The Real Meal Ticket
Chef Boulot's secret to four-star camp fare? Pre-trip food prep and a quality vacuum-packer. Boulot uses TILIA's FOODSAVER system ($120-$320; 800-777-5452, www.tilia.com). You can vacuum-pack virtually anything for space and weight savings, from undies to wine. And after a bag or two of Bordeaux, even ramen tastes pretty good.
A celebrated chef serves up artful backcountry cuisine
PHILIPPE BOULOT mocks you and your pathetic ramen noodles, your disgusting boil-a-bag meals, your nasty energy bars.
"I will not eat ziss sheet," insists the Normandy native, currently the most celebrated French chef in the Northwest. "Even if I am starving in zee wheelderness."
Not that there's any chance of that, mind you. On this October fly-fishing float trip down the Deschutes River, in the high desert of northeastern Oregon, le grand fromage of Portland's Heathman Restaurant has brought along a supply list that reads like one of his dining room's prix fixe menus: smoked salmon, two-year-old serrano ham, leg of lamb, handmade apple-and-pork sausage, Snake River Kobe beef, Pierre Robert cheese, and Oregon pinot noir.
Heading into the backcountry with Boulot is a lesson in extreme cuisine. Stacked in three rafts, as we navigate Class II-III+ rapids, are tables and chairs, a dining canopy, sterling, crystal, 24-karat-gilded china, a 60,000-BTU dual-burner propane stove, three guides who work for food (including two waiters from the Heathman), and one pear-shaped sommelier rattling on about everything from his home-tied fly collection to the history of hand-blown stemware.
On this special trip for All-Star Rafting and Kayaking, Boulot is determined to show just how good the grub can get. It's an inspiring performance. At camp above a pounding rapids, the sky fading from brilliant blue to star-stained black, Boulot has pots and saute pans steaming under a centuries-old juniper as his guides/waiters run plates to a formally set banquet table. Finally he takes his seat, ceremoniously unfurls his linen napkin, and toasts the Deschutes. Crystal gongs. Then everybody tucks in for five courses: a silver platter of Yakima Bay oysters to spark the appetite; Dungeness crab salad layered with mango and avocado in blood orange vinaigrette and lemon aioli; leg of lamb braised seven hours in Bordeaux, with hand-rolled potato gnocchi, chanterelles, and grilled bread; a wheel of obscenely rich triple-cream cheese; and croissant bread pudding. The moon sets with the meal.
And Boulot rises with the sun, groggy and disheveled, automatically producing plates heaped with custard-soaked brioche French toast, sausage, and pan-fried potatoes. There is Kona coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice mixed with a rare vintage of Oregon bubbly.
We spend only two days on the river, but it feels like two weeks in the French Alps. The river thrums as the guides pack up. Before we shove off, I ask Chef if it isn't all too much, going to such lengths to eat well in the wild. "For me," observes Boulot, sipping from a champagne flute as a herd of mustangs graze the opposite riverbank, "it would be difficult not to do beautiful cooking in a place as spectaculaire as ziss."