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September 2004

The Best Recipes: REI/BACKPACKER Camp Cook-off

The best gorp, breakfast, entree, and dessert recipes from our cooking contest: 200 contestants, eight finalists, one culinary king

Angry Red Lentil Tortilla soup. High Country Beef Curry. Drunken Choco-Berry Fondue. It sounds like a menu straight out of a four-star eatery, not the stuff you’d expect to eat while perched on a rock in the woods. But the eight chefs who attended our first annual Camp Cook-off proved that backpacking and gourmet dining are not mutually exclusive.

Surrounded by Food Network camera crews shooting a 1-hour special, the finalists (selected from 200 entrants) descended on Chatfield State Park outside Denver to compete in four field challenges designed to test their backcountry culinary acumen. (Think Iron Chef meets Survivor.) The chef with the most points for creativity, simplicity, packability, and taste would win.

Stoves flared, whisks whirled, and the judges-including BACKPACKER executive editor Jonathan Dorn and myself-savored each bite. At the end of the pancake, s’more, and gorp challenges, Derek Sullivan and his Pretzel Gorp led the pack. But as in all good reality television, a darkhorse made a late charge. In the main dish finale, local favorite Chris Gilliam galloped into the lead with his Angry Red Lentil Tortilla Soup, a zesty stew that had the judges fighting over the last spoonful.

But don’t take our word for it. Try these triumphant recipes for yourself.

The Winner
America’s Best Camp Chef

Chris Gilliam, a 32-year-old Coloradan, country club chef, and avid backpacker, is the kind of guy you want as a hiking companion. He can spin stories and saute spinach with equal aplomb, and he’s a master of the one-pan meal; just check out his winning recipe on the next page.

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