Imagine, if you will, Paula Deen with a couple of tattoos.
Now, imagine her behind the wheel of a semi, hauling 100,000 pounds down a two-lane back road as a vegetable stand pops up in the distance.
Just like Paula Deen would, Camille Pask gets on the brakes and whoas it down. It’s more than curiosity or a chance to break the boredom of the long rolls over the road; it’s a time to pick up something awesome for lunch.
Pask is a rare woman in many respects. She drives more than 100,000 miles a year as a long haul trucker, but she’s also a trained gourmet chef. The worlds intersect in the back of the cab of her rig, which she co-owns with her new beau, Chris Woolf.
But if you step outside, blended into the diesel fumes, you might just breathe in the delectable aroma of seared ahi. It’s coming from the Swift rig where Pask, a 33-year-old who began her over the road career four years ago, is determined to be kinder to her body.
“I got so sick of eating and paying for really crappy food on the road,” she said recently during a break in her driving schedule. “It’s pretty much 35 bucks every time two butts hit the vinyl.
“There are some good places to eat and you find them along the way. But sometimes it’s hard to park a truck there or a lot of times you don’t even have time to stop.”
She doesn't have much room in the 10-by-10 box she calls home for three weeks each month. She dreams of a day when she can afford a bigger rig, one with a sink - and a shower.
Right now, she’s stuck with a toaster and a tall dorm-sized refrigerator that has a top big enough for a small electric skillet.
She calls herself the Gypsygourmet, in part due to her heritage and in part due to the fact that she spends so much time traveling. She’s been to every state, and jots down the meat markets, food co-operatives and farmers markets where she likes to stop along the way. She's contemplating using these notes to write a book.
The thrice-divorced Pask has been living with Woolf both on the road and off for a few months now. Both were unhappily married when they met: Woolf with a tow truck and Pask with a broken down rig and a breaking heart. Woolf, who was immediately enamored with the voice on the other end of the distress call, was disappointed to see another man (Pask’s now ex-husband) when he showed up at the stranded vehicle.
Then, Pask stepped down from the driver’s side door.
“And it was on from there,” Woolf, 38, said.
Over the next months, there were frequent texts as both unraveled themselves from their relationships and entered into a new one.
“She’s my best friend. She’s my everything,” he said.
They go everywhere together, exploring their love - for each other and for food. Woolf says he wasn’t a foodie before, but with Pask’s guidance, he’s become one. The biggest lesson is how to add just the right seasoning to bring out the flavor of a food.
That’s what made her stick out as a culinary student, said Jim Hanson, who was her instructor years ago at South Central College in North Makato, Minnesota. In her two years in the program, Pask set herself apart from the other students, most of who just wanted to follow the recipe.
“She’s always experimenting,” he said. “I think that’s her strong point. She always wanted to do things just a little bit differently, to try something new.”
Pask says in the kitchen she’s a bit like Deen (“She loves butter as much as I do”), a bit like Guy Fieri with a pinch of Jacques Pepin thrown in. But she also digs Betty Crocker. She grew up in the kitchen of her family restaurant, and a lot of their recipes were based on Betty’s cookbooks.
“Food is love,” she says, a statement that is both subtle and direct. “My greatest memories are with my family in the kitchen, the dining room table or around a chopping block.”
She says for now she’s content on the road, but she longs to share her love of food with more people.
“I really want Anthony Bourdain’s job,” she said with a longing laugh. “I want to travel from place to place and I want to find the coolest places to pick up cool ingredients. And I want to cook for people.”