Expert chef comes to play with the camp kitchen, deliciousness ensues


Chef Chad Keever of the Mill City Cafe works the RVRL kitchen.

When Mill City Cafe chef Chad Keever goes camping, he brings an iron skillet and a cooler full of prepped food--no fancy stoves or lightweight cook sets.

All the same, he was eager to step inside the RVRL kitchen to feel his way through a meal for the lab volunteers.

After a dreadful lunch buffet of freeze-dried food, anticipating Keever's menu was a little like looking forward to the last day of 12th grade (if the last day of 12th grade was an insanely delicious meal).

It looked something like this: Black-eyed peas, collard greens, smoked pork and avocado on rice. And bananas foster for dessert.


He brought the peas (cooked for six hours) and pork (cooked for 15 hours) ready to heat, just as he would have done were this his own camping trip. He still had to make rice and chop up onions, garlic and the collards to sauté. He worked our two stoves and four cook sets for the better part of an hour and he liked them all. "The heat is intense and the pots are good," he said. "I thought they'd be terrible. If I lacked anything, it was a bigger fry pan."

The meal did not disappoint. Looking for a recipe? No chance. Want your own Keever-cooked meal? Head for Northeast.

Here's the breakdown on the Recession Vacation Research Laboratory kitchen, much of which Keever employed in the service of his camp-magic:

GSI Camp Kitchen

If you haven't figured it out already, the Recession Vacation has little regard for weight. If you can pack it in a station wagon, it qualifies. This camp kitchen is the best thing to happen to car camping since the tent. It starts folded flat, roughly the length and width of the trunk of a car. When it folds out it has counter space, shelves, a rack, two shallow basins and two large cutting boards--and the option of pump-powered running water. We spent more time at this thing than we did in our sleeping bags.

Reliance On Tap Powered Sink
I was a bit sheepish about using a powered sink for camping. But it wasn't shame that caused us to ditch this thing on day one, it was bad design. When we first fired it up, it leaked from several places. We used wrenches to tighten everything up, and still it leaked. We did a load of dishes in it just the same, and the drain choked constantly on the smallest debris. By day two we were using buckets, and it was working out just fine, thanks.

Brunton Two Burner Stove
"He was sturdy and he burned hot." If I were a camp stove, that's what I'd want on my tombstone. Or you could just make this stove my tombstone. Come by, friends, and make yourself some oats or cowboy coffee. Do it in my name.

Primus Atle BBQ Stove
At first, we missed the second burner. If we're going to BBQ, after all, we'll do it over the campfire. But the BBQ worked just fine as a second burner. We toasted pita for sandwiches on it too. Not necessarily tombstone material (how far can I carry this bit?), but a damn fine stove.

Optimus Stella+
Take this handsome number for breakfast at the nearest beach or riverbank. If you haven't sat by the water at dawn with the warm hiss of a gas stove for company, you really ought to. It doesn't matter what you put on that stove--coffee, oats, hot Tang. The warmth and the hiss is the thing.

MSR Duralite Cookset

Primus Stainless Steel Cookset

Brunton Vapor Cookset

GSI Gourmet Camp Cook System

Let's handle the pots and pans all at once. The four sets we tried had much in common: they pack up real nice, one pot inside the other with the fry pan as a lid. Two things stood out. One: Primus has a damn good fry pan, with an aluminum bottom for heat distribution. Two, the interchangeable pot holders made of plastic didn't have the strength of the metal grippers. We held a relay with pots full of boiling hot water to test them. No we did not. Finally, the GSI set had honest-to-god lids, which was kind of awesome. And that set came with these great nesting cup/bowl gizmos that we used all weekend long.

Guyot Squishy Bowls
You had me at squishy. But these things are functional too. Over the course of our 72-hour camp out, these things held instant cheesecake, oats, cut fruit and whiskey. They're easy to wash--just flip 'em inside out. Oh, and they're squishy.

Sea to Summit Xbowl and Xplate
These things are cool, but maybe a little gimmicky. Yeah, the bowls and the plates have walls that fold down for compact packing, but four nested bowls or plates would take up about the same amount of space. "A" for effort.

MSR Alpine Folding Utensils
I don't want to pick on this product particularly (though the spatula did melt a tiny bit in the service of our first pancake breakfast), but on camp cooking utensils generally. I can't figure out why you couldn't pack from your home kitchen--it'll save you a few bucks.

Optimus Titanium Cutlery
See above. But in fairness, this set is made for hikers. We loved these things. Strong and beautiful, but not enough of either to replace a fistful of cutlery from the drawer in the kitchen.

Guyoto Micro Bites
"Not enough forkiness," said one RVRL volunteer. Maybe so, but this little set is kind of genius. It's like the Swiss Army Knife of camp cutlery.

Coleman Camp Oven
I'll say this: you've got to want it, and we wanted it. Turns out the RVRL was a veritable amateur baker's convention. And thanks to this contraption, we had cornbread and strawberry shortcake and we could have gone on and on. It isn't easy to back off on the temperature if you heat it too hot, but there's a thermometer built into the top of the oven so you have only yourself to blame for the black stuff at the bottom of the cake pan.

GSI Vortex Hand Crank Blender
We wanted blended drinks, what? At least we wanted to work for them. And work for them we did. This blender holds its own against a jar full of ice once you coax it into the job. What does that coaxing sound like? Like this: "Damn. Oh man. I can't get this thing moving. Geez. Ouch!" But that's ice--a smoothie is a breeze. Whatever you're blending, you'll need a steady surface for the clamp that holds the blender in place.

Coleman Chargeable Blender
This thing is bulky as all get out, but it sure does blend. Ice wasn't a problem and the blender drinks were smooth and delicious.

GSI Stainless Steel Mini Espresso
I like cowboy coffee as much as the next camper, but ask yourself: are you in fact a cowboy or girl? Truth be told, I am neither. In the civilized world I'm an espresso drinker, and I see no reason to switch just because the bears--and maybe a few less delicate campers--are watching.

GSI Milk Frother
This thing was okay, but it didn't pass the fundamental test of all camp kitchen gear: is it easy to clean. It's not. And it didn't work. It leaked.

Stanley Classic Thermos
You've got to keep that cowboy coffee warm somehow. Might as well do it with style.

Reliance Aquatainer
The water supply. They say one day there will be wars over water. It's good to have a stash. That's big picture stuff, sure, but even a campsite can get ugly without sufficient water...

Reliance Hydroller
...but water on wheels? We're not there yet. We saw this thing and thought "brilliant!"--then we filled it up and took it for a roll. We were like those people you are always stuck behind at the airport--rolling a suitcase tipping over like there were live monkeys inside. I'll carry my water for now, I can use the exercise.

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