When you think of expeditions and long adventures, gourmet food may not be the first thing that springs to mind. Seeking the path of least resistance, reducing expenses and in the interests of trimming pack weight, many of us end up with pretty bland or even unpalatable meals.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way, as Kieran Creevy – Expedition chef and International Mountain Leader- can prove. Kieran creates striking meals in the most unlikely locations that not only speak of the area, but provide the right amount of energy and satisfaction, something not often found in the contents of a packet. With a bit of planning, imagination and using local and sometimes wild ingredients he shows us how it’s possible to have your metaphorical cake and eat it.
Which came first- leading in the mountains or cheffing?
Definitely the ‘Chef’ end of things. I was lucky enough to have a father who was also a chef, so I was being schooled from a fairly young age. The interest in the outdoors came about a few years later via the Scouts, then progressed significantly after a trip to the Alps when I was 18.
What made you decide to blend your talents and do both?
I guess I’d been cooking and teaching in the mountains for a number of years without giving it any thought. To me, having decent food even at altitude or in the depths of winter seemed normal. It was only while working with an old friend, on a ski touring trip in the Arctic that my view on food in wild places versus what others expected coalesced into an appreciation of how much I had learned and how much more we could get out of the outdoors by marrying good food with adventure.
What are the big benefits of having a well prepared meal on an expedition rather than the usual packaged food?
For me the benefits are psychological and emotional. Often, I feel, home prepared food is put aside in favour of speed, efficiency and trimming weight.
I’m not going to dismiss packaged food out of hand, as they serves their place. So if, for example, your goal is a multi-day trail run or alpine climb, then speed and minimum weight are high on the list of priorities. In this arena, freeze dried meals do provide a credible solution.
It’s also important to note that even within the freeze dried meal category there’s a massive difference between good and bad products. Having eaten 10 different brands of freeze dried meals back-to-back for a taste test (only 2 tablespoons of each, for obvious reasons) there are some I’d happily eat again on an expedition, or even store at home as a ‘just in case’ and others that I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.
However, even top quality freeze dried dinners can’t compete with a freshly cooked meal – be it in an Alpine refuge, Himalayan tea house, basecamp tent, or from just outside your own tent on a wild camp.
There are a number of reasons we need good food on an expedition and the first will always be as a source of fuel. But, fuelling our bodies is only one element. We need to fuel our minds as well. Open a pack of pre-prepped food, take a good sniff, any emotive response? Probably not. Heat it with boiling water, wait 5 minutes, now take another whiff. If you’re lucky there’ll be a reasonable smell, but probably little or no emotion. It will fill your stomach and fuel your muscles, but no more.
Now, think about the last time you passed a wood fired grill with marinated beef slowly smoking over coals, smelled fresh chapattis toasting on a dry pan, the sharp tang of citrus and chilli from a ceviche, or warm, spiced apple and blackberry crumble? Even old memories of food, long eaten, can trigger an emotional response.
Imagine therefore as an example cooking an Indian curry with fresh spices, lime pickle and paratha at some Himalayan base camp, after a multi week trek or climb. The landscape and those flavours are now inextricably linked in your memories.
Great food at home or in a restaurant is memorable, a simple sandwich on the side of some hillside can taste amazing. Now combine the best of both worlds?
There are other reasons of equal importance why a well, prepared meal is important on expedition:Food miles or lack thereof. A lot of the food you buy at home has been transported hundreds or even thousands of miles to get there. Now, you’re going to pack the same food and pay to fly it a few more thousand miles somewhere else. Why not pack only the essentials, head to your chosen destination a few days or a week early and enjoy shopping in the local markets.
The summit, river or trail are only part, or should only be part, of the goal. Where we are and who we meet are equally important. We consider ourselves adventurous people, the reasons we go places are many and varied. Why do you eat Turkey for Christmas/ Thanksgiving, Crayfish for a Midsummers festival, Harira for Lftar, Besan Barfi for Diwali, or Bahn Chung for Tet? Because it’s part of your heritage. Food from the area has an importance beyond calories and commerce, it ties you to the land. Reason enough to consider it when planning your next trip.
Where is the most difficult place you’ve had to make a meal?
To date, it was probably at a winter snowhole camp in the Italian Alps a good few years back. I was cooking for 12 on a powerful liquid fuel stove with no simmer function and had been a tad ambitious with the main meal – pumpkin gnocchi with wild boar stew.
It all worked out fine, but the temperature was well into minus digits and it was tricky making sure all 12 dishes went out piping hot, without burning the bottom of the pan.
Which is your favourite country to go to for cooking in the wild?
Damn, way to finish with a tough one! It’s hard to pick just one country, but if forced, I’d have to choose Finland.
The main reason I’ve chosen Finland is the connection most Finns seem to have with nature and the outdoors. Roughly 1 in 3 Finns have a forest or lakeside cabin or access to one. Weekends and holidays are mostly about spending more time in the wilderness.
Like it’s neighbours Sweden and Norway, Finland has their Jokamiehenoikeudet or Everyman’s Right. It’s a legal concept I’d like to see enacted in more countries. What’s particularly important about this everyman’s right is it holds everyone to the same principle. You have rights, but also responsibilities.
For more info about these rights and responsibilities click on this link: http://www.ym.fi/ en-US/content/4484/25712
Below are two of Kieran’s recipes and instructions on how to prepare them back at the campsite. Why not ditch the baked beans for a weekend- your friends and family will certainly thank you!
Chestnut and wild mushroom soup, sheep cheese croutons, bresola crisps
Double handful of wild mushrooms
50g dried porcini
400g can chestnuts, or vacuum packed chestnuts.
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tsp chopped wild thyme or dried thyme
1 litre vegetable stock or good 1-2 quality stock cubes/gel
200g creme fraiche/live yoghurt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp dried porcini
4-6 large slices of slightly stale pain de campagne
100g sharp, crumbly ewe’s cheese
8-12 paper thin slices of breasola, dried to crispy in a warm oven
1 heaped tsp espelette pepper
1* Place the dried porcini in Nalgene bottle or other leakproof widemouth container and pour 400ml of boiling water to cover.
2* Set aside for 20 minutes to soak. Drain the mushrooms, reserve the soaking liquid.
3* While the mushrooms are rehydrating, roughly chop the chestnuts and wild mushrooms.
4* Heat a large pan and add the olive oil, then add the chestnuts, onion and drained wild mushrooms and sweat gently for 10 minutes until the onions are golden brown, stirring occasionally.
5* Season to taste.
6* Add the thyme and fresh mushrooms to the pan with the reserved soaking liquid and stock, stirring to combine.
7* Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for another 10-15 minutes.
8* Stir in the creme fraiche/yoghurt and allow to heat through for 1 minute.
9* Spread fresh ewe’s cheese on crusty pain de campagne, and dust with espelette powder
10* Ladle the soup into bowls
11* Top with a few bresaola curls. Serve with the large croutons alongside
Optional. Blitz the dried bresaola to a powder in a spice grinder, store in an airtight container and dust over the croutons.
Suggestion: If cooking and serving at home, soft poach 4 eggs. When serving, carefully spoon an egg onto the soup and break, allowing the runny yolk to ooze out.
If you’d prefer a smoother soup then prep at home to step 8*, blitz with a blender, allow to cool then transfer 1 litre to a leakproof bottle and refrigerate overnight. Store the remainder for your return.
Once in camp, heat the soup and finish off with croutons, cheese and bresaola.
Fire roasted Fig, rosewater labneh, spiced almond brittle
Ingredients: Serves 4
4 large or 8 small ripe figs
500ml goat, sheep or cows labneh
1 tsp each of cumin seeds, green cardamom seeds (removed from the pods) and fennel seeds
1 cup white sugar
1 cup whole almonds
1 tsp rose water
1 tbsp water
Advance prep at home: For the spiced nut brittle
Toast the almonds on a hot dry pan for 5 minutes, shaking frequently to prevent burning.
Transfer to a pestle and mortar or into a clean dry tea towel and bash to break into chunks, large and small.
Place in a bowl until needed
Toast the whole spices on the same dry pan for 2-3 minutes until fragrant, making sure not to let them burn.
Transfer to a pestle and mortar and grind together into a powder.
Mix the ground spices with the sugar and pour into the hot pan.
Add the tbsp of water.
Reduce the heat to medium
When the sugar starts to dissolve, shake/swirl the pan gently to move the sugar around.
If necessary, take the pan off the heat temporarily to stop the sugar burning.
Let the sugar dissolve completely.
N.B. Never stir with a spoon as the caramel will have a grainy texture
N.B 2 Don’t let the sugar bubble, as this means it’s becoming burnt which will give the brittle a bitter flavour
Once liquid, pour onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.
Tilt the paper to spread the caramel into a thin layer.
Scatter the crushed almonds onto the caramel while still hot.
Leave to cool (10-15 minutes)
Break into shards/chunks (as you like)
Store in a tupperware box or biscuit tin lined with greaseproof paper.
The brittle will keep for up to a month in a airtight container
Mix the tsp of rose water with the labneh in a bowl.
Don’t be tempted to use more than 1 tsp as it has a very strong flavour!
Fire roasted figs:
Use a well controlled open fire, charcoal barbecue or if using an oven set to 160c
Wrap the figs in tinfoil and cook on embers/in the oven for 3-4 minutes max.
Remove from the tinfoil and cut open from the stem in a star shape
Drizzle the labneh into the centre, pour any liquid in the tinfoil over this and top with the brittle.
If you’ve been inspired to get out and go on an adventure, check out our full website at www.odysseon.com for all of our expeditions, trips and latest updates.
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