If you need a weekend getaway or are looking for about 10 degrees cooler weather conditions during a summer heatwave, camping can be the perfect getaway. The Walla Walla area is dotted with many notable campgrounds: Gem Lake, Tiger Canyon and Wallowa Lake to name a few.
Part of what makes the camping experience enjoyable is a trip free of distractions and hassles, allowing you to focus on your free time to relax or connect with loved ones. However, one factor that could potentially stand in the way of a hassle-free trip is arriving unprepared for meals.
While camping food clichés can lead one to believe their only meals are freeze-dried packets and hot dogs, with the right preparation and supplies, this need not be the case.
Walla Walla chefs Richard Hattaway, Andrae Bopp and Robin Leventhal shared their tips with Lifestyles magazine and what they always keep in mind when cooking while camping.
Hattaway’s on Alder’s Executive Chef, Richard Hattaway, loves to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Since his days on a farm in Georgia, Hattaway has always enjoyed fishing, hunting and camping. Combining these passions with his passion for cooking is his ideal situation.
“I always enjoy cooking, even when I’m not (at the restaurant),” Hattaway said.
Crostini with grilled sweet onions
Chef Andrae Bopp of AK’s Mercado on Main Street has found a way to turn his love of food and the outdoors into a career. With Minam Store, Bopp offers Wine & Food on the River trips that he started about eight years ago. These excursions are filled with full days of whitewater rafting, multi-course riverside dinners and wine tastings hosted by local winemakers.
“That’s why we pulled this together. I love the outdoors and I love to cook, so we might as well make this a small business,” Bopp said.
Chef Robin Leventhal of Crave Catering and a self-proclaimed outdoor enthusiast had plenty of tips on bringing the kitchen outdoors. Chef Leventhal always put safety first when cooking outdoors and prepares for your needs with the right equipment.
With all their years of experience, these three chefs have come up with seven tips for bringing the kitchen outdoors on your next camping trip.
• Take the time to prepare before the journey begins.
“I think the biggest tip is to get your work done before you go,” Bopp said.
Chef Bopp always prepares complete menus before setting out on his camping or rafting trips. Preparing ingredients before a camping trip will help minimize outdoor cooking time.
“We do that in gastronomy,” agreed Leventhal. “It’s all about how many things we can do in advance so that when a customer comes in and orders a meal, we can deliver a really quality experience, say lunch, in five minutes or less.”
Pre-cooking bacon and reheating braised meat is a way to save time on a camping trip, she said.
Especially for breakfast, recipes can be prepared in advance to make morning assembly as seamless as possible. Leventhal makes cinnamon rolls when camping by preparing her butter and cinnamon mixture, rolling out Pillsbury dough and later snuggling them into her cast-iron Dutch oven.
Both Chef Bopp and Chef Leventhal recommended using Ziploc bags to safely transport prepared food on your trip.
“Ziploc bags are your friend,” Leventhal said. “They might not be that eco-friendly, but in this case I believe in using my Ziplocs to make sure things travel well.”
• Keep foods properly chilled and eat certain foods first.
Especially on hot summer days it is important to keep the food cool so as not to get sick while camping. Chef Leventhal went through the mental checklist she goes through before heading outdoors for a camping trip.
“How long will I be gone? How long do I have to keep my product cold? Dry ice is one such help,” Leventhal said.
Dry ice is a great way to expand the capacity of ice packs and coolers as long as you keep a wooden slat between it and the food to prevent freezing and you don’t touch it with your bare hands.
Chef Leventhal also throws her water bottles in the freezer the night before a camping trip to keep her cooler cold and maximize her storage space.
Perishable food can be packed with a cool box, but depending on the duration of the trip, not all food is durable. For example, according to Chef Hattaway, eggs last a day at room temperature, but in summer raw eggs would need to be prepared and consumed on the first day of a trip to be safe to eat.
• Bring the right gear (and the right amount of gear).
Chef Hattaway likes to think in proportion when preparing his camping meals.
“The lighter your cooking gear, the heavier your take out food can be. I usually go lighter on the cookware and heavier on the food so you can take more with you outside,” Hattaway said.
Perfecting your ideal food-to-equipment ratio is key to feeling prepared for mealtime on your trip.
Equipment also depends on car accessibility or backpack space available for the particular trip.
For traditional car camping with campground amenities, Chef Leventhal likes to use a cast-iron skillet rather than the metal grates provided by a campground. The cleanliness of metal grills can be unpredictable, so one could always bring a wire brush and towel to wipe down the grill. The towel can also be used to season the grill by putting a little oil on the towel which will clean and harden the grill.
When cooking around a campfire, campers should aim for the nest of coals and not the flames for the best cooking results and cooking temperatures. In these situations, chef Leventhal explained that foil can be your friend for wrapping vegetables for roasting if they haven’t been pre-grilled.
Regardless of the type of camping, whether it’s backcountry or auto camping, there are a few pieces of gear that are essential for all trips. Chef Hattaway believes that a good knife and small cutting board are the must-have cookware to take when camping.
He also recommends packing in tandem on more difficult backcountry or backpacking camping trips. This will help campers to divide and conquer the weight of the backpack and also make it easier to find out the ratios of foods each person can eat.
• Bring hearty snacks and meals.
Chef Leventhal recommends taking trail mix with you as a great source of energy outside and on the trails.
“We all love chips, but sometimes you need more than that,” Leventhal said.
You can also bridge other campers with filling snacks while you prepare larger meals.
At meals, the main dishes should be rich and filling. While Chef Hattaway likes to be flexible and doesn’t stick to a strict menu, when camping he tends to cook either pork or beef and potatoes.
“If it’s pork, it’s going to be a piece that takes a long time to cook. If it’s beef, it’s usually something hot and quick like a steak,” Hattaway said.
• Do you have a backup plan.
Camping requires flexibility. And when your meal is subject to the laws of nature, like Chef Hattaway is hoping to catch trout in ice lakes, you should always have a backup plan in place.
If you’re relying on fishing for a meal, Chef Hattaway is happy to bring an alternative in case he doesn’t catch a fish that day.
“In a catch-and-cook, if we don’t catch anything, we’re always ready,” Hattaway said. “We usually take some bacon or something salty and it becomes something that ranges from meat and sides to casseroles.”
• Don’t skimp on your quality morning coffee or after-dinner dessert.
“Nobody likes ground coffee, and we all used to drink ‘cowboy coffee’ because we didn’t have fancy equipment, but there are so many great little tools,” Leventhal said.
Kettles and instant coffee packets aren’t the only way to satisfy coffee cravings, even when camping. Both Chef Leventhal and Chef Hattaway recommend using a French Press as an easy-to-use device that will preserve the quality of your coffee while camping. There are stainless steel and plastic French presses designed for camping.
You don’t have to do without evening treats when camping either. Chef Bopp likes to take traditional camping desserts like the s’more to the next level with his homemade graham cracker salted caramel s’more recipe. While chef Bopp chars the marshmallows with a kitchen torch, campers could also use a campfire.
• Practice safety while cooking at camp.
The key to an overall good camping trip and the most enjoyable camping cooking experience is safety. While it may seem like common sense, packing an extra first aid kit and safety gear becomes even more important when taking the kitchen outdoors.
A common enemy of cooking is burns, which can be avoided with the right precautions. Chef Leventhal is sure to keep a couple of dry towels or oven mitts on hand, because touching a hot surface with a wet towel causes steam burns.
Elote or Mexican street corn