How to Cook the Ultimate Coastal Car Camping Feast
Two chefs take a food-fueled California road trip from Malibu to Guerneville. Car camping never tasted so good.
May 13, 2019
| Updated March 24, 2021
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A Recipe for Adventure
Smart campers build an itinerary around eating and adventure, using each site as a home base for forays into the wild. That was chef Kevin O’Connor’s mission during this coastal camp crawl with fellow chef and Australian cookbook author Sarah Glover.
O’Connor grew up foraging, fishing, and hunting in the Sierra Foothills, and although he thrived during stints at San Francisco’s Coi and the live-fire cooking restaurant Saison, the avid outdoorsman returned to his roots with his new gig as chef-at-large for olive-oil producer Cobram Estate in Woodland, California. There, O’Connor hosts wood-fired pop-up dinners.
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Two Aussies Join In
Glover, meanwhile, unleashed the Australian cult classic Wild Adventure Cookbook two years ago, cementing a thick vein of culinary interest among the gypsy surfer set. Her fellow Australian Emma Crowther Goodwin joined the crawl for a night under roof at her Surfrider Hotel, a barefoot-chic spot that’s a throwback to the time before Malibu went Hollywood.
The uncomplicated rhythm of the trip went something like this: Wake early, fire up the grill, eat, surf, hit the farmstands, re-fire the grill, and eat again while the sun goes down. Jumping from site to site allowed an itinerary to build organically throughout the trip—enabled by the group’s kitted-out caravan.
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Let the Culinary Adventures Begin
Armed with a truck, a grill, and a quiver of surfboards, the crew snaked up the coast from Malibu to Guerneville, stopping at surf breaks, vistas, and farmers’ markets on the way. Follow along as they build an appetite.
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Day One: Breakfast with a view of the breakers followed by surfing at Malibu’s storied Surfrider Beach. The Surfrider Hotel serves as base camp.
Day Two: According to O’Connor, Big Sur Bakery is a prerequisite stop on Highway 1. He popped in for a loaf of their incredible sourdough bread to use in a roadside brunch of heirloom-tomato shakshuka.
Day one ended with a salmon-colored sunset over the Pacific—and actual salmon. This dish follows the chef-proven formula for road-trip success: A few flavorful, high-quality ingredients + a little prep work at home = incredibly sophisticated campsite fare.
Cooking salmon in a bath of herby, citrusy olive oil at home the day before you hit the road not only creates the most succulent camp protein imaginable, but it also helps preserve the fish when you’re transporting it. Pack it under copious ice at the bottom of your cooler and eat it the first day you’re on the road.
During the summer, peppers and tomatoes are abundant at farmstands and markets up and down the coast. This shakshuka combines peak-season produce with fragrant smoked paprika and bacon. “Cooking outdoors heightens all of the senses,” says O’Connor. “And when you’re outside making a meal with your friends, this smells just ridiculously good.”
Oil-slicked toast, sweet ricotta, ripe figs, and seedy honey are ideal fuel for a day of swimming, surfing, or hiking. If you can’t find ripe fresh figs, grapes make a great sweet substitute. “Grilled grapes taste like toasted marshmallows,” says O’Connor.
O’Connor whipped up his own pancake recipe on the road, but this sweet, sticky, boozy, and nutty topping will elevate even the most humble of pancake mixes. Serve with cold vanilla ice cream to take the whole thing completely over the top.