Hometown: Wilton, Connecticut
Years around sun: 33
Happiest place outside: Somewhere with a high vantage point. Currently, a moss-carpeted ledge overlooking Lake Treman in Buttermilk Falls State Park. Depending on the time of day, you can see the sun rise and set from this spot. If I'm patient, a blue heron will eventually screech overhead, landing among the cattails to fish, while beavers wade through the waterways. Sounds magical, doesn't it?
Was camping a part of your childhood, growing up? Every summer Mamma enrolled me in Mountain Workshop's Awesome Adventures, an outdoor recreation camp that covered all the bases: rock climbing, kayaking, bushwhacking, spelunking, orienteering, hiking and overnight camping. Apart from occasionally camping in the backyard or the basement, depending on the whether, that was where I learned to pitch a tent. I imagine with four kids spaced five years apart, it was daunting for Mamma to wrangle all the gear we'd need to camp (too bad glamping didn't exist in the U.S. back then!). Family vacations were always grounded in the outdoors: hiking, picnicking, swimming, skiing. Back at home, we weren't allowed to watch TV, so instead, we made kingdoms in the woods behind our house. There was a wide bend in the river that we called the "kitchen," with a family-sized, flat rock "table" and two smaller rock "stools." We pounded dry mud to make chocolate and fashioned sugar from ice crystals.
What is your favorite moment as a chef? As a cook, the sense of coming full circle excites me most. It's my responsibility to stay in tune with our food system, from seed to table and back to the earth as compost, and to find ways of bringing this awareness to the people I serve. There are so many moments wrapped up in this beautiful cycle: picking fresh herbs or unpacking a delivery from my farmer; feeling the "a-ha!" spark of inspiration in creating a unique recipe; relishing the first bite of a new dish; feeling honored when people come together to celebrate the harvest and my cooking; watching the embers die with my feet on a chair and cold beer in hand; sweeping the last crumbs from the kitchen floor and collapsing into bed; waking to repeat the cycle. It's a process that demands being present physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. It's good practice for me.
What is your favorite fire-licked meal? Easy, kale. Wash the leaves and pat them dry. Drizzle and massage gently with olive oil to coat. Slap them over a high-burning fire and char the leaves. Let them cool, strip the leaves and toss with your favorite dressing (or a squeeze of lemon juice), salt and pepper. Voila! It's primal. Michael Pollan says, wood, fire and smoke are cooking's primary colors. It's true. If you're planning to cook over fire, all you really need is olive oil, salt, pepper and extra-long tongs.
Try also: charred bread with charred tomatoes, olive oil and a smattering of fresh herbs.
I'm working on a cookbook with Ten Speed Press called Feast by Firelight, to be published in Spring 2018. It will feature over 75 recipes for cooking outside, including some of the recipes I've created for Firelight events and our breakfast program. (For updates, you can sign up for my very-spontaneous-but-always-juicy newsletter.)
Is there a special outdoor tradition that you want to pass down to your daughter, Ayla? Hm, great question. When Bobby and I go rock climbing we play a game to see who goes first. We pick a place on the ground at least ten feet away and take turns tossing a pebble with the aim of hitting our target. It's makeshift bocce. The person with the closest pebble climbs first. When Ayla starts climbing with us, we'll pass that down. And in the meantime, we'll stick to our usual MO: get outside at least once, every day. And be playful about it!
You have to build a fire in under 60 seconds. Describe how you do it. GO!
Before the clock starts ticking, I'll run through this checklist:
Can I start a campfire in this location? What does Smokey Bear say?
Is the area clear of any leaves, twigs, grass or other materials that could catch fire?
Do I need to create a new fire pit or is there an existing one I can use?
Collect my materials: dry tinder (pine needles, leaves, etc.), dry kindling (small twigs and branches; nothing green), dry logs.
Ok, 60 seconds...GO. I like the teepee method. I make a small pile of tinder with a teepee of kindling overtop. I light the tinder and blow gently, igniting the kindling. When the kindling catches fire I make a teepee of logs over top, making sure there is enough space for air so the fire can breathe.