Authors: Chloe Kendrick
Copyright © 2015
Published by: Rascal Hearts
All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
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Table of Contents
I forced a smile onto my face as I exited my food truck, Dogs on the Roll. I’d even bothered with some hair products and make-up, which had cost me precious time this morning when I could have been sleeping. I really should have been happy with the turn of events, but I found myself wishing that I’d never thought to sign up for a reality television show.
The television camera was in my face as soon as I stepped down on the pavement. That was the first thing I hadn’t been expecting. I could be a bit of a loner. I’d hoped that the focus of the show would be on the food and the truck. That was the entire reason I’d agreed to do the show.
However, there were a few things I hadn’t considered. This show, despite being called a reality show by the producers, was heavily scripted. Each person and each truck served a purpose in the plot that the producers and directors had mapped out before they’d started the season. Editing took care of the rest. So even on days when I was not feeling sparkling, heavy cuts to the tape could show me in a wonderful mood. They hadn’t bothered to share this with the truck owners before contracts were signed and notarized.
The producers didn’t bother to worry about which truck was going to win the competition for best food truck. These men were more interested in ratings, which they seemed to define as the maximum amount of drama. The cameras were always rolling as the truck owners trash talked each other and tried to outdo the recipes of the other trucks. The more strife, the happier the producers were.
Since I was one of the few truck owners who had a chef working with me, the producers decided to make us the “couple.” Land Mendoza and I were anything but a couple. When I’d inherited my aunt’s food truck six months ago, I found that Land had been working as the chef for the truck. Apparently, my aunt had promised him the truck; but her final will had left it to me instead, which had caused untold stress between us.
However, Land needed the job. He had emigrated here from the Basque region of Spain, and his process for getting a green card included gainful employment. So despite the discord, he’d stayed at Dogs on the Roll.
I was glad he stayed. While I had a business degree and knew my way around accounting software and spreadsheets, I had absolutely no idea how to cook. Land created a number of his own dishes, which included freshly made condiments. He had four types of artisanal mustard, his own relish, and a salsa that made my mouth water, just thinking about it.
When I’d first proposed the idea to him, Land had been on-board for the project. The more attention he got as a chef meant he had more chances for better employment in the future. He hadn’t expected the suggested romance either. For the first two weeks of the competition, he’d been mildly amused by the situation. He smirked, which only managed to highlight his dimples and his bronzed cheekbones.
Under much different circumstances, I wouldn’t have minded dating Land. He was a good-looking man, well-travelled and with an offbeat sense of humor. I knew that I couldn’t date and work with Land. He could be too traditional for my tastes, and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if he had to take directions from a woman he dated. So while I lusted after him from time to time, I kept my demeanor and behavior professional.
The producers, though, were having none of that. They wanted the maximum drama from the show, and part of that drama was to stem from putting the two of us into awkward situations that seemed somewhat physical. The first week, the assistant director had dumped some cooking oil on Land’s shirt during the competition. Since he didn’t have the time to change and shower, Land just stripped off his shirt and kept chopping up the ingredients.
The sight was definitely something to behold. He had well defined pecs that moved as he chopped, and a flat stomach with the hint of a six-pack. He did not have the physique of someone who ate hot dogs all day long. The cameras had caught me admiring the view on more than one occasion, all of which ended up in the final edit for that competition. While I didn’t understand all of the terminology, the producers had been very pleased with the ratings for the week, which they credited to Land’s upper body.
I doubt that defined abs could make a TV show successful, but no one asked me. So I kept to the challenges and trying to not look like an idiot on a basic cable station. And I waited for the next situation where I’d be forced into an uncomfortable situation with Land.
Land was already waiting outside as I alit from the truck. He nodded, and I managed to say hello. At times I got a little paranoid about saying too much or speaking my mind for fear of the interaction showing up in next week’s episode. We walked in silence to the studio where Johnny Ruck, the celebrity chef for the show, would tell us the challenge and the parameters required to win.
Johnny Ruck had made his name as a restauranteur for the stars. He’d had a chain of restaurants in the Los Angeles area with his premier location in Hollywood. That restaurant had more cameras trained on it than our show did. He’d parlayed his eateries into a line of cookware and from there, he’d become a celebrity judge for one of the network cooking shows. After a huge blow-up with one of that show’s producers, Ruck had decided to have his own reality show. He’d had to take the step down to basic cable, but he now selected the cooking challenges and the contestants personally. Everything on the show was there because of him.
I wasn’t sure what had caused him to want to do a food truck show. The trucks weren’t stylish or upscale, but they definitely were trendy and becoming more popular as eating establishments. For whatever reason, the show had been in Capital City looking for contestants, and after talking to Land, I’d applied and been accepted.
By the time we arrived on set, several of the other truck owners were already there. The studio had a green room on the right-hand side when we entered. Each contestant was expected to share a bit about themselves, their hopes and dreams and egos—both before the challenge, and after the challenge had been presented. Some of these monologues were used in the show, but most of them ended up on the editing room floor. We stood in line and waited for our turn to do an emotional dump for the camera.
When we got to the door of the green room, the assistant director motioned for both of us to enter. “I thought we did this individually,” I said, rather firmly.
“Not you two.” She pointed her clipboard to the door. Marsha Herndon was no more than 5’2”, but she was feared on set. She didn’t look the part. She was petite, thin and tiny. She had dark hair, pulled up in an unruly bun. A few strands tried to escape from the bun, giving her a frazzled look at all times. She had cat’s eye glasses that actually worked for her. On anyone else, they’d look either retro or affected, but she’d obviously made the look her own.
Marsha was the one who made things happen. She had been the person who had dumped the oil on Land’s shirt. Rumor had it that she’d swiped an ingredient from one of the other trucks, which had led to that truck’s dismissal from the show. She was the last authority on the set. What she said went. Even though her name wasn’t listed in the credits, we all knew that Marsha had a better handle on things than the executive producer and his minions.
So when she said that we had to record our interview piece together, we walked into the room together and stood in front of the camera next to each other. Land started speaking first. “This was a dumb idea. I was supposed to get the food truck in her aunt’s will, but instead I get this woman’s constant interference, and now a reality show.” He threw his hands up in the air and waited for the camera to stop.
It didn’t—which meant it was my turn to speak. “I don’t know why my aunt changed her mind, but she did. I think that’s been proven sufficiently. However, I’m looking forward to the challenge and the chance to win the competition.” I shot Land a look that dared him to speak again, and he took the hint.
We left the green room with Marsha grinning broadly. I suspected that Land’s edited interview would make the next episode.
Jerry Rowe was standing on set waiting for the celebrity chef to arrive and announce the challenge of the week. Jerry was a nice enough guy. He owned The Best Wurst, which as the name suggested, used brats, metts and wurst as the main ingredients in his dishes. An older man, Jerry looked like he ate as much as he sold. He was a big man with a pear shape to him. His hair was gray and rather wild. He liked to talk about his wife and their grandkids. Jerry had the role of diplomat among several of the truck owners who seemed to be hot-heated and quick to fight. Jerry had actually stood between two trucks during the last episode when one owner had threatened to smash into another food truck. I didn’t think I could have been that brave; I would have stepped out of the way to let them hash it out.
Jerry smiled as I approached. “Maeve, how are you doing? Is everyone here already?” He looked genuinely glad to see me, and I wondered why the producers had picked him for the show. He lacked that cut-throat demeanor that most of the rest of the competitors had.
“They’re waiting in line for their interviews. They made us go in together.” I jerked my thumb toward Land to let him see that he was included in the conversation. A few more people entered the set, and Jerry greeted each one of them by name. That was just the type of guy he was.
Finally the room was filled with the 12 remaining truck owners. We milled around waiting for Johnny Ruck to show up. Forty-five minutes later, he finally entered the set. The signs started flashing for us to quiet down, and filming began.
“Welcome, contestants—at least those who remain. This is week three of our competition, and we have a real challenge for you today. Are you ready?” Johnny looked like a celebrity chef. He wore an apron over his expensive shirt. I figured that his outfit alone probably represented more cash than I’d made in the six months I’d been working at Dogs on the Roll.
Some of the contestants whooped, but several of us just waited with a certain amount of dread to hear the next challenge.
Johnny cleared his throat and continued. “Your next challenge is based in part on your last challenge. In the last challenge, you had to show a profit on the single dish that you made. Today you’re going to take the earnings from last week, and that will represent the amount of money you can spend to buy supplies and groceries for this challenge.”
A white board in the background lit up with all of our totals from the previous week. We were in third place after Jerry Rowe and Anthony from the bagel truck. Of course, that was a very generous “we” on my part, since Land had come up with the dish and executed it. I’d merely collected the money and tried to make additional sales.
Johnny went on. “You must have at least three items on your menu, and none of them can be dishes that you currently sell. In fact, originality and the willingness to take chances will count heavily in this round of judging.” He gave us all a smile that meant we were in big trouble. He reserved that smile for the most difficult things he put in front of us.
I felt a little panicky. I could feel the color rise in my cheeks. I didn’t know much about cooking beyond the current menu of the truck. Cooking had never been a strong suit for me, which is why frying and boiling hot dogs was a natural fit for my talents. Now I had to help come up with dishes that were not on the menu and that would wow Johnny Ruck. This was not going to end well.
Land, on the other hand, looked entirely unimpressed. I wondered if he actually practiced this look in the mirror at night, because he had it down to an art form. He barely looked like he was paying attention, but part of me knew that he had already planned the menu and decided on the ingredients to buy. I just needed to write them down and shop.
Communications were an issue for us. Not because we couldn’t use our words, but rather since we had to talk to each other out loud about our plans. The other truck owners were mostly single owner/operators, which meant that the discussions could go on in their heads. We had to actually speak, which meant we could be overheard by any of the other contestants. Land suspected that in the first challenge, someone had eavesdropped on our conversation and made plans to sabotage our entrée. It was only one of many “pranks” and events that had left relationships between the contestants tense on-set.
The other truck owners appeared to be more in my camp than Land’s at the moment. Most of them had been making a few signature dishes for years, and now they were being asked to move outside of their comfort zone. It was never easy to try new menu items, but it was especially difficult when an acerbic chef was judging the results and all of basic cable was watching you.
The lights were switched off, which was our signal that we could leave. Land didn’t say a word, but I knew enough to follow along with him. He was taking me somewhere so that we could talk in private. Marsha shouted behind us that we needed to reconvene here in two hours to go to the grocery store for ingredients.
Land walked out of the building and far out into the lot. No one else was nearby, and I couldn’t see anyone from the show. “So what do you have in mind?” I asked, knowing already that he had a plan.
“Basque cuisine,” he said simply, as if that should be enough for me to develop the menu, buy the ingredients and prepare the dishes. I knew next to nothing about the Basque region except what I’d bothered to read on Wikipedia. The region rested between Spain and France, and had developed its own language and culture over the centuries.