Alfresco Cooking

Guests after quirky but comfortable accommodation need something with similar qualities to prepare their alfresco meals. Duncan Moore investigates

If someone has chosen glamping over traditional camping, it is highly unlikely that they will be happy to simply warm a can of beans over a basic gas canister camping stove. So, do they leave the site and head to the nearest pub or restaurant, or should site owners encourage them to stay put with a range of on-site cooking facilities?

The question is what cooking facilities should glamping sites offer guests? Given that many sites offer unusual accommodation choices, regular gas or electric powered hobs will be deemed unsuitable and something more off-the-wall is needed. The viable options include wood-fired pizza ovens, fire pits, barbecue grills and even mobile kitchens in a box.

Cooking Outdoors
Pic: Camp Champ

The easiest option to put in place is a fire pit, which can begin as a simple hole in the ground to hold the fire with all cooking done above the fire. However, as this is glamping, guests will be expecting a little more sophistication than holding a sausage on a pointed stick over an open fire. In order to avoid this situation, one option is an outdoor cooking station using a kotlich, which has been put together by The Outdoor Kitchen.

Trish MacCurrach, of The Outdoor Kitchen, explains what the package includes and how it can be used at glamping sites. “Essentially what we supply is a tripod to go over a firepit and it has a bowl hanging below it. The bowl, known as a kotlich (the Serbian name for a cooking pot) is double dipped enamel and is designed to last a lifetime. What you cook in it is called paprikash. The tripod is called a tronožac.

“A three-piece kit costs £93, and that includes a 120cm tripod, an eight litre hanging kotlich pot and a fire pit. You can add a grill for £37 or a paella pan for £31. We also offer larger kotlichs (13lt or 20lt), and a larger tripod (160cm). We offer a scalable discount of up to 20% depending on how much a site owner spends. All that is then needed to offer outdoor cooking facilities are a few utensils. The things I use most are a wooden spoon, a flat spatula and a pincer type tool.”

Cooking options
If a fire pit with a tripod over it to suspend a cooking pot, hanging grill or dutch oven (think cowboy beans out West) are a step too far from the conventional for a glamping site’s typical clientèle, a barbecue arrangement might be more suitable.

The main advantage of a barbecue is that it is a familiar set up for most visitors. However, that doesn’t mean it has to be boring and limited to simply grilling food. A new product that is on its way to market is the Firepod, which is currently funding on Kickstarter in readiness to put the first batch into production. David Coward of Firepod says: “Glamping and camping have been at the forefront of our minds during the design process as we see it as a big market for us. The Firepod is so easy to use, efficient and easy to clean and with the short legs on it is easily portable.”

While the Firepod may initially seem expensive at nearly £400 for such a small unit (54cm wide and 44cm deep), it can do much more than a conventional barbecue and discounts are offered on multiple purchases. The purchase price includes not only the pod but also two cordierite pizza stones, a Quadpod stand with oak legs, a pizza peel for when the Firepod is used as a pizza oven and finally a pair of heat proof gloves.

Talking about the versatility of the Firepod and how it can be used to cook different types of food, Coward says: “Our main focus through design and testing has been to create a portable oven that heats up quickly and cooks perfect authentic pizzas, garlic bread and Indian breads. However, during our research and development, we realised that we couldn’t cook great pizzas on a barbecue, but we could cook other foods in our pizza oven if we designed it with this in mind.

Outdoor Oven
Pic: The Garden Oven Company

“We thought about taking it camping and to events and realised that we would need it to double up as a barbecue so that we only had one item to take. We also realised that the Firepod was perfect for heating up a lava stone to restaurant temperatures for ‘hot rock’ cooking. So, we’ve designed our own to fit, which can be lifted out and taken to a table for fun cooking indoors or out.”

Powered by propane gas, the company claims that the Firepod can cook a pizza in 10 minutes from being lit and that a 5kg gas bottle will last about 15 hours.

The Garden Oven from The Garden Oven Company offers a wood-fired alternative. The set-up costs for one of these, according to the company’s director, Jay Larson, are between £600 and £1,300 for the oven and accessories.

The cost of setting up a Garden Oven pizza oven is dependent on the size of the oven, whether a stand is used or if it is to be used in a bespoke outside workspace. However, Larson also suggests that site owners should be aware of other potential costs when considering outdoor cooking spaces. “Other start up costs include outdoor furniture, like a counter space, a sheltered food preparation area, wood storage, fire safety equipment, cooking pots, pans, etc. Providing good location lighting can really improve the cooking experience too, since this will often happen after dark, so it is worth investing in that.”

Going on to explain why either of the two types of pizza oven offered by The Garden Oven Company can be used on glamping sites, Larson says: “The Garden Oven is very efficient because it is lined with firebrick that stores the heat and insulates it so it stays warm and evenly heated long after the fire is out. Think barbecue and patio warmer.

“To create the perfect, easy cooking experience, you simply light the fire in the bottom section and cook on top. You can use the mid-level baking surface for a two-minute stone baked pizza. For barbecuing and smoking, the stainless steel grill and rack are used and the sturdy stand lifts the oven up to a convenient height and serves as a wood store. A heavy duty cover protects the oven from any weather, keeping it in tip-top shape.”

Larson goes on to offer advice on how sites can make the most of having a Garden Oven on site. “A great way to add value to a glamping site is to possibly provide ingredients for ready to cook meals with simple instructions on how to do it. This could be pre-booked and would save glampers from having to go shopping.”

Food preparation
It is worth remembering that no matter which cooking option is chosen, guests will still benefit from having the facilities to get meals ready. Given that most outdoor cooking systems are to some degree mobile, it makes sense to have the same flexibility with the prep. One company that specialises in catering to those needs is Camp Champ.

The £4,500 professional quality kitchen in a box from Camp Champ includes a four burner gas hob, £400 worth of Zwilling knives from JA Henckels and a complete compliment of utensils. It has been designed to cater for a party of six diners.

In order to cover the cost of buying in several Camp Champs, Oliver Roberts, of the UK distributor, suggests that glamping site owners rent the field kitchens out to guests. “The Camp Champ can be used as part of a concierge service for the ultimate glamping experience,” he explains.

Cooking Outside
Pic: The Outdoor Kitchen

“When your guests arrive, they can be greeted by a Camp Champ along with a hamper of food. They can then take this with them when they go out for the day. On their return, they can leave the Camp Champ outside their accommodation and the site can provide a chef who comes along and uses the Camp Champ to cook a luxury evening meal for them. It’s another way that site owners can generate revenue and offer guests something else that other sites don’t.”

With the decision made to invest in outdoor cooking, choosing which system to use isn’t just down to just the initial cost. There’s also the day-to-day running cost to consider as well as how much routine maintenance is needed. Consideration should also be given to whether guests should be expected to pay for the fuel used to power the pizza ovens, barbecues, etc.

According to Trish MacCurrach: “The running costs are really minimal for a kotlich; just the wood and fire starters. I recommend the use of very good quality kiln dried wood, which can be charged to the guest and can become a profitable item itself. However, several glamping sites have honesty boxes and small sacks of wood on offer; most give a starter sack with a clear sign that when it is finished you will have to pay for more. Some people include a deposit for the outdoor cooking kits and if they are damaged or lost they don’t refund it.”

Like MacCurrach, David Coward suggests that fuel can be used as an additional revenue stream. “For a camp/glampsite, hiring out the gas for the Firepod is another source of income. Calor sell bottles with gauges on for measuring the amount used and BP offer Litegas bottles that are plastic with a see through side so you can see how much gas has been used and charge accordingly.”

Safety first
The final points to be considered are safety and user ability. On the latter point, site owners need to consider the ability of guests to prepare the ovens or grills for use. Will guests know how to start a wood fire? On that subject Garden Oven’s Larson has this to say: “Guest changeover maintenance of the oven should include inspection, cleaning and readying it for the next use. This should include laying the fire so that the guest simply has to light it with a match. Every week or so, some of the ash should be removed and at the end of a season the oven should be dismantled, rubbed down, lubricated and stored in a dry location.

“The risks associated with fire are always present but can be minimised. Keep pets and children away from the fire so that they don’t burn themselves. Having the oven at comfortable adult working height helps with this. Also, the oven should be situated away from anything flammable on a solid, non-flammable surface. In use, the oven gets very hot, so good quality, heat resistant gloves should be provided to prevent burns when taking things out of the oven.”

“If your fire pit is laid out carefully, perhaps surrounded by logs for seating, there is little chance of people falling into the fire,” says MacCurrach, addressing the dangers of cooking over a fire pit. “It should be sited as a destination in itself, not on a pathway to somewhere else. There should be a first aid kit and probably a fire blanket and small fire extinguisher available. Clear instructions and sometimes a demonstration will be needed to help people get going with their campfire cooking.”

The final words on the value that outdoor cooking facilities can bring to a glamping site come from MacCurrach, who says: “It’s fun; cooking becomes play, it builds family cohesion and memories. A family will flourish round a fire. It’s sensual; it builds links with nature and the whole food process through scents, touch, sounds and taste.

“To make the most of it and encourage your guests, you can help with their fires and even offer recipes in a box; everything chopped and weighed for them in advance so they only have to follow the instructions and get cooking.

“If you want the reputation of being a foodie destination, you can offer special days, sausage making events, foraging walks and even jam or chutney making sessions. All this can happen throughout the season but also out of season if you have a well thought out covered outdoor kitchen space designed with events in mind.”


USEFUL LINKS

Camp Champ – 07912 378725
www.campchamp.at

Firepod – 01342 821995
www.thefirepod.com

The Garden Oven Company – 01256 581014
www.garden-oven.co.uk

The Outdoor Kitchen –
www.outdoor-kitchen.biz

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