Meals: Who mentioned tenting dinners needed to simply be beans on toast?

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Chefs Claire Thomson and Matt Williamson talk to Prudence Wade about the joys of cooking in an RV.

With yet another summer ahead of us when traveling abroad is not particularly easy, many of us will be exploring closer to home.

Chefs Claire Thomson and Matt Williamson are ahead of the curve; Long before Covid had a stranglehold on foreign travel, the duo galloped through the country with their three daughters in a VW camper van – and conjured up delicious dishes on the way.

Thomson and Williamson know that camping vacation food often has a pretty seedy reputation. “People think, ‘Oh, these are just baked beans and it’s really difficult to cook,'” says Thomson with a groan. “Personally, I hate baked beans, couldn’t bear to eat them!”

Williamson admits that there is “a misconception that camping must somehow come out of a jar or a package”. He admits that there is “a place” for simple, quick, camping meals, like instant noodles or Thomson’s dreaded baked beans, but that’s not the kind of food they eat on vacation – and it’s not the meals that Find her in her latest cookbook. Motorhome cooking.

For Thomson, this is actually the “easiest cookbook” she has written (previous publications include Home Cookery Year and New Kitchen Basics). “All other cookbooks are a bit more complex because you are at home and have all the ingredients with you,” she explains. “You have four or five burners on your stove … [Whereas] This is a pot, it is the original art of cooking, how you can easily prepare food with a fire or over a small gas stove. ”

As a Kiwi, Williamson grew up camping and grew up eating fresh, delicious vacation food. “My father is a butcher and a lot of his friends were very keen on food, and we usually went to areas where they did a little fishing,” he recalls. “Dinner was great: usually cooked over a fire and grill.”

Thomson didn’t have the same upbringing, admitting that she “wasn’t a camper – I didn’t start camping until we got together”. However, she quickly fell in love with them – especially with the three children in tow. When you “check into a hotel, it’s just a little stuffy for kids,” she says. “It’s much better to have the stray, free-roaming life of camping”.

That’s not to say she hasn’t experienced her fair share of hiccups. “Last year I managed to keep all of our shoes in a box and it rained – like a torrent – and we had wet shoes for the rest of the holiday,” she says with palpable regret.

But for both of them, any potential pitfalls of camping (Williamson admits it can be “awful” when it rains) are completely forgotten at dinner. “Pretty much the first thing we think about when we camp is what we’re going to eat,” says Williamson.

Thomson adds, “I love cooking outside. I love the evenings and socializing, meeting new people. It’s always that nice energy over tea, when you meet people on the campsite and the kids make new friends – I like this freedom. ”

For Thomson, the key to a good meal at the campsite is preparing yourself with the shop closet staples and checking out what’s on offer in the area. “You might buy fresh fish by the sea, or inland you might go to the farm shops or in Cornwall to all the little roadside vegetable stands with honesty boxes,” she says. “I will cook everything, but we will always pay attention to where we are and what we are cooking.”

Putting everything together for a camping vacation can seem daunting: there is so much to think about and remember. Williamson says, “Our background is in restaurants, and my approach to being in a restaurant is that when you’ve got everything set up, life is really easy – and cooking is really easy and fun. Camping takes twice as long , So having everything at hand just makes it a lot more relaxed. ”

“In restaurants it’s mise en place,” agrees Thomson, “when you have all your things in place, [ready] walk. And that’s camping. ”

As much as he values ​​the organization, Williamson says: “At the same time, if something is missing, you just roll along. Because who wants to run to find ingredients? Having a degree of flexibility and organization is just as important. ”

After all, this is your vacation – and eating is meant to be a joyful experience, not an attempt. “Cooking dinner is part of the evening entertainment,” says Thomson. “It’s part of the rhythm of the night.”

She admits that the vacation they take in a luxury VW RV is “pretty ambitious,” but these recipes will suit any type of camping that caters to all levels of equipment and skill. “There is a certain romance about camping,” adds Thomson with a wistful sigh, no doubt in the imagination of the next family adventure.

Camper Van Cooking by Claire Thomson & Matt Williamson is published by Quadrille priced at £ 20. Photography by Sam Folan. Now available.

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