There was a time when Chris Nuttall-Smith, food writer and lifelong nature lover, ate like everyone else at camp. As a college student, he hiked the Rocky Mountains subsisting on “PowerBars and Mr. Noodles” — the standard backpacker fare. And it was fine. It was what people do! “Especially at this age you don’t think about it that much,” he emphasizes. But eventually he was.
He was white-water paddling and eating powdered eggs endlessly when it dawned on him: maybe it didn’t have to be this way. “There’s something wrong with what I’m doing,” he recalls. “I’m in one of the most Nice Places I’ve ever seen on the planet, and I eat such disgusting food. How can I fix this?”
The answer is Cook it wild, Nuttall-Smith’s Guide to Wilderness Cooking and Eating. It’s not just you may Make incredible meals in the wilderness, the critics and Top chef Canada The judge argues and lays out directions for miso-butter radishes and sweet-and-tangy lemon ribs. It’s like maybe you should. And he insists it’s doable for everyone, frontier workers or not. “People go out into the wild and they’re really, really scared that they’re just one wrong decision away from joining the Donner Party,” but for the vast majority of people, that’s just not true. “The stakes are rarely as high as people think,” he promises.
A few weeks before the book was published, I called Nuttall-Smith—who was at home in Toronto—to talk about the possibilities of camping, the emotional joy of al fresco dining, and the benefits of relaxing.
I don’t think camping food has ever really crossed my mind could Be as you present it in this book – like delicious food, instead of dehydrated earlier foods.
The food you see on the shelves when you enter an outdoor store – that’s the food for Everest Base Camp, for example. That’s if you’re trying to conquer ten peaks in the Himalayas. It’s survival food. I’m not for a second judging people who do this. It’s easy; it is reliable; it is easy. And some of it is quite decent. But this industry is designed to serve that type of food — you look at the stoves that most people buy, and they’re made to boil water. They really aren’t very good at doing other things. Well, you boil water for ready meals. It’s all built on that and I think people are convinced that this is how they need to cook and that eating well al fresco is impossible. And it just isn’t. When you paddle all day, hike, or have something incredible that you can make in under ten minutes that’s just as delicious as it would be in a restaurant – it’s so rewarding. There’s just that real celebratory vibe that you just can’t get out of a bag of kibble.
In the book, you talk about that aha moment when you’re out paddling and a friend announces that she’s making squid paella. I’m no expert on gourmet camping, but this was a lot to learn for me.
I think there’s a lot for everyone to grasp, to put it bluntly. So this friend, Sasha, she’s a former chef. she is brilliant She’s just a real cook but had never really spent time camping. So, you know, I was like, “Guys, let’s pack light. There are bears everywhere we go.” And we had all sorts of transportation options – those are trails between lakes where you have to carry your canoe and all your gear. And my friend Sasha brought a block of frozen squid. I remember her telling me this and I just looked at her and my eyes popped up. I honestly thought, “This is going to be such a disaster.” That’s not possible do that. And what I didn’t know is that she prepared everything – everything was ready to go – and she made us this absolutely spectacular paella. I was very scared of the ingredients she brought and they ended up not being heavy and not difficult to use. This meal was kind of life-changing because it was delicious — and because it was so effortless for her.
I would say that the paella is one of the “showstoppers” in the book. It’s the most ambitious menu ever – it’s not what everyone will make first time. But this meal showed me what is possible outside. All weekend the food we had was amazing. We had frozen pre-mixed cocktails in bottles – you shook them and they were mushy, and then you poured them into glasses and they were perfect. And, you know, these friends of mine, they were all chefs — not outdoor enthusiasts — and they just pulled out stuff that didn’t require work. They had prepared the food; That’s what chefs do. This weekend my wheels started spinning. I started thinking, “Okay, what else is possible?” I watched someone prepare what many people consider a super hard dish, and she pulled it off with ease. So how about French toast? How about a simple bowl of pasta? How about some amazing grilled cheese sandwiches that you make ahead of time and keep in your cooler? The food in my opinion is about as great as you can get in many restaurants, except you’re also sitting on a beautiful sunny warm rock by a lake with no one around. And you just got out of the water. So it’s the best of all worlds.
The great secret of the book is the preparation. Here’s how to do it – you prepare in advance.
It’s all. There are very few recipes in the book that don’t need to be prepped ahead of time, and if that’s not the case, that’s because there’s no prep – it’s so easy, you don’t have to. More than half of the recipes in this book take ten minutes or less to make at camp.
What makes al fresco dining so celebratory?
When you make a great meal at home, you feel that sense of satisfaction. But when you do that in the wild, you feel like, ‘Okay, everything’s great in the world.’ Part of it is like, ‘Hey, look what I’ve done. I accomplished this impossible thing that took me ten minutes and no work and everyone is so excited and happy.” It feels like you’ve been able to prove that the impossible isn’t even remotely impossible. And part of that is just the sensual beauty. When you’re grilling a piece of meat, cooking chapati on an outside fire, or eating that super simple, beautiful bowl of noodles – the smells, the warmth, the deliciousness, it’s all amplified out there. There’s something to it – I was going to say it’s physical, but it’s more than that. It just grabs you in a way that I don’t think city food quite works.
So I’m wondering: has the way you cook outside changed the way you cook inside?
It really has. I’ve been a notoriously messy cook for most of my life. There was going to be a disaster in the kitchen, and that was always because I was doing everything in real time. I would go shopping in the morning and then start cooking. But part of developing this book and these recipes was realizing what you can do ahead of time and what makes sense and how much easier it can make things. So now I’m scanning a recipe or even looking at the standards I’ve been making for ages and I’m like, “Why am I doing all this at the last minute while I have friends here or my kid is hungry?” Now I will break cooking down to the things that can be done next. I do more batch cooking now.
When we moved into my house, I prepared a five-course platter meal for 18 people, to which we added fried fish. It was stupid. I used to do stupid things. And it’s always gone well, but inside you’re a wreck because you’re trying so hard, and you haven’t necessarily taken the time to say, “How can I simplify this?” How can I make this really comfortable for make me?” And cooking outdoors has really changed that: when you’re eating outside with friends or family and people you love and everyone is relaxed and enjoying this wonderful time, you realize what’s important and what not.
Your plating doesn’t have to be like a photo shoot for The Art of Plating. It doesn’t all have to be beautiful; It doesn’t all have to be sizzling when you put it on the table. You can actually be part of the moment and engage with people without getting overly stressed and worrying about what people are thinking – it’s so natural when you’re camping. you are more relaxed If you’re cooking in this state, you really need to pay attention to how you’re doing at home. I was an uptight cook, to say the least, and now – I don’t know, my wife might dispute that – I’m pretty relaxed.