Portland Plated

Beyond S’mores

Four top chefs share the secrets of great campfire cuisine.

By Mike Thelin May 17, 2010 Published in the June 2010 issue of Portland Monthly


YEARS BEFORE answering the clarion call of the kitchen, chef Jason French heard the howl of the wild. As a child, French roamed freely over his family’s 20 acres in rural Connecticut, blazing new trails through the forest with his brother, chopping wood, and igniting magical melty s’mores over the roaring flame of an open campfire at night. After a decade spent in some of Portland’s seminal kitchens—from Paley’s Place to Clarklewis preferred method still involves cooking with fire. At his own Northeast Portland restaurant, Ned Ludd, nearly everything passes through the 650-degree wood-fired oven—from braised Cattail Creek lamb and all manner of roasted veggies to that ever-present nod to his childhood, s’mores.

Of course, French isn’t the only chef in town with a streak of the frontiersman. Portland’s convenient proximity to nature inspires a rucksack of culinary tricks easily deployed beyond the kitchen limits, whether you’re high in the Cascades or at a beachside bonfire pit. In fact, as these recipes from some of the city’s star cooks prove, all gourmet camp cooking really requires is a little at-home prep. The results will forever change your definition of dining alfresco.

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Chicken and Chorizo Paella

Cathy Whims, Nostrana

A 2010 James Beard Award finalist, Cathy Whims has earned green, white, and red stripes as the city’s first lady of regional Italian cuisine. But among her inner circle of foodie friends, Whims is equally renowned for a formidable backyard paella that’s easily adaptable to summertime road-trip feasts.

At Home

Prep everything at home. “Chopping and cutting with limited water access is challenging and messy,” Whims notes.

At the Campground

Pat chicken with paper towels and season well with salt and pepper. On a metal grate over campfire coals, heat oil in a 15-inch metal paella pan. When oil is hot, fry chicken until golden on all sides. Once juices are clear, move to a plate. Add sausage pieces to pan and brown. Remove to the plate with the chicken. Add green pepper, onion, and garlic, and sauté until onion starts to turn gold, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomato and cook for 10 minutes more. Add paprika and saffron, stir well, then add rice. Stir to coat rice well with oil. Add white wine, let bubble for 1 minute, then add hot chicken broth and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange chicken pieces on top of rice. Simmer until rice is no longer soupy, but not dry: about 8–10 minutes. Cover paella pan tightly with foil and let cook over medium heat until all liquid is absorbed, but rice is still firm. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Other Camp Essentials

Farm eggs, fresh tomatoes, and canned tuna for capponada—the Ligurian version of salade Niçoise.

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Adding clams to Jenn Louis’ Seafood Stew.

Seafood Stew

Jenn Louis, Lincoln Restaurant and Culinary Artistry

Chef Jenn Louis—along with David Welch, her business partner and husband—feeds happy multitudes of North Portlanders, whether at her restaurant, Lincoln, or her catering company, Culinary Artistry. Days off, however, are spent at the beach, where the couple wows friends and family with this easy-to-make seafood stew.

At Home

In 4 tbsp olive oil, sauté onions, herbs, garlic, paprika, and chile flakes over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add tomato paste and cook until mixture has caramelized on the bottom of the pan. Add wine and scrape browned bits from bottom while reducing to almost dry. Add stock and simmer until you have about 4 cups of liquid. Add remaining 4 tbsp olive oil, remove from heat, and purée mixture in blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

At the Beach

Place a fire-friendly cast-iron pot on a grill over the fire. Bring prepared liquid to simmer and add seafood. Place potatoes on the grill to heat and char. Grill bread on open flames. When shellfish opens, season the fish stew and potatoes with good olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper, and serve. (It never hurts to have lemon wedges on hand for extra flavor.)

Other Camp Essentials

Bread and chocolate: toast bread over a fire, spread some Alma chocolate on top, and sprinkle with salt.

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Fried Pesto Pasta

Jason French, Ned Ludd

French loves backpacking, but admits that the culinary benefits of car camping far outweigh the pleasures of being 30 miles from the nearest road—especially with two children.

At Home

Place basil, garlic, nuts, chile flakes, and salt in food processor. Pulse several times to incorporate ingredients. Add oil slowly, while machine is running. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place in lidded container and store in a cooler. Cook pasta, cool, toss with oil, and also store in cooler.

Jason French preparing to chop up the arugula for his pasta.

At the Campground

In a heavy-bottomed pan on a camp stove, add oil. When oil is hot, add pasta, fry until crisp, and season with salt. Remove from pan, place in a separate bowl, and add pesto. Add beans and greens and stir. Add salt and lemon according to taste.

Wipe pan clean and return to heat. Sprinkle 1/4 of the cheese in a single layer in the pan and heat until crisp. Remove and repeat with remaining cheese. Divide pasta onto four plates. Top each portion with fried cheese. Serve with a good-quality boxed wine.

Other Camp Essentials

Lemon, salt, and olive oil (preferably Katz’s from California): “My holy trinity of ingredients,” French says.

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Gabriel Rucker’s BBQ Lamb Shanks and Beans boiling over a roaring campfire.

BBQ Lamb Shanks and Beans

Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon

Another 2010 James Beard Award finalist and a 2007 Food & Wine–lauded rising star, Gabriel Rucker feels at home in the woods. All he needs are his staple ingredients, a Dutch oven, and a 12-pack of beer. Although you might want to pace yourself when it comes to the cold ones—this simple dish takes four hours to prepare.?

At the Campground

Open a beer. Combine the first 7 ingredients in a Dutch oven and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and place in the hot coals of a campfire. Cook covered for 3 hours, adding water as necessary. add dry beans and chard, then cook uncovered until beans are tender. Stir in barbecue sauce of your choice and salt and pepper to taste. Spoon a lamb shank and some beans over each slice of corn bread. Drink more beer.

Other Camp Essentials

A set of long-handled tongs and bourbon (any brand).

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