Chef David Guas Puts Pedal to the Metal to Take the Simple Pleasures on the Road
By Francine Cohen Photos courtesy of Harley Davidson
Think being in the kitchen in any given Saturday night at the height of service is an intense cooking experience? Take it outside, on the open road, throw in the unpredictability of Mother Nature and you’ll find yourself at the intersection of uncertainty and exhilaration, with the off ramp to sheer pleasure just up ahead.
That’s where James Beard and IACP award nominee David Guas finds himself when he hops on his Harley and heads for the hills. Sure, the weather and cooking conditions may be a little unpredictable, but Guas and his trusty cast iron pan wouldn’t have it any other way.
He says, “I’m a Harley rider, been riding over 15 years, and I find a lot of pleasure in riding the bike I own. Sometimes you just need to get out of these 70 hours a week operations and away from guests; their comments and their needs can be stressful. Of course cooking for them is why I got into the business, but there’s an edge to that sword. It can beat you up. If you let it.”
Guas doesn’t let it. He lets go by leaving that controlled cooking environment behind and letting nature dictate the cooking nuances when he’s preparing a dish outdoors. He shares the priorities that take over after a long ride and says, “At the end of a long ride, whether it’s 250 or 600 miles, that first stop all you think about after the fire is going is getting food in your system. You’re not worried about impressing anyone.”
That’s good. Because, as Guas admits, “Being outside can be a little nerve wracking.” He continues, “But it doesn’t matter when you’re cooking in the camping environment and you’re cooking with a product that you care about. You’re looking really for substance. After a long day’s ride you’re just feeding yourself and who you’re riding with. It’s about getting some nutrition.”
Guas finds the surefire shot to getting that nutrition is relying upon the best and often the simplest, ingredients. Around the campfire he notes, “Salt and lemon or a lime goes a long way. and, of course a little bit of honey. From a flavor standpoint as a soldier in the army of ingredients it carries an equal role as something simple as salt. Honey is a natural sweetener; it adds color and brings out other flavors. Can bring some rich, dark color and enhance the flavors and let the other key ingredients and major role players stand out a little bigger.”
For his honey touched cornbread that offers a great big flavor thanks to cornmeal ground by the folks at Mt. Vernon’s George Washington gristmill (you may also know them for their distillery- www.mountvernon.org) cast iron was the no brainer pan to tuck in his saddle bags. Says Guas, “Being able to travel with a cast iron was easy. It’ll be here after you and I are off the earth. It’s the perfect cookery tool.”
After mixing up the perfect measure of ingredients, including honey sourced from his pal in Pennsylvania, Dave Hackenberg of Hackenberg Apiaries (www.hackenbergapiaries.org), Guas is ready to roll. In an ad hoc, able to roll with the punches sort of way. He explains, “It is a tricky thing to create an oven environment in an open flame. Aluminum foil and duct tape are things you should always have.”
Armed with man’s best friends (tinfoil and duct tape), Guas gets cooking. His method for the perfect al fresco cornbread? He explains, “We got a crust on there that’s hard to replicate. You’ve got to first get the coals wicked grey. You want coals and ash around and then sprinkle some more coals on top of the grey charcoal and waited (for them to heat) before putting the cornmeal mixture into the pan. Once we did we checked it every 30-40 minutes until it was ready.”
Though dedicated to his restaurant Guas is always ready to hit the road on his bike. For him, seeing the world from that perspective represents a different place and time. A mood that’s hard to capture in a clanging kitchen. He concludes, “The wind in your hair and the open road – we joke, but it’s a real place, a real feeling.”
To make this cornbread over your next campfire:
Campfire, Cast Iron Cornbread
Chef David Guas
Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery in Arlington, Virginia
5 oz. AP flour
3 oz. cornmeal
2.5 oz. granulated sugar
1.5 tsp. salt, kosher
1.5 tsp. baking powder
4.5 oz. sour cream
2 oz. milk
3 oz. peanut oil
4.5 oz. creamed corn
1 oz. butter, melted
Create a small fire in an open area with gray coals.
In a mixing bowl, add all of the dry ingredients. Mix well, and add all wet ingredients with the exception of the butter. With a wooden spoon, mix the wet and dry ingredients together until combined. Add the melted butter and mix again with wooden spoon.
Coat a 10 inch cast iron skillet with a spoonful of butter that has been heated slightly. Pour the combined mixture into the cast iron skillet. Cover the skillet in aluminum foil, ensuring that the foil is tight and well-sealed. Clear the center of your fire, enough to place the pan in the center directly onto the mud or ground with the gray coals around but not touching the skillet (leave about 3 inches of space between the coals and pan). Sprinkle some of the gray colored coals directly on the top of the foil and cook for about an hour.
Check the cornbread every 30 minutes or so until complete, as cooking times will vary due to the use of a campfire.