KITCHENLESS COOKING: AN ADVENTURE CHEF SHARES HER TOP SECRETS FOR MAKING AMAZING CAMPFIRE MEALS
Camping season may be several months away, but wilderness chef Sophie Hollingsworth is already talking about ways to improve your outdoor culinary game this spring
Sophie Hollingsworth likes to refer to her culinary style as what would happen if “Indiana Jones and Martha Stewart threw a dinner party.” The wilderness explorer, whose adventures have included trekking through the Namibian desert and descending uncharted rivers in Madagascar, is well versed in backcountry cooking. Aside from her own personal experiences, she runs A Taste of Adventure, an adventure catering business that creates immersive wilderness cooking experiences. She says that people are naturally drawn to cooking over open fires, as it’s something we’ve been doing for thousands of years. “Ingredients and methods change, but cooking over the fire is (rooted) deep in our ancestral DNA,” she explains. “I reckon the love of the fire is innate in all humans—even if it is buried deep down.”
According to Sophie, it’s not as daunting as it may seem to make rich and savory meals when you’re out in the wilderness. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-time fire cook or a seasoned pit master, as long as you have access to firewood, a knife, and some basic ingredients, you can have delicious fire-cooked feasts on your adventures or in your backyard.” To help you take your camping meals to the next level, we asked Sophie to share her top camp-cooking tips. Check them out below to learn how to make your food taste better and more mouthwatering when you’re grilling in the great outdoors.
Adventure chef Sophie Hollingsworth says that one of the keys to successful wilderness cooking is bringing the right tools. Among other gear, she often uses a braai grill plate (pictured below) which fits over the spare tire of a vehicle and converts any open flame into an instant grill.
HOW TO MAKE CAMPING FOOD TASTE BETTER #1: Avoid direct flames At the beginning of many people’s fire-cooking journey, they try cooking food on direct flame, Sophie explains. Avoid it and instead make use of glowing coals. #2: Be selective with your wood Quality wood will affect the flavor of the food you are cooking, so you should always try to use good wood, she says. Hardwoods such as oak, ash, and beech are best for steady heat, as they burn for a long time. Softwoods such as pine will burn faster and hotter, which is not ideal. If you are using any chemicals or firelighters, it’s important to keep it as natural as possible to ensure a clean flavor (and no harmful impact on the planet). #3: Bring the right tools Often when we first set out fire cooking, we think about all of the big things—the wood, the matches, and the ingredients—but we forget the smaller things like the fireproof gloves, hot sauce, and tongs, Sophie says. While often the small things are not essential, they do help make the whole experience a bit more enjoyable. I also take a braai grill plate with me wherever I go. It fits on the spare tire of my four-wheel drive vehicle and makes converting a fire pit into a grill a super easy process.
“Cooking over the fire is all about slowing down to enjoy the outdoors.” ~Sophie Hollingsworth
#4. Practice resourcefulness You won't have access to all of the kitchen tools you are used to, she explains. Being outdoors and in nature is about simplifying—the less you have, the more creative you need to be, she says. When I first got into fire cooking, the creative ways I was cooking came out of necessity over artistic flare. For instance, my seafood-on-a-stick recipe evolved from the fact that out camping in Western Australia, I came across a fish that was way too big for any of my cast-iron pans, so I thought I could truss the fish to a stick to cook it over the fire. It worked and became my favorite way to cook fish over the fire, even if I have access to the right pans. #5. Be patient When cooking over a fire, nothing is as instantaneous nor do you have all the tools or options that most people are accustomed to in the kitchen, Sophie says. Everything takes longer. In our age of instant gratification, we’ve become used to microwaves heating up food and gas stoves providing fire all within a matter of seconds. With a fire, that is simply not the case. Patience is probably the most important element of cooking over the fire. Cooking over the fire is all about slowing down to enjoy the outdoors—and it’s even better with company. At first you will inevitably undercook, overcook, and drop things in the fire. That’s life. Enjoy the time in the outdoors and be patient with the fire-cooking journey. #6. Don’t forget safety Make sure it is safe to have a fire and you are prepared should the flames get out of hand, Sophie says. Lighting the neighborhood or national park on fire would certainly put a damper on the cookout.
Originally published on Columbia Sportswear Tough Mother Outdoor Guide