Thursday, March 15, 2012

Exploring Taste

Last summer the founders of Sahale Snacks approached me about participating in a film shoot in a remote location to highlight their passion for quality portable food. They started by telling me the origin of their business. Josh and Edmond, old friends, had climbed Mt. Rainier a few years back and while sitting on a glacier heating up nasty, freeze-dried camp food, they vowed to produce something better—healthier and tastier—that outdoors enthusiasts could eat in the harshest, most abject conditions. Or in the most splendid, beautiful conditions. This was the birth of Sahale Snacks.

The story resonated with me. I had experienced a similar food letdown while climbing Mt. Rainier. A package of ramen at 11,000 feet hardly seemed like the right way—nutritionally or spiritually—to prepare for the summit. So I signed on, joining ranks with a few other hand-picked recruits: Eric Rivera, a young and wildly ambitious sous chef at Blueacre Seafood; Jennifer Adler, a kelp-eating kayaker, teacher, and sought-after nutritionist; and Scott Heimendinger, the mad scientist in the group, aka Seattle Food Geek, who would be an aide-de-camp to Eric.

We spent three days in an out of the way corner of the San Juan Islands, foraging, frolicking, and camping on a hidden, cliff-lined beach in preparation for the Big Meal that would take place on the final day. The foraging wasn't always literal—notably that bottle of Glen Livet found in Edmond's duffel that produced a late night '80s singalong by the fire (sadly not captured on film). But by and large, the ingredients for our meal came either from the woods and surf right outside our tents, or else—as in the case of some delicious free range duck eggs—from locally produced sources nearby.

That meal is etched into my memory along with a few other all-time favorites that transcend the idea of dinner. Part of it was the atmosphere. We ate on the beach at a table fashioned by Scott from found driftwood, with kelp candle holders made by Jennifer, and the fickle San Juan weather gods smiling sunshine on us despite ominous weather reports. Eric pulled off an epic 10-course extravaganza that combined local and foraged foods with his madcap imagination and a fitting sense of the absurd.

Riffing on our location, Eric, with help from Scott and Jennifer, produced dishes like Angry Crab (Dungeness crab claws mounded up as if ready to strike and bathed in a spicy red sauce), High Tide (you can see my version here), Low Tide (manila clams plated on edible sand made from Redhook malt), and a creative take on Pasta Carbonara using squares of kelp frond as the "pasta," the aforementioned duck eggs cooked sous vide, and morel mushrooms poached in locally cured bacon fat. The entire meal was cooked on the beach over a campfire. Shortly afterward, not surprisingly, Eric got lured away by Chicago's renowned Alinea.

The videos for this adventure in foraging and food were professionally shot and edited by a film team from Austin. You can watch them here.


Jeff.Stallman said...

The concept of the company sounds great. My family has generally relied on trail mix and freeze-dried dinners, which thankfully have come a long way, but still leave something to be desidred. This video, as well as the one produced by Perennial Plate (which my friend describes as "mushroom porn") have inspired me to give it a go this year. Any suggestions on essential gear for actual cooking during a backpacking trip?

Adam Stevens said...

Looks like some of this was at Washington Park. Beautiful area. Great set of vids too! Thanks for sharing Lang.

Langdon Cook said...

Jeff - I don't take anything out of the ordinary when I'm backpacking (MSR stove, a light pots & pan), though I will suffer a few extra pounds with ingredients. For meals, create recipes around what you might be able to forage in the wilderness. I always have a flyrod with me for trout. If it's early in the season you can find wild greens. In my region I'm on the lookout for fiddleheads, miner's lettuce, nettles, watercress, dandelions, and so on. Fresh greens on the trail are a real bonus. Mushrooms are also on the menu, and they can add a lot to a meal in the back country. Later in the season I'm thinking about berries. Huckleberry pancakes are just the thing before doing 10 miles with a heavy pack!

Adam - Mostly it was filmed in a quiet, unpeopled cove on Lopez Island, though some of Jennifer's kelp-kayak segment was filmed on another part of the island. A beautiful, bountiful spot!

Greene Treats said...

Props for your ingenious berry collector!!! love it!

Greene Treats said...

p.s is this Spencer's Spit at Lopez?

seth harrell said...

Im curious about the bad oyster. I didn't think you could get a bad oyster in the san juans that time of year. Also surprised you found salmon berries that early; I guess that area is a little warmer than central puget sound.

Langdon Cook said...

Seth - We filmed in late July, so salmonberries were winding down, thimbleberries were not yet peaking, and Oregon grape, blackberries, and others were just starting. As for the bad oyster, it appears that Scott suffered from Vibrio, a naturally occurring bacteria in raw shellfish that is most common during warm-water periods.