Simmer Down - Sarah Smith

Chapter 1

Ocean air has a funny effect on me. Maybe it’s the salt.

I inhale while driving along the lone main road in southern Maui. The briny moisture hits my nostrils, coating the back of my throat and lungs. I wince at the slight burn. A handful of breaths and I wonder just how close I am to reaching my daily allotment of sodium. Leave it to a food truck owner to view everything around me—including oxygen—in terms of food.

But that’s how all-consuming food truck life is. It’s my work, my thoughts, the air I breathe. It seeps into everything. I’ve only been doing this a year, but that’s one of the first things I’ve learned.

I shove aside the thoughts of saline air. Instead I run through my mental checklist like I do every morning while navigating the slow-moving traffic to my parking spot near Makena Beach, one of the most popular tourist spots on Maui.

Chicken adobo wings are chilling in the fridge. Check.

So are the papaya salad and fruit salad. Check.

Pansit is freshly made as of this morning and ready to dish up. Check.

A fresh batch of vegetable oil sits in the fryer, ready to heat. Check.

Waiting for the oil to warm should give me just enough time to prep everything for the day. Check.

For a split second I’m smiling, satisfied at the menu I’ve put together for today with a shoestring budget and limited supplies. Everything’s ready to go. The garnishes, the utensils, the napkins, the whiteboard with today’s menu written on it. Check, check, check, and . . . damn it.

I groan while gripping the steering wheel. I forgot the menu board at the commercial kitchen where I prep the food every morning. Again. I sigh, my cheeks on fire when I think about what an amateur mistake I just made. That means I’ll have to recite the daily specials and prices in addition to the standard menu items to every customer who comes to the window to order, an annoying and unprofessional act.

I shake my head, disappointed that I’ve tainted the workday before it’s even started. It’s only marginally worse than my typical mess-up with the menu board. I wince when I remember how I almost always forget to display it until after sliding open the window, which signals that I’m open for business. And when I remember it, I spin around, usually knock over a rogue sauce bottle or metal bowl, scurry out of the truck, prop it up at the front, and run back inside. That’s when I typically trip up the stairs while customers gawk. It’s like the cherry on top of a hot mess sundae, a dead giveaway that despite all my planning and all my checklists, despite my year of hard work, long hours, and on-the-job learning, I don’t belong in this food truck world.

I slouch in the driver’s seat as I begin to deflate. No other food truck I’ve been around seems to struggle with the basics like I do. A whole new checklist slides to the front of my mind. My very own life checklist that I never, ever thought I’d have.

I’m twenty-nine years old and struggling to make a living in the most popular tourist destination in the Pacific Ocean. Check.

I started a food truck business with zero food truck experience. Check.

I mistakenly thought that all my years working in high-end restaurants would be all the prep I needed to run a food truck. Check.

I share a condo in Kihei with my mom—a condo that was meant to be my parents’ retirement haven. Check.

A familiar sinking feeling hits, one I haven’t felt in weeks. It’s a heavy dose of doubt mixed with good old-fashioned insecurity, reminding me just how out of my element I am.

Another lesson I’ve learned? Life doesn’t always care what you have planned. Sometimes it pulls the rug out from under you and takes one of your parents with it, leaving you and your only living parent under a mountain of medical debt, your savings ravaged, and with zero viable options on how to dig your way out. So you and your mom pick up where she and your dad left off. You take the used food truck your dad bought because it was his and your mom’s dream to run their own food truck in Maui during their retirement. You put the only professional skills you honed—your cooking and restaurant skills—into fulfilling your dad’s last wish. You put your heart and soul into that food truck,