This month, we’re cooking in the original kitchen: the great outdoors.
Our next Tastemaker, Emma Frisch, is the author of outdoor cooking guide Feast by Firelight – so she knows a thing or two about preparing good food under the stars. Her number one tip? Prep! In the video below, she creates her hit dish: finger-licking skirt steak with her mother’s own salsa verde. It’s an irresistible combination, especially suited to eating al fresco.
AMEX ESSENTIALS: Could you briefly introduce yourself, for those who don’t know you?
Emma Frisch: I’m a farm-to-table chef, cookbook author and co-founder of Firelight Camps, a glamping destination in Ithaca, New York. Some might know me as a top finalist on Food Network Star (season 10), or from my food blog. I’m a first-generation American, strongly influenced in the kitchen by my Italian mother and my multicultural family (scattered across five continents!). Most importantly, I’m a mother to two beautiful daughters, and wife to my business partner and best friend, Bobby Frisch.
What is it about cooking and eating outdoors that appeals so much to you?
Food and fire are two of the most powerful things in life that offer a timeless, primal source of connection with each other, ourselves and the natural world. When we come together to cook and eat around a campfire, everything else seems to melt away: worry, work, politics, judgement, discrimination, resentment, insecurity and so on. When we can separate from the daily rhythms of our modern life, our senses are heightened and we can appreciate what’s right in front of us. An exquisite, nourishing meal, stories exchanged with new and familiar friends, the morphing flames of the fire, and the stars overhead. Anyone who has roasted a marshmallow or sausage on a stick over the fire, and then devoured it – sticky fingers, dripping juices and all – can attest to the magic in such a simple moment.
Food and fire are two of the most powerful things in life that offer a timeless, primal source of connection with each other, ourselves and the natural world. When we come together to cook and eat around a campfire, everything else seems to melt away: worry, work, politics, judgement, discrimination, resentment, insecurity and so on.
What led you to write your book, Feast by Firelight?
I wanted people to know that cooking and eating outdoors does not have to be hard. In fact, whether you’re planning a meal for yourself, a group of friends or your family, it can feel effortless and downright fun!
As a former backcountry guide and self-taught chef, I first had the opportunity to cook outside for others when we opened our glamping destination. In addition to overseeing our breakfast programme, I began casually preparing meals for whoever happened to be gathered around the fire, and transitioned to hosting fireside dining events. The meals I made were simple, delicious and replicable. Outdoor cooking has become synonymous with freeze-dried, prepackaged and canned food, and many of our guests were genuinely surprised to see me grilling fresh vegetables or making a Dutch oven fruit crisp from scratch. This sparked the idea to create a cookbook that would help others reconnect with food, nature and their senses – essential to cooking outside.
The book itself is not only about cooking over a campfire. In fact, nearly all of the recipes can be prepared at home as well, and most are prepared on a camp stove or grill. It’s a book that will serve every type of cook, however novice or seasoned!
What is your cooking mantra?
My mantra is “food with roots”. I see food as a powerful storyteller. A meal – or even a single ingredient – can transport us back to the land where it was grown, tell us about the farmers, make us feel nostalgic, celebrate a tradition, or create a new one. Unfortunately, so much of our food today is factory-farmed, and has a vague and untraceable story. To me, it has become more important than ever to find food that is deeply rooted in story. This is how we can be confident that the food we are eating is, well, real.
Over the campfire you can char the outside of the steak to create a crisp, smoky bite that melds perfectly with the salsa verde. Skirt steak is also a wonderful cut for the campfire or grill, because it's very forgiving. It doesn't take long to cook, and won't be too chewy if slightly overcooked. This is a gateway recipe to campfire cooking!
How did this recipe come about, and why do you like to make it at the campfire?
My mother’s salsa verde first appeared in Bon Appétit magazine the year after my identical twin, Dimity, and I were born. It’s the Italian version of chimichurri, a pungent, herbaceous bright green sauce. I have never met someone who didn’t like it!
Growing up, we would eat it with everything from scrambled eggs to sliced cow tongue sandwiches. I especially love it with steak, because it helps lighten an otherwise heavy bite. Over the campfire you can char the outside of the steak to create a crisp, smoky bite that melds perfectly with the salsa verde. Skirt steak is also a wonderful cut for the campfire or grill, because it’s very forgiving. It doesn’t take long to cook, and won’t be too chewy if slightly overcooked. This is a gateway recipe to campfire cooking!
Do you have a golden tip for campsite grilling?
YES! Make time to prepare your ingredients and meal components at home. Now that you know this, do not wait to scramble at the last minute! If your vegetables are pre-sliced and slathered with olive oil, your chicken marinated and everything stored in ziplock bags, you’ll be able to cook outside with much more ease and delight (and have less dishes to wash).
In my cookbook, I offer several tips for how to pack your outdoor kitchen and prepare ahead of time. Every recipe has a prep section as well, which can often be done days in advance. If you’re making any of the recipes at home, the prep section can also be treated as a mise en place that can be done on a Sunday for easy meal execution during the week (ahem, busy mums).