Teaching The Hunting Camp Cook An Important Lesson

It truly wouldn’t be hunting camp without one.   I’m talking about that special person who proudly (or in some cases, not so proudly) wears the designation as camp cook.   In many camps this person is worshiped for their unique culinary abilities…in other camps, well…let’s just say you know how the old joke goes.   The hunters sitting around after a hard day’s hunt complaining about the cooking, but finishing their statement “but this is just how I like it” (so as not to totally piss off the guy responsible for the food preparation duties).

Just a few days ago my old camp cook stopped by for a visit with his wife.   It was good to see ol’ Tom once again.   When he left I started thinking about our relationship that started about 14 years or so ago.   You see…Tom doesn’t hunt, but he likes to camp.   So one day I asked him how he would like to be my hunting camp cook and accompany 8 of us antelope hunters out to Montana for the fall hunt.   Foolishly, he jumped at the opportunity and I’m not quite sure his life was ever quite the same again.

You see, having a camp cook who is not a hunter is like the best of both worlds.   First, the cook can stay in camp all day putzing and putting a little extra effort into the meal preparation.   Yet, when the hunters are spending the day miles from camp it also serves nicely to have someone back in camp watching over things.   Tom was great, for several years we coaxed him into this critical role.   Quite honestly, when the cook is also a hunter it usually just doesn’t work out quite this ideal.   But with Tom, he would have the food hot and ready as we arrived back in camp hungry and cold.   Now that’s living.

I can’t help but think back to a funny story involving Tom and the aspect of meal planning.   You see, I would usually ask him to plan out all the meals so I knew what grub to bring with on the trip.   On one particular occasion Tom had down a meal calling for Tuna Helper.   I SAID NO WAY!!   My guys are not going to eat that crap.   Tom was relentless…he said you guys just have never experienced the way I doctor it up and serve it.

I consulted with my friend Mitch and explained our predicament.   Tom was bound and determined to serve Tuna Helper in camp no matter how we tried to dissuade him otherwise.   That’s when the idea finally struck us.   Mitch and I both said if he won’t listen…well, then let’s fix his butt.   And fix his butt we did.   To this day Tom does not realize this but we played a prank on him that year in camp.   We’ll see if he reads this blog because if he does he will surely respond when he reads what I’m about to disclose.

TunahelperNo doubt about it Tuna Helper IS NOT HUNTING CAMP FOOD!   To ensure that our camp cook understood this critical concept Mitch and I purchased two boxes of the stuff and carefully opened the packaging with a knife.   Next, a small slit was made in the bag of ingredients found inside.   We then carefully took a small funnel and poured several ounces of red-hot cayenne pepper inside the mix…shook the contents to disperse…and then hot-glued everything back shut just like it came from the store.   Then during the trip, when the time was right, we snuck into our cook’s food chest and substituted the real boxes with, as Emeril Lagasse would say, the stuff that was “cranked up a few notches.”

Poor Tom…when the day finally arrived for serving Tuna Helper we all told him again not to expect many hunters coming back to camp for lunch if he was still hell bent on serving that shit.   He was…and mixed up a big heaping of the pre-packaged (tainted) concoction.   As I recall, many of us hunters decided to come back to camp that day not to actually eat the crap…but we wanted to see Tom swallow his own cooking.   Cooking that we had heard him brag so much about.

Well, let me tell you…if memory serves me correctly Tom was flabbergasted by the awful taste of his special gourmet dish that we all pleaded with him not to make.   He didn’t suspect it then…and I don’t believe he realizes it even to this day that his cooking on that day had just a little outside help unbeknownst to him.   It was so worth it though…trying to watch him eat that god-awful concoction about which we had heard so many positive things.

In the future, when we went on subsequent hunting trips, I don’t remember Tom being quite so bold by insisting on preparing a food dish that did not pass majority approval.   I guess this proves that sometimes in hunting camp you have to be downright mean to get your point across…and I believe it worked this time.   I will contend until my dying day that hunting camp is no place for foods such as Tuna Helper, no matter how you doctor up the pathetic taste.

Over the years I’ve been curious to ask Tom if he’s ever prepared TH again for his family.   My only fear is on that infamous hunting camp day we might have ruined what he considered to be one of his signature dishes.   Still, sometimes to preserve the taste palate of the hard working hunters in camp, a person’s got to do what a person’s got to do.   Sorry, Tom…with only this single minor deficiency in culinary meal planning you were without a doubt one of the best cooks I’ve ever experienced out on the middle of the Montana prairie.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.  No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.