recipes.
Last month, the Vendys announced the finalists for the Rookie of the Year, Best Market Vendor and Best Dessert categories. They also announced the finalists this year’s surprise special category: Vegan! Bios and backgrounds on all of the finalists can be found HERE.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR FINALISTS: Puran Dhaka, Los Viajeros, Harlem Seafood Soul, Sisig City, The Basket and Mr. Bing
BEST MARKET VENDOR FINALISTS: Big Mozz, Arepalicious, NJS, MATZAHBREI and Tuson Sate
BEST DESSERT FINALISTS: Delmy’s Obleas, A Lil’ Bit of Fun, The Good Batch, Sweetface Snoballs and Raindrop Cake
BEST VEGAN FINALISTS: Mink’s Meat, Vegan Bandwagon, Yeah Dawg, Jerk Shack, Mysttik Masaala and Bamboo Bites
There will also be an auction for a guest judge spot for this year’s awards. You can join in crowning New York’s best street food chef with an all-you-can-eat guest judge ticket: see here for more information.
A limited number of Early Entry VIP tickets ($145) to the event are still available. For street food lovers who want to access the Vendy Awards an hour early, VIP tickets ensure the ultimate street eating experience, with shorter lines, goodie bags, and other exclusive perks. Tickets are available HERE.
The Vendy Awards are an annual event to benefit the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center, a membership-based organization that provides advocacy and legal services for nearly 2,000 vendor members. The Vendys’ modest beginnings took place in 2005 in an East Village garage; today, the nation’s first street food event has expanded across the country to include events in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The Vendy Awards also runs Vendy Plaza, a lively outdoor marketplace located in East Harlem’s La Marqueta on Sundays.
Follow the Vendy Awards on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest announcements at @VendyAwards and use #vendys and #vendyawards.
Press pass applications for the 2016 Vendys can be found HERE. The deadline to request press passes is Wednesday, August 31st.