We’re not afraid to tell you that, like many others, we are often a little stumped when it comes to cooking meals when we camp. You would think that by now, after many years of pitching a tent and pulling up our caravan, we would have this part down pat but we still lack a little confidence.
For some reason, we feel like we have to keep things super simple and basic when camping, none of that ‘gourmet’ stuff. But why should meals be boring just because you are camping? Food should still be one of those things you enjoy equally when it comes to camping holidays.. but we were lacking inspiration and feeling somewhat limited.
Until we found Jon Riley, aka. The Gourmet Camp Chef. Inspiring a whole community online with his website Aussie Bush Camping and on Instagram, Jon’s love of food and camping is pushing the boundaries of regular camp meals and showing us that we can indeed create incredible food easily in the great outdoors.
So we’ve invited Jon to inspire you all too and he will be contributing camp recipes every month to share with you all!
Whether you cook over fire, gas or a barbecue, we hope you will enjoy Jon’s ideas as much as we do. And we thought we would get to know him a little bit first and find out the basics of what we should all know if we want to take our camp cooking to the next level!
- Tell us a little bit about your background and what fuelled your love for camping and cooking?
I grew up on a farm in England so I seemed to always spend more time outdoors than in; camping, hunting and fishing on our land and woodlands with friends. I always had the opportunity to cook up our catch on the campfire for dinner, mostly a nice dinner of rainbow trout or rabbit on the spit.
I have always had a deep love of cooking from an early age and started working in the trade from 14 as a kitchen hand. I progressed from there on a 20-year journey as a professional chef working across the U.K and then finally moving to Australia where I gained residency through skilled migration as a chef back in 1999. `
- How often do you go camping?
We try to get out at least once a month for overnight trips and then longer trips when we can organise them or make use of the public holidays. We are not one for your paid camp site campers but opt for the more adventurous bush camping that’s well off the beaten track.
- What inspired you to start sharing your camping recipes?
Firstly, having been a chef I love sharing ideas when it comes to food, after all the experience of eating beautiful dishes is about sharing and enjoying with others in one way or another. There is always this stigma that camp cooking is just snags and basic meals. I hoped that with a little inspiration people would push their comfort zone and experiment a little with what they feel they can cook away from the comfort of their kitchens.
After posting a number of dishes on our other Instagram page @aussie_bush_camping I started getting a lot of requests to accompany the photos with the recipe till one day someone suggested to start a separate Instagram page where they could find all the dishes in one place and so evolved @the_gourmet_camp_chef. Instagram has made for a great platform to share. Seeing people post pictures back to me of the dishes they have cooked and enjoyed from my recipes makes it all worth it!
- What is your all-time favourite thing to cook when camping?
That’s a tough call…So many great dishes have been made over the years but if I had to pick one there is a current favourite, especially being in winter that features on every menu and that’s camp oven baked eggs with beans, tomato and pork and fennel meat balls. Drop in the meatballs and add nice big diced potato for a vegetarian option. Delicious! Even better with a slice of fresh camp oven bread covered in butter to mop up with.
- Are you just as creative in the kitchen when you are at home?
To be honest no. When camping, I make a lot more dishes like scrolls, bread, pies, pasta (yes, I take a pasta machine camping ha-ha) and cakes than I ever would at home because for me it’s a challenge to control the heat whilst cooking, something that generally requires precise heat for success.
There is nothing more satisfying than taking the camp oven lid off for the first time to see a beautifully perfectly cooked loaf of bread. Far more pleasurable than just opening your oven door after you have had full control of its cooking environment.
- Do we all need to be chefs to create gourmet meals like you?
No absolutely not. You just need to be a little adventurous and willing to experiment with different dishes you like cooking at home. I had cooked for many years professionally which gives me an edge but I still needed to learn how to cook on a fire and harness the raw energy of the fire and embers. Believe me I have had my fair share of “oh dear…get the tin of beans” moments. As always practice makes perfect.
- Tell us some of your favourite places to camp in Australia?
We tend to spend a lot of time camping in and around the blue mountains being based in Sydney, within just a few hours you are in a pristine wilderness. Paddy’s River Dam near Kosciusko was an absolutely stunning spot camping on the edge of a beautiful dam with the wild brumbies and a dam full of brown trout to catch for dinner.
By far my favourite through would have to be Fraser Island! A stunningly beautiful pristine diverse environment. To add to that the abundance of fish and pippies on the beach to catch and cook was amazing, nothing better than fresh seafood from ocean to plate within an hour!
- Name three things you always take camping and why?
First would be my beautiful son Zach, he has been on every camp with me since he was 4 years old (now 16). Had it not been for his own love for camping, cooking and my want as a Dad to expose him to this amazing country we live in I would not be writing this today. It’s been a very special journey for us.
Second would be my camp oven, never go camping without it. Always amazed at how great a camp oven is and how versatile it can be from baking bread and making fresh pizza to cooking a stew or making an omelette.
Lastly, I would say our hammock. There is nothing better than stringing your hammock up on a beautiful day swinging relaxing and listening to the sounds of the bush, and nothing better to get into for a cheeky afternoon siesta!
- What would you say to others who feel that cooking while camping can be somewhat limiting?
Be adventurous, think outside the box, you can confidently cook most meals you make at home with a little practice. Practice some dishes at home and then try them out camping. Plan your meals, write a menu, sky’s the limit. Most importantly enjoy yourself!
- But isn’t it hard to take and store all those extra food items when you go camping?
Only take what you need for the meals you are making, this is where writing your menu and pre-planning really comes in. Buy some small pots and containers to keep smaller amounts of seasonings, spices flour etc tidy and organised. We take our camper trailer most of the time now which has bucket loads of space so I always keep a basics pantry stocked and then add in the items like your meat, fish, fruit and vegetables dependant on your menu.
- Any top tricks you can share to make campsite meals better?
- Zip lock bags are amazingly versatile and a camp cooks friend. Pre-make components of your dishes so you just have to finish them off when camping.
- Pre-marinade your meat or fish in a zip lock bag before you leave so you don’t need all those spices seasonings etc to save space.
- Easy camp oven lasagne recipe- pre-make your béchamel sauce and bolognaise and freeze them, then all you need is the pasta sheets and the cheese for the top. Then pre-make garlic bread and wrap in foil ready to go in the embers. You can apply this method to many dishes to make your camp cooking memorable and delicious yet easy.
- Freeze all your meat, bolognaise etc apart from the first night’s dinner to help keep the esky cold if you don’t have a fridge.
You can find Jon’s recipes here and keep an eye out for new ones as we post them each month.
How creative are you with campsite meals? Tell us your experiences in the comments and feel free to ask Jon any questions about cooking at the campsite!