This is the first installment in a three part story about two Marine veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars–Ruben Diodonet and Sam Finan–who, after their final deployment, followed their dream to own and operate a food cart in New York City.
Part I—Doesn’t Matter If You’re a Grunt, You Go In
Web designers, tech executives, Macmillan editors, nannies and tourists form a ragged line straight down Broadway, almost to 23rd Street. They’re hungry and anxious to get to the food truck parked up near 20th Street. Cellphone entertainment is clearly keeping some from causing an impatient ruckus. Finally, it’s their turn to be greeted by Sam who promptly begins to sweet talk them into trying out a new dish. They’re very happy to consider his suggestions, the scents coming off the grill a powerful recommendation. That’s where Ruben stands and he rarely takes his eyes off the meats and vegetables he’s searing and piles on the finishing touches of pickled cabbage, a slather of original relish and sauces while Sam mixes up the drinks. The now starving customers slides over money, keen to find a seat in Madison Square Park and rip open the box. Sam’ makes the next customer laugh. Ruben keeps zen-like focus on the grill. It’s another day of feasting at the food truck.
Ruben and Sam joined the Marine Corps Reserves a few years apart and were assigned to the 6th Communication Battalion stationed in south Brooklyn at Floyd Bennett Field. They were both coming off hard years, Ruben as a teenage member of the Latin Kings, Sam enticed by drugs and drawn to a bunch of guys newly released from jail at the same time and hungry to regain their territory. Ruben received a chance to get off the street when his mother placed him in the City’s Juvenile Justice Program where he was given a mentor who taught him discipline. Sam’s parents moved out of the neighborhood, enrolled him in a small private school they couldn’t afford where the strict curriculum and new friends, themselves a little street scared, gave him much needed structure.
Still, they felt themselves at risk of falling back into old habits. Ruben knew he needed to find the same kind of leadership he’d received in the program after he aged out at 18 and Sam felt directionless, treading water, even after managing to graduate from college. In their own ways, they were drawn to the Marine Corps, attracted by its fierce reputation for molding recruits into formidable Marines, first in battle. And both Ruben and Sam had a strong desire to experience war.
Even though they were in the same battalion, they didn’t meet up right away. Tasked with different missions around the globe, Ruben went to the Republic of Georgia as part of the American mission to prepare the Georgian army to fight the imminent Russian invasion, while Sam was shipped to Germany to conduct field training and operations in mass multi-national communication exercises with 40 other nations. Soon after they returned home, their unit was quickly ordered to Iraq Ruben helped to break down camps throughout the Al Anbar Province and Sam provided security for the convoys moving equipment to be sent back to the States.
Their friendship developed after their unit’s deployment was cut short in Iraq but they were still required to serve the remainder of their deployment on their home duty station at Floyd Bennett Field. Ruben and Sam found themselves working on the same projects and, when they were given leave, joined up to find a little recreation off base. A common thread between them was an interest in food. They shared similar tastes and interests, bounced off recipe ideas, riffed about different ways to use ingredients. Dreaming up things to cook was a fun way to pass the time.
Their next deployment was to Afghanistan. Stationed at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Providence, Sam provided resupply transportation and convoy security cover for operation forces. Ruben was assigned to a Naval Surgical unit where he participated in casualty evacuation missions during the heat of battle, treating catastrophic wounds on civilians and American military service members alike.
By the time they came home, they met the requirement for disability status: PTSD; hearing loss; damage to their backs. Ruben had thought about what he wanted to do next while in Afghanistan. He knew it had to be something where he continued to feel the heat of battle, use his hands, push his body. Sam wanted to do something with his psychology bachelor degree. Ruben figured he’d take the NYC police exam. Sam applied for a masters program in social work. Neither thought about a culinary career.
Two Truck Smoothies
In developing the menu for their truck, the men wanted to blend together Cuban-Chinese and Hispanic food traditions, then put their own spin on it.
As a preview of some of their recipes that you’ll read about in the next installments, I give you these flirty little drinks, each a take-off of two Hispanic drinks. If you add some rum, they make kicker cocktails.
Start off by making a base comprised of :
1 13 1/2 can of coconut water
1 quart of water
Blend on high until frothy. If you want it to be creamer either use coconut cream or add about a tablespoon of plain yogurt.
You’ll have about 27 ounces of base.
Enjoy! And stay tune for so much more!
13 1/2 ounces (or half) coconut milk base
2 navel oranges, peeled and pith completely scraped off (it’ll make it bitter, otherwise), cut into pieces
handful of shredded carrots
10 oz orange juice (for really special occasions squeeze your own)
1 to 2 Tbsp flak and chia seed mix
Handful of ice
Everything goes into the blender. Whirl for a minute or two until frothy and ice is completely incorporated.
13 1/2 ounces coconut milk base
1 to 2 T flax seed
1 Tbsp chia seed
1 big Tbsp cinnamon
Handful of ice
Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a glass and sprinkle more cinnamon on top