“Glamping” (Glamorous Camping) in Washington State
“Hi, my name is Tim, and I’m looking for a chef for an event in June.” What seemed like an everyday typical inquiry voicemail was really an opportunity to be the personal chef team for a unique luxury outdoor adventure and camping experience. So began a thrilling (and stressful) 3 weeks of planning and custom décor shopping that took our chef team into the heart of central Washington for 5-star, cast-iron cooking over an open campfire.
The first discussion with Tim established immediate trust in my team’s ability to meet his event needs. Tim explained his vision for this exclusive experience that he’d been dreaming about and planning for over the last 5 years. This time around, we would be working with “fake guests” since the primary intent this past summer was to film a marketing video to sell this experience to prospective clients for 2016 and beyond. Tim was going to take a group of 4 people deep into the woods for mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, and “glamping” (glamorous camping). At the end of the week, the group would be helicoptered out of the campsite and over the Cascade Mountains back to Seattle. In between activities, Tim wanted his guests to have amazing restaurant-quality food and service. Nothing resembling canned beans and weenies. With my progressive background in event planning, catering, and fine dining, Tim knew he had “called the right person.”
Successive phone calls and texts with Tim took the food and service requirements to new levels. The film production company wanted Michelin quality: white linen tablecloths, real china and glassware (not melamine), fresh flowers, lighting. Anything that had “wow factor”, including service elements that were discreet yet impressionable. The more we talked, the more I got excited. And nervous. Day 1: Show up to site #1 and cook brunch for the group, then proceed to site #2 to make an afternoon appetizer and sunset dinner. The plan was for Tim to get to the first site to build our fire so we didn’t have to arrive at dawn. Upon arrival at 9am, no Tim and no fire, only the sounds of birds and rustling tree leaves. We placed a panic call (mind you, in a next-to-no phone reception area) to ensure we were in the right location. Chef Shelby and I sprang into action to build our fire, unpack our supplies, and start prep for brunch. Thank goodness for cool and reasonable clients who give assurances like “the agenda timeframe we talked about before is now thrown out. We’re just gonna roll with however things happen, so don’t stress out.” Deep breath. Relief.
Our brunch menu included Shelby’s Spanish Baked Eggs, Hot & Sugared Honeydew Melon Skewers, Skillet Roasted Purple Potatoes, and Jalapeño-Kale Cornbread Muffins. We served our campfire creations on vintage 1920s Wedgwood china on a perfectly beautiful hot and sunny day in the middle of the woods. Delicious success!
We quickly packed up, bounced down a bumpy dusty road, and onto the highway to reach our next and final destination more than an hour away. Tim had scouted out and secured a prime location with a glorious view overlooking Cooper Lake. These are the kinds of days when we absolutely LOVE OUR JOB. Making beautiful food in a beautiful setting for a unparalleled experience. We will gladly sweat for hours over a campfire than be in an office.
When our guests returned from their river kayaking, Shelby and I served Shrimp Cocktail Shooters with and Heirloom Tomato Bloody Mary Sauce. The best part was sprinkling Strawberry Pop Rocks into the sauce just before service. The crackling noise and taste was lots of fun, and certainly something our guests did not expect. We also served an Apple Cider BBQ Pork Slider with Kale-Apple Slaw along with a mini mug of Washington State Hard Cider as a refreshing cool-down for the hot afternoon.
Fast-forward to dinner. I wish you all could have been there to bask in the glory of our mountain-top dinner setting. A true “moment of eternity”, as a dear friend of mine calls it. The evening’s menu started with a St. Germain Champagne Cocktail and our amuse bouche of Seared Ahi Tuna with Balsamic-Roasted Strawberries, Oregonzola Crumbles, and Orange-Balsamic Glaze. Next, we served a Grapefruit and Jicama Carpaccio Salad with Cilantro, Red Onion, Cucumber, and Bell peppers on a sheet of cedar paper on top of a Himalayan pink salt brick. Our guests enjoyed a main entrée including Marinated Beef Tenderloin Brochettes, Cowboy Beans in Chipotle-Red Eye Gravy, and Griddled Polenta Cakes with Fire-Roasted Zucchini. Last but not least was our dessert course: Rhubarb & Blueberry Crisp with Pistachio-Oatmeal topping. In between all of this was the video company staging a variety of shots, including multiple takes of me approaching the dinner table with each course. Hurry up and wait, isn’t that the name of the game sometimes?
There’s something special about being in the middle of nowhere. It’s called “no light pollution at night.” As the evening sky turned to a million sparkles of stars above, we brought out cigars and brandy for our guests and clients to enjoy along with our own magic show of color-changing fire pinecones. Nighty night, don’t let the bedbugs bite in your canvas tent structure complete with plush queen-sized bed and accent furniture. Day 1 done as Shelby and I trotted to our standard tent pitched on barely enough of a not-flat space between trees.
Day 2 started with a 6:30am arise to throw a kettle of water on the fire to make a much-needed multiple French presses of coffee for the campsite team. As bleary-eyed clients milled around, we set to work baking on a cast-iron griddle some hollowed-out orange peels stuffed with cinnamon rolls. Once those came off the fire, we glazed with sticky, saucy, goodness and adorned with gold star sprinkles. The main entrée was a freshly-made Cheesy Chive Biscuit Sandwich with Hempler’s Sausage, Griddled Egg, Fire-Roasted Tomato, and Fresh Basil plus a Swiss Chard Roll stuffed with Wild Mushrooms and Rice.
All in all, our 2-day glamping trip was a massive success with some learning points along the way. Shelby and I rewarded ourselves with a dip of our toes into the chilly river while the hot summer sun warmed our faces and souls. What an honestly good, no GREAT, experience! See you next summer!