Gatorama’s crawling out into culinary world’s bright lights

(Special to the Caloosa Belle)
“Great Food Truck Race” host Tyler Florence does the obligatory pose at Gatorama.

PALMDALE — “The Great Food Truck Race” filmed a segment at Gatorama recently, as the reptile sanctuary has been crawling its way out into the bright lights of the culinary world.

The Glades County Tourism Development Council, through its website and Facebook feed from VisitGlades.com, posted an update as April drew to a close, sharing “some of the highlights from the Food Network’s hit show, ‘The Great Food Truck Race,’ which filmed at Gatorama last Wednesday (April 24) during a sweep through Southwest Florida. According to published reports, the Gatorama episode should air during the hit show’s 10th season in August.”

Patty Thielen Register, owner of the wildlife park with her husband, Allen, had put up several photographs of host Tyler Florence and the multiple camera crews who swarmed the park that day on her Facebook page, which the Glades TDC passed along (Mrs. Register is a council member).

“Very cool day today at Gatorama,” she wrote. “Thirty-seven crew members plus 15 cast. The gators all did so well, as did our incredible staff, from prepping the areas that were going to be shot to being hands-on during the shoot. KUDOS to all.”

Mrs. Register’s husband, Allen, is a state-licensed alligator farmer and trapper but recently ceased doing trapping of nuisance animals for state wildlife officials. They’ve actually been selling alligator meat for some time from the roadside attraction’s gift shop already but recently had some inspiration to see what kinds of dishes could be concocted using the meat.

(Special to the Caloosa Belle)
A high five was the result as the two chefs tasted their creation.

“He has given up all his territory,” she explained. “But we just could not do everything. He’ll still be doing the egg collection, and we’re planning another spectacular Hatching Festival” in August.

They purchased a “food trailer” over winter 2017-18 and created the idea of a “LilyBell’s Kitchen at Gatorama,” establishing a temporary arrangement to actually operate it both at the park and other locations. But she said they’ve run into some issues with the Florida Department of Health over its rigorous permitting requirements and are in the middle of working out those problems, on top of having trouble finding someone to operate the trailer for them for a time.

So now, in the meantime, the food accommodation has been moved back to the “Crackin’ Barn” where the festivities take place for the Gator Hatching Festival every summer. Mrs. Register said the eventual plan is to establish a commercial kitchen on the premises. And they do have a person on staff now.

“After the food truck taping,” she wrote, the host, “Tyler Florence, came into our house to watch Patty prepare what is now called #fancyalligatordish. However, Tyler jumped in and we got to see him in action. Very, very cool. What a super nice man. He spent nearly four hours in the kitchen. Who has cooked in your kitchen lately?”

Rocky beginning
In an interview May 6, Mrs. Register said, “It’s been a rocky, sputtery, stop-and-start kind of start. that whole thing did not work out the way I thought it was going to.”

Their water arrangements were OK’d by one Florida Department of Health inspector, then another one visited, she explained, and said they couldn’t do it legally with the commissary arrangement they’d made with a couple of other businesses that would treat their “gray water.” All water used on the grounds at Gatorama is tested and cleared for health purposes.

“The food trailer … is open, but I am not pushing that until we get all of that straightened out with the state,” Mrs. Register said. “I still have my licensing but I’m not I’m not willing to fight any battles right now.”

As for the visit by the TV folks, she explained: “The Food Network and the Food Truck Race and the Tyler Florence show had nothing to do with our food truck, but it had to do with our sausage and our gator meat, gator tail.

“In March we went to the Boston International Seafood Expo, and we premiered our gator burgers and our gator sausage, and it was received overwhelmingly. Everybody wants it,” she said.

Coming to a store near you
So, they went with the flow. “We have gone through the process; we worked with food scientists and now we have come up with these two products, and we are in the process of distributing to restaurants and food distributors … The plan for that is hopefully we will be in supermarkets near you, soon!

“And then we will also sell that retail once we get our USDA label approved. Because to sell on a retail level, a product that’s been further processed — like, ‘This is our gator tail, and it’s been further processed’ — to sell directly to the consumer, it has to have a USDA label. Which our alligator tail and ribs do not. But for the processed meat it does.

“The plant that it’s processed in is a USDA inspected plant, but there are a whole lot of hoops to jump through,” she sighed.

The alligator tail and ribs, and the gator sausage and burger, are sold in bulk.

And if you hear anytime soon about something called “Fancy Alligator Dish,” it was created and named right in Patty Register’s kitchen.

“You can prepare alligator any way that you would fish or veal or pork or chicken. It’s a very mild tasting meat,” she said, going on to describe the fun that she, Allen and the crews had with Mr. Florence over her stove.

“So he had asked me to prepare a dish for him. And so we invited him after they did that filming for the Food Truck Race, and he has another show that he does. It’s called the Extra Mile …”

Stay tuned, gator fans.

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