The Guy Who Brings His Blow Torch on River Trips…
Meet Chef Chip Roberts
He got his start at one of the top restaurants in the U.S.—McCrady’s in Charleston, SC—but when you meet Chef Chip Roberts, you just know that this mountain man is meant to cook in the wild. So it’s fitting that he’s one of the go-to culinary masterminds for OARS’ gourmet beer and wine tasting trips on the river. In the real world, you can find him in the off-the-radar Sierra Nevada town of Arnold, CA where he’s creating inventive, local products for The Arnold Pantry and heading up a new Underground Supper Club project.
How did you get involved with cooking on OARS’ gourmet river trips?
My wife was a river guide and it was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. We do river trips anyway—private trips. We have a bunch of friends who are guides, so it’s something I’m accustomed to and I love cooking outside. It’s so primal…you have food, fire and the great wide open. So I think it was just a natural fit.
You’re developing all sorts of locally-sourced food products. Are these something people will get to try if they’re on a river trip with you this year?
Yeah, when I do my menus for river trips I base it around stuff that I make—my kimchis, preserves, olive oil. I definitely incorporate that stuff into my menu and I try to showcase The Arnold Pantry whenever possible. We work with Golden Bear Ranches and they’re one of California’s premiere farms (they sell food to The French Laundry). Capay Organic is another one we work with. We’re in a special spot in Northern California, so we try not to go more than 100 miles and we get some pretty phenomenal stuff.
What’s the toughest part about cooking gourmet meals on the river?
I don’t know… it’s almost like a scam, right? It’s enjoyable for me. I love it. The hardest part is getting everything there and making sure it’s on the boat. Because once you’re gone, you’re gone. Once you’re out there, that’s the easy part.
Is there a secret tool you bring to make sure your meals go off without a hitch?
A blow torch. We’ve been going to farmer’s markets and concerts, and when you bust out a blow torch, everybody’s heads snap. Especially on the river, that’s a quintessential piece of equipment. We do fire roasted peppers, brûléed peaches and pears. All kinds of stuff.
Craft beer or wine tasting trip?
I really enjoy the beer tasting trips because I’ve been learning so much about beer. Kyle from Big Sky Brewing is really knowledgeable. He’s their cicerone and quality control guy. His pairings are always great, really spot on. We did braised ribs, which is a fun one to pull off on the river. Moose Drool (Brown Ale) braised ribs. It was cooked in it and then paired with it, so that was really good.
What’s something new you might do riverside this year?
I’ve been working on this chocolate beet cake recipe that’s pretty awesome. And funnel cake is always fun. I do it in a Dutch oven but I set it up as a shallow fryer. Then, I put my funnel cake batter in a squeeze bottle and squeeze it in there.
What’s one of your favorite moments from an OARS trip?
It was our first year and there was a fire on the Snake River. Day four we got a phone call—we were able to get a satellite phone call to tell us to cut that day short, because our next day was going to be super long. We got to camp early and had the boats upside down for a Slip ‘n Slide. You would run and jump and do the Slip ‘n Slide on the boat into the water. That was awesome.
As it got closer to night the mountains in front of us were on fire. The fire would burn slow and then it would just jump. Closest I’ve ever been to a wildfire. It was really spectacular to sit there and watch the fire all night long. It was an experience.