Tahoe City company brings gourmet dining to the wilderness
Bourbon buffalo stew at the end of hiking all day in the backcountry, followed by dessert, and then Bloody Marys with pancakes for breakfast the next morning might sound a bit exotic, but when Tahoe City’s Michelle Shea is around those luxuries become commonplace.
Through her company, Adventure Dining Guide, Shea has amassed dozens of lightweight, easy-to-cook recipes for those heading outdoors, and will be leading backcountry-cooking demonstrations throughout the summer months.
“The idea behind what I’ve been doing, is taking things that really elevate your experience in the backcountry,” Shea said. “I’m trying to focus on food that people would honestly make. My mantra is taking things that are common in our everyday lives and finding a way to bring them into the wilderness.”
On Saturday, June 17, Shea took 11 women into the forest for an overnight trip as part of Alpenglow’s Mountain Festival for the Women’s Desolation Wilderness Overnight Trip.
The group didn’t exactly end up roughing it. Not if that includes dining on a four-course meal in the wilderness.
During the evening the group dined on appetizers of cheese, smoked salmon hand rolls, bourbon buffalo stew, followed by dessert around a campfire.
“I really minimalize it,” she said. “A lot of the stuff that we used were dehydrated. I wanted to get stuff that’s nutritious and flavorful, kind of focus on bringing things that have value to it, instead of bags of mush that doesn’t taste very good. For feeding 12 people, at most (it weighed) 6 to 8 pounds.”
As a competitive snowboarder, Shea said she got the idea to begin toying with different foods and recipes after seeing other cultures cooking on the mountain and backcountry.
“I spent a lot of time traveling the world and doing the endless winter thing,” Shea said. “It really introduced me to a lot of different cultures and their style of eating. I’d see how these people, especially from Japan, that would use one little pot and they would all huddle around on a cold day and make these elegant meals using these tiny little one-pot burners. It really inspired me to look at how other people eat.”
From Asian spring rolls to ceviche, Shea has found ways of bringing an assortment of different foods to outdoor activities.
Her website, AdventureDiningGuide.com, offers pages of recipes categorized by type of outdoor activity, course, main ingredient and cooking style.
Shea said one her favorite recipes of late has been trail pickling, a process she said is simple to do and is nutritious.
“I wanted to find a way to bring vegetables into the wilderness because you can’t really bring fresh vegetables, they don’t last,” Shea said. “But if you take a Ziploc bag, you can actually put pickling juice into it and just add your vegetables. And it will pickle in your backpack. I love it because it just blows people’s minds.”
Not only do the vegetables provide for a healthy option, but also Shea said the pickling juice itself has a number of benefits, including helping with hydration.
“Those are my favorite recipes,” she said. “Things that are a little bit unexpected. Things that are easy to pack, nutrient dense, and it just kind of brings that unexpected surprise.”
Moving forward, Shea said she plans on hosting roughly six backcountry, pop-up cooking demonstrations over the summer months, where she’ll take groups of people out and show them how to prepare meals in the wilderness.
“The education side of it is really interesting to people because once you see how simple it is to make some of these foods in the backcountry, they go, ‘Oh I can do that.’ And that’s what I want. Then they can share that experience and it starts this whole cycle of bringing good food into the wilderness,” Shea said.
“A lot of people are excited to learn how to prepare these types of foods themselves. It’s not just me handing them the food, I’m walking them through the process of why I used certain ingredients or why I use these stoves.”
Shea said she doesn’t yet have dates for the demonstrations. Instead she plans on centering them around good weather, and will send out information through her email list on AdventureDiningGuide.com for those interested in signing up.
“With food, the neat thing with that is people of all ages, abilities and activities can relate to it,” she said. “Food is kind of that bridge. It brings people together. It’s a way for people to socialize and communicate to have a great experience with each other.”