SIOUX CITY -- An Eminem song played in the background as Malone Downs seasoned a pan full of Jamaican jerk chicken inside a food truck kitchen on a sunny July day.
Downs runs the Taste food truck, which has become a weekly staple during Food Truck Fridays, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Fridays, at the downtown Pearl Street Park.
"As soon as we finish here, I'll be taking the truck to Grandview Park for Saturday in the Park," he said, talking about Sioux City's popular outdoor music festival that was occurring the very next day. "That's the plan: work Food Truck Friday, clean up, tear everything down. And then, start everything over again."
Over the next 36 hours, Downs estimated, he would be getting two to three hours of sleep, max.
"Doesn't matter to me at all," he said with a shrug. "I'm living out my dream and wouldn't change a thing."
A FAMILY AFFAIR
A veteran chef with experience working in the kitchen of most of Sioux City's fine dining restaurants, Downs credited his grandmother with inspiring a love of cooking.
"I'm part African-American and my grandma would make classic soul food for us," he explained. "The recipes weren't complicated but they were so comforting. This proved to me that you can make great comfort food with a handful of ingredients."
It was this "keep things delicious with fresh ingredients" philosophy that influenced Downs' cuisine.
This was what he brought when working as a sous chef for the Sioux City Convention Center, as well as when he handled catering operations while working at M's on 4th.
It was also evident when Downs first learned the ropes of food truck operations from Chef Paul Seaman, a longtime innovator in Sioux City's culinary scene.
"Many years before anybody, locally, was thinking about food trucks, Chef Paul had a food truck called Sproutstream and I worked for Paul," Downs remembered. "Instead of making typical food truck fare like burgers, Paul's menu consisted of imaginative foods utilizing the best ingredients."
While Sproutstream was not a success, it convinced Downs that food truck food could be elevated by using creative recipes and top-notch ingredients.
"At Taste, I'm serving food that wouldn't be out of place at a fine dining restaurant," he said. "Instead, we're cooking in and serving it out of a food truck."
Luckily, Downs is doing it with his family by his side. Daughter Oceona and son Elijah are both working as Taste's designated sous chefs.
"My grandma inspired my culinary taste," he said. "I'm simply passing it along to my kids."
ELEVATING THE ART OF FOOD TRUCK CUISINE
The concept of a "kitchen on wheels" has been around since the days of when frontier people made the move west, across the United States, on wagon trains.
Beginning at the start of the 20th century, self-starting entrepreneurs began purchasing push carts or simple food trucks to feed hungry factory workers in urban areas.
However, it's only been within the past decade or so that more ambitious restaurateurs have starting purchasing food trucks, outfitting them with kitchens that can rival more stationary spaces.
"Foods trucks are trendy nowadays," Downs said. "Suddenly, everybody wants one."
That includes Downs, who enjoys the freedom of creating a new menu from scratch.
Taking a page out of his grandmother's recipe book, Downs has compiled menu items of comfort food favorites that are made with fresh ingredients.
For instance, the Taste food truck has bacon cheeseburgers but it also has an "Island" burger with fresh pineapple, a South-of-the-border-inspired guacamole burger as a vegan black bean burger that he said even committed carnivores will enjoy.
FOOD TRUCKS AS A LIFESTYLE
As the last remaining customers finished their lunch during Food Truck Friday, Downs began to break down his mobile kitchen.
"A person shouldn't even consider a food truck if he wants a steady paycheck," Downs said. "You get a food truck because it is a passion."