Interview with Dirty Gourmet Founders Aimee, Emily, and Mai-Yan

If your go-to camp breakfast is instant oatmeal and you think you’ve eaten pasta on every camping trip you’ve been on, then it’s time you expand your camp food repertoire. Believe it or not, you could be making and devouring tortilla soup and sticky buns out in the woods! Not sure where to start? Luckily we’ve found some experts to guide you! Meet Shoestring Warriors and entrepreneurs, Aimee, Emily, and Mai-Yan. These adventure-loving food enthusiasts are the founders of Dirty Gourmet and have just published their first cookbook, “Dirty Gourmet: Food for Your Outdoor Adventures”.

The seed for our recipes are almost always our favorite personal recipes. These are things that we want to eat at home, so it makes sense to start there when thinking about what to cook outside. The next step is to figure out how to “campify” a recipe.

Eating delicious meals that aren’t made up of dehydrated ingredients is totally possible in the backcountry and these inspiring women are doing all they can to spread the word and show people how it can be done! Keep reading to learn more about their tips and tricks to adding a touch of gourmet to your outdoor experience. Be sure to visit Dirty Gourmet for more inspiration and grab your own copy of their new cookbook, “Dirty Gourmet: Food for Your Outdoor Adventures”!

What is Dirty Gourmet?

Dirty Gourmet is a woman-owned company dedicated to elevating food in the outdoors. Since its inception, it has grown to include camp cooking workshops, camp chef services for outdoor events, and a newly released cookbook, “Dirty Gourmet: Food for Your Outdoor Adventures.”

Tell us a little about yourselves.

The inspiration for Dirty Gourmet came out of Aimee and Mai-Yan’s 4-month bike tour across North America. It was a completely self-sustained trip with the majority of their days ending at a campsite.

This made for a lot of camp meals and experimentation with food in the outdoors.

When they came back, Emily was just ending 3 years of living in the mountains as an outdoor science teacher. With all three at a crossroads (funemployed), we decided to combine our shared knowledge about the importance of a good meal in the backcountry and create an outdoor food blog.

Aimee grew up in Los Angeles and majored in food science in college. She enjoys recipe development and is the resident baker for Dirty Gourmet. She has twin 5-year-olds whom she homeschools with her husband Kismat in a small mountain community.

Emily grew up in Florida and moved to California to live in the mountains of Big Bear. She has worked in the outdoor industry most of her life, most recently as a sales manager for REI. She currently lives in Upland with her husband Wes, chihuahua and three foster children.

Mai-Yan grew up in Quebec, Canada, speaking French and English. As a child, she spent every summer at her grandparents house playing in the woods before moving to California to attend design school. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her partner Daniel.

How did your paths converge?

Aimee and Emily are cousins and their families have been camping together since they were kids. One of their earliest family adventures was on the Mojave Jeep trail with their dads navigating via CB radio trying to locate one another. Mai-Yan and Aimee met on a camping trip in Death Valley and got to know each other while sewing Aimee’s tent back together after a big gust of wind ripped it in half.

You’ve just launched a new cookbook. What inspired you to create a cookbook for planning and prepping camp food?

We’ve always wanted to make a cookbook. Dirty Gourmet has an 8 year archive of recipes, so a cookbook just seemed like a natural evolution. When Mountaineers Books approached us, we knew they were the right partner to help us do it in the most authentic way.

What excites you most about publishing the cookbook?

We are thrilled to have something tangible that captures the essence of our mission. Even better is watching people browse the cookbook and seeing them connect with an image or recipe. That part is really gratifying, and makes us feel like our efforts in creating a resource that can replace intimidation with inspiration is working. Ultimately, we hope that stereotypes associated with “camp food” can go away altogether!

Tell us about the creative process that was involved in putting together the book.

The seed for our recipes are almost always our favorite personal recipes. These are things that we want to eat at home, so it makes sense to start there when thinking about what to cook outside. The next step is to figure out how to “campify” a recipe. This involves simplifying the quantity of ingredients needed, without giving up tastiness, and making sure the method is not too complicated or lengthy. Some of these recipes were well suited to backpacking, like our Tortilla Soup, while others were better to cook over a campfire, like our Sticky Buns. That process was a fun challenge for us.

Sticky Buns

Most of the recipes were tested by all three of us, so we knew they could be adapted for our different dietary distinctions (omnivore, vegetarian, vegan).

Our recipes are designed to be flexible so that you can accommodate anyone from your gluten free friends to your picky toddlers.

Flexibility is also key for outdoor cooking because you’re bound to forget a key ingredient or tool at some point on your camping adventures.

Besides recipe development and writing, we also had to photograph everything. It forced us to really up our game and has made us all better food photographers for it.

One challenge in this arena, was how to photograph recipes that weren’t inherently pretty. The Kale Artichoke Dip in particular comes to mind!

The whole process was condensed into a very busy six month period in order to have the cookbook on the shelves in time for the start of camping season. The best part was that we got to go on camping trips together almost every weekend which helped develop even deeper bonds between the three of us.

What are three essential items that make any meal better on a camping trip?

  1. Textural elements such as crunchy toppings or fluffy dumplings
  2. Fresh, local or seasonal ingredients like an avocado, lime, or freshly picked berries
  3. Multipurpose niceties such as beautiful oversized bandanas or linens and lightweight LED tea lights
Black Sesame Coconut Granola Brittle

If someone has never made a backcountry meal before, what is one of the “easiest” Dirty Gourmet meals you’d recommend?

Part of what makes something easy for cooking is familiarity. Our Lentil Vegetable Stew with Dumplings is a wonderful meal to start with as it follows a standard, quick-cooking one-pot meal process. The simple addition of a fresh shallot and dumplings to a typical ingredient like lentils is what makes this recipe extra impressive in the end.

What’s your go-to gear when it comes to cooking in the backcountry?

Our backcountry base kit is comprised of all the things you need to both cook and eat your meal. We usually bring a small canister stove with good simmer-control for the most cooking versatility along with a 1-liter pot with a lid, pocket knife, and a spork.

What is Dirty Gourmet’s alternative to the traditional s’more?

There’s nothing wrong with the traditional graham cracker, milk chocolate and roasted marshmallow combo but we do love to showcase our “S’moresgasbord” at events where we’ll set out new and seasonal toppings and watch people experiment with different combinations.

A favorite is, of course, the bacon s’more made extra delicious with a schmear of peanut butter.

Another s’more that continues to impress is our lemon curd and white chocolate combo. We are always looking for new flavors!

Bacon S’more

Photos © 2018 Dirty Gourmet

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