Outdoor cooking is huge for Chef Eva, who grew up on a farm in Hawaii. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out her wonderful Campfire Roasted Whole Ontario Trout recipe finished with a to-die-for sauce made from Ontario butter and crème fraîche.
Chef Eva’s food is inspired by her Samoan, Singaporean and Chinese cultural traditions and elevated by her extensive experience and incredible talent. Having recently moved on from her role as Chef de Cuisine at Kōjin, one of the Momofuku group of celebrated restaurants, she is busy working on launching her next project, a pop-up called The Soy Luck Club, a Chinese banquet-style supper club inspired by Amy Tan’s beloved novel, The Joy Luck Club. Eva minored in literature and the book just stuck with her.
Eva’s culinary philosophy is, “Community, culture and cuisine” and she keeps these three pillars at the forefront of her personal and professional offerings. Her food inspires a sense of nostalgia. “People comment that my food reminds them of something else they enjoyed when they were young or on their travels. It reminds people of somewhere they’ve been—somewhere you’ve eaten, someone you’ve known or talked to. But maybe that’s just food in general.”
Chef Eva was raised by her grandmother, a well-known leader in their village. Cooking and gatherings were part of the everyday. “Definitely to me, the concept of “outdoors” was not heading out to a provincial park with a little gas grill. There’s no MEC in Hawaii, we sleep in hammocks on the beach. It was basic instinct. At a young age, if I was hungry, my grandmother would say, “Well, there’s food on the farm—go outside, take a stroll and get yourself some food.” Sometimes we’d go fishing overnight or for a few days and we’d just cook on the beach. Driftwood was a huge source for our cooking fires. It was very natural. Part of my Samaoan and Hawaiian culture is having an imu, which is a hearth oven in the ground. Cooking on hot embers and charcoal is very common.”
“I think there’s a lot more preparation involved than people think when you’re cooking outside. If I’m cooking on an imu, I have to soak taro or banana leaves overnight, or for days sometimes. I wrap the meat in layers of them and then I stack them very strategically—sometimes with pineapples and sweet potatoes in between—so the fire’s not just hitting the meat. It’s a labour of love, it’s not about convenience. It’s the opposite of convenience—it’s going back to how our ancestors cooked; how settlers on our island cooked and how to appreciate the food. The first form of cooking I did on the imu was learning how to wrap laulaus, which is kalua pork wrapped in taro leaves and Hawaiian sea salt. It’s simple, but all the flavours you’re getting from the land—the pork is wrapped in the leaves and those leaves impact flavour when they’re steamed in it. All of this is part of the procedure, and it helps you understand what you are cooking and why—the stories of our people.”
“Cooking outdoors brings people together because it invokes storytelling, nostalgia and memories. It invokes learning and sharing between cultures and people. When we stoked a fire, we were ready to feed 20 or 30 people—it was a luau. The act of feeding people—even strangers—is in my culture. You don’t lock your backyards in Hawaii; you don’t. If you smell fire, you pop in with a beer, say, “Hi” and that’s it—you can have free food. People don’t bar hop in Hawaii, they barbecue hop. That’s how we make friends and meet.”
When asked what she is most proud of in her career, Chef Eva answers simply. “I cook with love and good intentions, I’m that kind of cook.”
Check out Eva’s incredible Campfire Roasted Ontario Whole Trout recipe made resplendent with Ontario butter.
Chef Tawfik Shehata is a huge talent and an Ontario treasure. All that aside, he’s not above perfecting a classic campfire favourite – Cheesy Campfire Hotdog Stickbread – loaded with Ontario Cheddar stuffed in freshly-made dough. Executive Chef at The International Centre in Toronto, he is also an admitted “food nerd” and beloved instructor at his virtual cooking school, Julia’s Child. Born in Cairo, Egypt, and growing up on Scarborough Bluffs, Tawfik’s knowledge and passion for cooking and utilizing Ontario food lore and ingredients is as unmatched as his sense of humour.
Chef Tawfik’s family has a unique tradition. Every year, they head out to camp for a week. “We never return to the same campsite. We want to do different hikes near different lakes and streams. We want everything to be new every time.”
For the chef and his family, camping trips are all about time. “There is nothing to do, other than spend time with your family in the outdoors. We sit around the fire in the afternoon, have a little lunch, let the fire die down and head out for a swim or a hike. You come back, get the fire going again and make dinner. It’s very communal. Everybody contributes and everyone sits down together for dinner. It’s a very slow pace. You don’t have to eat dinner and be done by 8:00 because someone has to drive home. It’s very relaxing, and food on the fire takes you back to the roots of cooking.”
Chef Tawfik has two children under 10 years old and they’re “very much nature kids”. “It’s very much an educational experience for them. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to details about, “this grows like this, take a look at this edible plant.” We do a lot of walking and exploring and it’s a lot of fun for them. They have their parents’ undivided attention. The kids are also actively involved —looking for roasting sticks and helping with the food and connecting. We love this time together. It brings us closer; a chance to be in nature, to reconnect and disconnect. To cuddle them by the fire, stay up late and simply talk. Having the opportunity to chat about all we have seen and learned. It’s just a beautiful family experience and one we cherish.”
For Chef Tawfik, these trips are not a one-off exposure to nature and the bounty of Ontario. He also presides over a home garden where he grows a wide variety of his own food. His heirloom tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are both gorgeous and delicious, though he’ll tell you that sometimes, “the ugliest food tastes the best.” He is deeply enmeshed in Ontario’s local food community, from dairy farmers and growers to apiaries and craft brewers, and is always ready with a recommendation for purveyors of amazing local cheeses, or a source for arcane ingredients.
Chef Tawfik shares that he once did a pilot for a cooking show titled One Pan Man about a chef who travelled with just one pan to cook in, challenging his skills by mastering the art of minimalism. For newcomers to outdoor cooking, he shares the essential tools for campfire cooking success. “You have to take a dutch oven, a cast iron pan, some sort of grill grate and a long pair of tongs. That’s it. When I camp, everything is minimal. That’s all you really need, and I plan my food around my two pots. It’s uncomplicated, but that keeps it interesting. If I brought 10 pots and pans, II’d use all 10 and I would also use a lot of extra food. You’re in the outdoors. It should be simple.”
Tawfik, a Red Seal Chef, embraced simplicity and fun with his Cheesy Campfire Hotdog Stickbread recipe. It is essentially an everyday hotdog weiner wrapped in delicious handmade dough stuffed with cheese and butter, and it’s delicious. “The recipe I chose is kind of silly, which is an essential ingredient when camping. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. It’s about the experience as a family. Less about complicated meal plans and more about making memories together. Life slows down, making time for star gazing and campfire tales.”
“Cooking over fire takes a lot more skill than cooking on a barbecue or indoors”, says Tawfik, “but the payoff is awesome. It makes everything worth it.”