CHILDHOOD CAMPING TRIPS INSPIRED STEVE CUMPER’S RECIPE FOR SUMMER HOLIDAY FOOD.
Chef Steve Cumper’s camping-inspired holiday meal.
SUMMER HOLIDAYS — DON’T YOU JUST WANT TO shout those magic words from the rooftop? I remember that euphoric feeling when the bell rang on the final day of primary school for the year. As I ran out the gate, it seemed as though the holidays stretched out endlessly before me and I felt like I was floating (perhaps that was because I’d spent all day in a classroom without air-conditioning). As the years passed, my enthusiasm for that moment became even more profound. My brief high school years were punctuated by my family’s annual pilgrimages to Wilsons Promontory in Victoria’s south. Here I would spend carefree days applying sunscreen, getting burnt and in constant teenage turmoil, held hostage by my hormones. When my working life began, for a couple of years I was fortunate to continue my summer holiday ritual, as the restaurant I was indentured to would close for a few weeks. This was the last glorious time when conventional holidays and my work schedule would dovetail neatly together. After that my time off became more unpredictable and I discovered, sadly, that holidays were finite. So at this time of year I like to recall those earlier days. During our holidays at the Prom, we and many other families ate dinner at dusk. Plumes of barbecue smoke would twirl into the air above the Tidal River caravan park, signalling us back to our camps. As people tended to come and go, we would often have a big platter of food in the middle of the table. Sometimes it would be a salad with cold meats, or grilled meat and three-bean salad. You’d sit just long enough to gobble a few morsels before heading back to guard your sandcastle or return to the book you were reading in a hammock. In the background, a tinny transistor radio broadcasting the cricket was the soundtrack of summer. Those memories have always informed my love of the casual feast. In the Cumper home, our old and gnarled kitchen table has born witness to countless meals involving shared platters. This is such a great way of entertaining en masse, as people can help themselves as their appetites dictate. I always prepare a bit more than required because there’s a great pleasure to be gained from spontaneously inviting someone extra to the table. One of my favourite assemblages is the Greek-styled platter. What makes it Greek you ask? Well, I suppose the experience of working for Greek families and their restaurants has rubbed off on me, and I can’t help but associate their food with generosity and bonhomie. These platters usually involve marinated and grilled meat, salad, a sauce of some kind and either potatoes, rice or bread. Big flavours are a must. There’s no room here for delicacy — each mouthful must discharge on the tastebuds like a round expelled from a howitzer. In fact, the recipe I’ve offered could be my all-time favourite meal (and, believe me, I have a few in my repertoire!). Should I ever find myself marooned, it would be the meal of choice to accompany my Desert Island Disc selection. May your holidays be happy ones! Steve Cumper is a chef and funnyman who lives in Tasmania and dreams of one day owning a fleet of holiday vans called Wicked Cumpers.