OTR Chef

Trucker and gourmand Randy Pollak prepared his ‘Oysters Randall’ for famous chef Emeril Lagasse and millions of TV viewers.

Randy Pollak probably visits as many truckstops as the average over-the-road trucker does, but he rarely eats in one. Pollak, a company driver from Orange City, Fla., prefers to cook in the parking lot, where he grills up dishes like mesquite chicken and barbecue flavored with his own Cajun sauce called “Blackened Voodoo.”

His culinary efforts recently earned Pollak, a former professional chef, a spot on an Emeril Live special on the Food Network. Pollak won a national competition for barbecue with his Oysters Randall. He developed the dish, which is cooked on the top shelf of a grill, years ago and perfected it for the competition.

“The Food Network sent a film crew to Florida to film me making the recipe on my barbeque grill at home,” he says. “Then they flew me to New Jersey to show Emeril Lagasse how to make Oysters Randall on national TV. They filmed me both inside the truck and at the grill.”
Sharing the recipe is nothing new for the 25-year trucking veteran who hauls for Shaffer Trucking. He’s been sharing recipes via an Internet bulletin board for years and cooked up his winning recipe at the request of a fan.

Pollak says he’s working on two books right now so he can share more of his recipes, many of which focus on seafood and his lifelong food passion – barbecue. He has also created a gastronomical website detailing the history of barbecue and offering tips on healthy eating as well as recipes, including Oysters Randall. Recipes for his barbecue sauces, Holy Chipolte and Peachy Sweet Vidalia, are also on the site, OTRChef.com.

The site also features advice specifically for over-the-road drivers who may be heavy around the belly.

“I’m a fitness and health buff,” Pollak says. “That’s one of the reasons I do all my cooking on the road. This way I can stay healthy. All truckstops are about fast food. We’re all overweight.” Pollak, who lost 30 pounds on a low-carbohydrate diet, works out in his cab and can often be found advising drivers who come up to him about ways to lose weight.

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Cooking on the road isn’t always easy, but Pollak will grill enough food at one time to cover several meals. He has been cooking all his life and worked as a chef before he discovered how much more the drivers who delivered food to the restaurant made than he did. “I landed the first [driving] job making $18.65 an hour,” he says. He needed the money and the benefits the job offered because he had a family.

Ironically, Pollak was hauling the food he used to cook. Two and a half decades later he still hauls food to restaurant supply companies but says he wouldn’t give up the road for cooking again. “I’d miss the traveling too much.”

His favorite food is seafood – specifically soft shell crabs – a delicacy he fell in love with in famous and not-so-famous New Orleans restaurants. “It’s hard to find fresh, though,” he says. “I went to New Orleans, and my wife and I stopped at a dinky place. They had soft-shelled crabs on the menu. They were fresh and cooked to perfection.”

A night later, he ate at famous Big Easy chef Paul Prudhomme’s place. “He had the crabs on the menu, but they weren’t cheap,” he says. “When they came out, they were 100 times better than the ones I had the previous night – which were 100 times better than I’d had them elsewhere. It was like I was in seventh heaven.”

Pollak says being on Emeril Live was exciting and meeting Lagasse was a blast. “He’s unbelievable. The guy is so gracious and so hard working. I was flabbergasted.”

Lagasse is a superb chef, Pollak says, pointing out that the portly, curly-haired chef followed Prudhomme at famous New Orleans eatery Commander’s Palace, owned by the Brennans, a famous New Orleans restaurant family. “If the Brennans hire someone as the head chef, you know damn well he’s going to be good.”

On the road, even Pollak has to venture inside to eat occasionally. But he still prefers his gas grill to truckstop food. “The best food to me is a steak cooked right,” he says. “That means it’s blackened on the outside and still cold on the inside. My cooking is all about flavor.”

Truckers will often stop him when he’s cooking in a lot and ask for food. “I always cook more than I need,” he says. “We get into discussions about food and health. Right away I have to feed them.”

The Emeril Live episode featuring Pollak aired several times in June and July. Check out the Food Network’s website, www.foodnetwork.com, to see when it will show again.