There’s something completely magical about cooking over an open flame. Fire brings us together not just for sharing a meal, but for experiencing lasting moments of laughter, love, and community.
In the Common Flame, we discover how cultures across the world are united by a common love of cooking over an open flame. In this edition, we’re traveling to San Francisco where Chef Anthony Strong is creating rustic, campfire-inspired dining experiences out of his mobile kitchen: an ‘89 VW van named “Stella.”
Meet Anthony and Stella
Chef Anthony doesn’t believe in “cute” food. One of San Francisco most creative chefs and restaurateurs, Anthony strives to create dishes that are honest, comforting, and as he says, “indulgent.” The secret to making dishes feel right at home, he says, is not just using the best ingredients you can find; it’s fire.
A little over a year ago, Anthony opened his first solo restaurant Prairie, aptly named to represent his vision for his diners to be able to sit back, relax, and graze. Anthony wanted to create an environment where you can roll up your sleeves and eat with your hands. The comfort you feel when you eat his food comes from his own love for cooking over an open fire while camping. “Nothing connects me to food as much as a live fire does,” says Anthony. “It feels natural to me.” In fact, there were no gas grills at Prairie. All the grilling was done over three charcoal grills, one from Texas, one from Japan, and one from Spain.
Sadly, like many restaurants affected by the pandemic, Anthony was forced to close the restaurant’s doors. Forced with a decision between recouping his losses and planning what to do next, Anthony felt like he needed to take some time to think. So, naturally, Anthony went camping. Being located on the northern California coast, Anthony has always used his experiences in nature and cooking over an open fire as the inspiration for his dishes. While on the trip, Anthony just wanted to take some time off and get back to having fun cooking in his portable camping grill he takes with him.
Out of that experimentation in the woods, Anthony got an idea: What if he brought even more of his love for outdoor cooking over an open fire to his dishes? How do I bring the campfire dining experience to others safely during the pandemic? Anthony had a spark of inspiration to purchase a camper van, refit it with a dining table that can seat up to four people, and cook for people in whatever location they wanted: in their driveway, on the beach, or in a parking lot. After coming back from his trip, Anthony found a beautiful ‘89 VW van and is now running one of the most unique dining experiences in the city. Her name is Stella.
Cooking the Stella Way
Anthony calls the time you spend with him and Stella a “private glamping-themed” experience. The menu varies depending on the day, but everything is cooked over an open fire (either from his portable charcoal grill or his Solo Stove Lite) to reconnect people to the experience of being outdoors.
The first course is always a soup, sometimes served out of a Thermos. One of his favorite appetizers to serve is Lobster Fondue. Anthony starts by quickly grilling lobster on his grill on skewers. Then, he makes a sauce made of fermented chili and places it in a cast iron pot to keep warm over the Lite camp stove. When you arrive for the evening, you are sat in a cushy vintage lawn chair to begin the evening beneath the warm light of lanterns hung along Stella’s pop-out awning, and welcomed to enjoy delicious Lobster Fondue.
After the first course, you are brought inside the van to take a seat at the quaint dining table. The main course could be a whole charcoal-roasted trout or a whole squab that has been dry-aged for weeks, dressed with porcinno, and bathed in truffle butter.
The purpose of Stella is to bring the relaxation and comfort you get from camping in the outdoors by the light of a campfire. Cooking over an open fire, according to Anthony, is like a chase. You follow wherever the fire takes you. It’s not about making food that’s fancy. It’s about making a dish that connects you to something bigger than yourself and bringing you back to a place where you can relax, be yourself, and feel alive.
We’ve gathered some recipes that are sure to remind of your favorite moments spent camping by the light of a campfire.
Campfire Skillet Fondue
Photo and recipe by Culture Mag
Campfire Skillet Breakfast
Photo and recipe by Real Life with Dad
Campfire Grilled Fish Tacos
Photo and recipe by Fresh Off The Grid