When my friend Hillary saw Simon Majumdar speak about his #GiveUsABedI'llCookYouDinner tour, she immediately thought of Firelight Camps. "Why not give him a tent!" Of course I was immediately taken by the idea; a tent in exchange for a meal prepared by this world-traveling food-monger and Food Network celebrity cook? Yes please! Maybe I could ask him to cook over the fire...maybe I could even cook with him...!
What began as a simple trade, turned into a full-fledged fireside dinner prepared by the two of us for a full house of glampers. But that's not it! Leading up to the feast, I whisked Simon and his wonderful wife Sybil away on a culinary treasure hunt, picking up ingredients from some of my favorite producers in the Finger Lakes including The Piggery, Good Life Farm, Finger Lakes Cider House, Wide Awake Bakery, Lively Run Goat Dairy and Ports of New York. We were fortunate enough to have Kristen Kellogg of Border Free Travels join us and document the experience (check out her article on Glamping.com - Unplugged in Ithaca: Firelight Camps).
In planning the dinner, it was important to me that we preserved the core experience of Firelight Camps: bringing people together around the campfire. We wanted the meal to be a vehicle for relishing the primal joy of living through food, stories and the great outdoors.
The setting was a casual affair. We lay sheets of butcher paper across picnic tables and grazing tables, serving as a picnic-friendly landing pad for heaps of Grilled Bread on which guests liberally spread Wild Violet & Lemon Butter, "Smoked" Bone Marrow Butter and Garlic Mustard Pesto. Pre-dinner nibbles were mostly private, with couples and groups of friends savoring their first bites and sips together. Dinner - the grand majority prepared right on the fire (see menu below) - was served buffet-style, and we noticed guests begin to mingle and share tables. Dessert was served quite literally around the fire pit. We baked three luxurious Strawberry and Black Currant Crisps in the coals, and dished out dollops straight from the steaming dutch ovens, bathing the toasted oat topping with heavy cream. Then came more dessert in the form of stories. A healthy crowd lingered on as the sun set and the coals turned to ash, listening to Simon's tales of travels gone awry and memorable meals abroad.
From the moment I connected with Simon, I thought, "now this is a man who is grounded and humble, but full of life!" His passion for travel and food felt kindred to me, and in the course of dreaming up our feast, his sense of adventure proved true from visiting farmers to scraping the last of the crumble from the pot. Simon has a knack for connecting with people at a fundamental level, and makes those around him feel instantly comfortable and at home. He taught me more than a few tricks in the kitchen, in particular with how to prepare the sixteen pound pork belly into an outrageous crispy, wild herb stuffed porchetta. At the end of the night we stood back to take in the scene. "Now this is what it's all about," Simon said. "People gathering together to share food and stories."
See Kristen Kellog's full photo album here.