In almost any summer camp situation, it is often a challenge to recruit the best cook (or chef) to the operation. Who wants to cook for 200 to 600 plus noisy Boy Scouts? Just the thought of that situation is enough to scare the chef hat off of anyone. Wow! That is just unfathomable! Three hundred Boy Scouts … you’ve got to be kidding. And so, the position of head cook and staff is almost impossible to find. Camp Directors are known to try every imaginable resource to find the perfect person – or even just any person – for the job. Sometimes one can talk some crazy person into taking the job – just for something to do – but it is hard to find that perfect person who loves cooking, is crazy enough to deal with that many Boy Scouts, staff and leaders. And if the camp director is lucky enough to find such a person, they want to latch onto them immediately.
I have recruited and dealt with a variety of cooks over the years. Some were excellent. Some were quirky at best. Some were crotchety and not real pleasant. The best kinds of cooks were and are those who could take the challenge to create wonderful well-balanced meals, to plan and create menus and lists of needed supplies. They have a positive attitude and are willing to make the best of whatever kitchen they might find themselves in.
This summer, our Thunder Ridge Scout Camp had a couple of those. Louella was great until faced with the challenge of being a homeless camp and on the go – as we found ourselves in the wake of the Brian Head Fire that forced our evacuation from our Thunder Ridge. The entire camp operation found its way to the Beaver High Adventure Base. And of course, the staff relied upon the Beaver Camp Cook for their meals. We lucked out! We ended up with one of the greatest camp cooks ever. Talk about incredible! Roland Emett is one of those rare guys who loves cooking and who takes great pride in his cooking. He knows well his role as cook and how it affects the overall camp operation. He was willing to tackle of the most challenging aspects of the camp – for the overall good of the Scouts, leaders and staff.
I have been very impressed with Roland and his operation – his organization, his team, and his great food. So, I decided to interview him to see how he makes it all come together so magically and so well.
Kevin: So, Roland … tell me a little about yourself and your Scouting experience …
Roland: “Well, I’ve been doing summer camp for 8 years. I was the Thunder Ridge Nature Director for three years. I then cooked at Thunder Ridge for two years. I then became the Camp Program Director for a year. I found great satisfaction in being the cook. I felt like the camp needed a morale boost and food is always a morale booster. Also, I love the Scouting program … so that is why I have chosen it as a career. I’m going to school now to get a degree to become a Scouting District Executive.”
How did you come to be the cook at the Beaver High Adventure Base?
“Nathan Howard was the camp director at the Thunder Ridge Scout Camp. Then he was to become the Assistant camp director at the Beaver High Adventure Base. He asked me to come up to be with him. (And then he didn’t end up being the camp director) New scenery … also was a draw for me.”
When you started this summer, how many people did you think that you were to cook for?
“I was told between 100 to 200 per day.”
And how many people are you cooking for now?
“We reached 300 one week. And now I’m actually cooking for two different camps. It’s pretty stressful.”
Your meals are always exactly on time and excellent. How do you pull this off meal after meal?
“It’s the staff I have with me. I have 4 ½ staff members. … Josh helps in the morning – not much at night. And I have Steve, Mikaela, and Alice. They all have their own things to cook and they know their roles and they do everything with little direction.”
So, what is your daily kitchen schedule?
“I get up at 5:00 AM each morning. I turn on the camp generator at 5:45 AM (and this generator powers everything in the kitchen – as well as the lodge, lights and other things). With our new fridge, we can get to our food earlier. (We can’t open “the refer” – the big semi-trailer cooler – until the generator is turned on to keep the food cool).” Assistant Steve was quick to share his own perspective at this point: Steve: wake up … meal, meal, meal, sleep …not much sleep in between. A bit of a break after breakfast – take a nap … relax …” Roland continues: “We cook breakfast. Then we set out stuff for Scouts and staff to make their own sack lunches. Then later we cook dinner. We cook for some troops, all of the high adventure participants and for the staffs of the two camps. The numbers vary each day.”
Scout Camp kitchens are quirky at best. All are different. And each has its oddities. Most are lacking in space – oven and cooking space – and especially refrigerator and storage space. And the Beaver kitchen is no exception.
So, Roland … What about the Beaver camp kitchen facilities? How does the kitchen work for you?
“Well, Could be better … needs some updated equipment … We have three ovens that actually work and a convection oven. We cook meats, baked potatoes, sausage, hash browns. In the convection oven. We baked 178 baked potatoes a few days ago.”
What do you do with leftovers?
“Leftovers – I will make a country hash …”
So, what are some challenges for cooking for such a big group?
“Making sure there is enough food … making sure that there is not too much food. Making sure that the numbers from the “Double Knot” camp registration computer program are actually correct. Taking care of people with allergies and food problems. And getting the food to the camp is a major challenge. Ordering … we receive our food from a Salt Lake distributor. They come only to the start of our dirt road so we have to meet the truck and get our food at the paved road. We have to load it in a camp vehicle and drive it over 3 miles of dirt road – so our food boxes get all dusty”.
How does KP (Kitchen Patrol) work and who does it?
“We have to recruit volunteers to serve and clean-up. Some troops are assigned. Sometimes I have to be proactive to get “Vonuntells” (and tell late people that they I need them) when there are not enough volunteers.”
My wife, Lou, was sitting nearby. She is a former camp cook for about 300 campers per day. So, she can empathize totally with the challenge of being a camp cook. She has been amazed at Roland and how he and his staff put out such great food – and how they seem to make it all look so easy. She said to Roland, “You always look so calm … “
Roland: “ I am not. Stress is my everyday look. Our music helps calm me down. Most of the time it is on during our prep and serving time. We listen to all genres … whatever we want at the time … it has to be appropriate.”
I am sure that every camp cook does the best he/she can but yet they often think, “If only I had …”
So, Roland, what is your dream list for your kitchen – if you had donors or budget to make it happen?
“It would be great to have … an updated kitchen or lodge. We could use a hood fan … a new walk-in fridge would be amazing … donors would be appreciated …. We presently eat in large tents with plastic tables. A covered pavilion to eat in – with a concrete pad … that would be the true dream! And there is never enough storage space. We could use “Solid Boxes” to protect food from rodents. And Insulated Hot Boxes would be wonderful so we could make hot lunches.”
I also talked to some Scout leaders about their camp food experience. Cedar City Police Chief and Scoutmaster said, Camp food is always a gamble. You never know what you’re going to get … But this food is wonderful.” Another said, “When I walked in this morning, I thought I had ascended when I saw biscuits and gravy. I knew it was going to be a good day.” A Scout said, “Those meatballs were amazing. The stuffed potatoes were like really good. And when I spread out my sack lunch, I thought, Wow! This is like a full course meal.”
Well, there you have it! The inside scoop from the camp kitchen and the cook/chef himself. It really is a big job – a really hard job. And it is often a thankless job. But, we the Thunder Ridge Scout camp staff – are truly grateful for our fabulous cook, Roland and his team. They truly “make our camp!” (And we’ll probably all be ten pounds heavier because of it!)
Best wishes along your Scouting Trails … Kevinthescoutblogger
See this link for an introduction to Kevin the Scouting Trails Blogger. Blogging articles have excerpts taken from Kevin’s many personal journals and Scouting Trails books including “MR. Scoutmaster!”, “Keys to Scouting Leadership,” “Gnubie to Eagle Scout”, and others at his Scoutingtrails website. Connect with Kevin and read his articles on Scouting blogsites such as The Boy Scout, The Scouting Trail and the Voice of Scouting. Feel free to comment on anything you read! Find Kevin on Facebook at: Scouting Trails Books and Blogs.
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