Last weekend we took part in one of the most unusual and delightfully original Land Rover events ever to mark our calendar, the Muddy Chef Challenge. Held over the course of three days, Muddy Chef is ostensibly about Land Rover-exclusive off-roading combined with vehicle-based cooking challenges. However, this year’s Manchester, Vermont, locale (home to Orvis) also afforded a full slate of outdoor-related activities including fly fishing instruction, clay shooting, falconry and an air rile competition, to name a few.
Though not mandatory, participation in the Saturday night cooking challenge is strongly encouraged. A total of 35 teams took part in the competition, submitting themselves to the critique of three sets of judges, one for each course: Appetizer, Main Dish, and Dessert. Each of these was to be prepared on a short schedule with minimal pre-prep, and all from the limited resources of a self-contained camp kitchen. (At least that’s the spirit of the event; some teams’ concepts of a camp kitchen were debatable.)
For our part, we (my wife and daughter joined me for this very family-friendly event) prepared a simple Southern-themed summer meal. Our appetizer was a peach-cucumber gazpacho made with fresh fruits picked up at a local farmstand (bonus points for local content) paired with a Hendrick’s cucumber martini. Our main course was smoky shrimp and bacon over (Vermont cheddar!) cheesy grits paired with a California chardonnay. To close, we grilled more of those local peaches and stuffed the centers with maple-infused goat cheese then topped them with chopped pistachios; accompanying them was a crisp, cold prosecco.
While we were rightfully impressed with our own ability to create such a cohesive meal under challenging circumstances (and happy with the tasting results), a quick walk of neighboring campsites proved we were out of our league. This event draws some talented cooks who also happen to be Land Rover enthusiasts, and our modest preparation looked like pub food compared to the five-star plates coming together around us.
While we didn’t place, we had a great time competing, as well as sampling some of the other cooks’ work and sharing our own. That’s the true beauty of the Muddy Chef – its ability to make friends out of strangers through a shared passion for good food and Land Rovers.
Should you decide to try your hand at next year’s event, know that it requires a certain amount of pre-planning and it helps to have a well-stocked rolling kitchen. We may have been novices on the food front, but we at least arrived ready to cook. We’ll have a full rundown of the Muddy Chef Challenge in the Fall 2017 issue of Alloy+Grit, but first here’s a look at some of the gear we put to use in the main event.
We packed a pair of Dometic’s compact fridge coolers for our weekend travels. The smaller CF-025DC we situated behind the driver’s seat and plugged it into one of our vehicle’s 12V DC power sockets, using it for road snacks on the drive to Vermont. Once there, we packed it with ice and stored drinks and various camp provisions in it for the weekend.
In the cargo area we packed a larger CF035AC, also plugged in to vehicle power; it features a 110V AC power as well, but the campground offered no such provisions, so it was also packed with ice once we arrived. This kept some of our critical competitive ingredients fresh (there’s no such thing as local Vermont shrimp), and the booze and mixers frosty.
The sun fell quickly once the competition started, and having adequate light made all the difference in keeping the outdoor kitchen cooking. Compact (it slipped right into the side hip pocket on my Kühl Rydr pants) and exceptionally bright (with 600/300 lumen hi-lo settings), we used this little guy all weekend long, hanging it from its two built-in hooks as a tent lamp, sticking it to steel surfaces with its magnet, or simply holding it high for those midnight trips to the porta-potties.
Horizontal work surfaces are always in demand when you’re cooking, and the Camp Table from TemboTusk was an ideal side table for prep. Its 15” x 30” bamboo tabletop was ideal for our needs, but it also features steel hooks and loops welded to its square tube framework, allowing additional tables to be daisy-chained together to suit other configurations. Better still, it all stored away in a compact padded carrying bag that took up almost no space in our roof basket.
If there was one piece of equipment that ensured we had an upper hand, it was the Camp Champ portable kitchen. Featured in the Goods+Gear section of the Summer 2017 issue, this Austrian-made ensemble is an amazingly complete mobile kitchen that packs neatly into a marine-grade wooden crate. We took full advantage of the stainless cookware, the ample cutlery, and the powerful Partner Steel four-burner cooktop over the course of the weekend, but it was priceless when it came to slow-cooking grits while sautéing shrimp and garlic at the same time as frying thick-cut bacon on a griddle.
Just days before we were set to leave for Vermont, our trusty(?) Discovery II decided to stop running. A handful of quick diagnostic checks and a couple of potential fixes yielded nothing. With time running out, we accepted that the Disco wasn’t going to the Muddy Chef, and started preparing our BMW wagon for the trip.
Having caught wind of this dilemma, our contacts at Land Rover North America insisted we show up for this special Land Rover event in a Land Rover. On short notice, they delivered a 2017 Discovery to us the day before we were set to leave. We packed it full and headed north with the confidence that only comes from driving a brand new vehicle. It not only proved an exceptionally comfortable travelling rig, but it also handled all our gear effortlessly (once I swapped our roof basket onto it).
During the cooking challenge, we set up the tailgate area as our pantry, with both of the fridges accessible and the dry goods easily at hand. The folding platform was invaluable as a work surface as well, and was easily the best seat in the house for taking a break while waiting for the judges to arrive at our site.
When we weren’t cooking, we used the Discovery to get around to some of the other activities. My wife took the wheel for the on-site novice driving instruction, creeping it across a course of offset logs and navigating it through the muddy loop cut into the adjacent woods. After the Muddy Chef weekend concluded, we took off for a couple additional days in northeastern Vermont and New Hampshire before heading home. The new Discovery was a flawless traveler, and returned just under 20 mpg on the entire trip while “loaded for bear and blasting the air.”