Food tastes so much better sitting on a tree stump in the middle of a forest. Outdoor chef Gustaf Waesterberg enjoys sleeping outside at least once a month. And, when he cooks lunch in nature, he usually makes a great tasting warm soup, a cheese pot, clam chowder and crêpes Suzette. But enjoying the meal outside, sitting on a tree stump takes the experience to a whole other level.
All great parties end up in the kitchen at some point. As humans, we love to gather around food and warmth. But now that we have gotten used to being outside during the pandemic, maybe it is time to try moving the kitchen outside as well? So, bring your friends and family, put on your headlamp and find a nice spot outside to set up an outdoor living room or kitchen. Chef, photographer and outdoorsman Gustaf Waesterberg actually prefers to cook outside. And, on this sparkling winter’s day, he is preparing a three-course lunch for his friends at Nacka Sea Scouts at one of Stockholms most beautiful beaches.
We get into a conversation about how nature can become a great outdoor living room and it turns out that Gustaf has been sleeping outdoors in nature at least one night every month for the last three years. Usually together with his scout buddy Jonas. It sounds a bit like some sort of life challenge, one of these things that people do to prove themselves nowadays. So why do you sleep outside, and why every month?
– It is a break from everyday life that I need, says Gustaf. Most people just want to go home and lay on the couch to relax. But not me. Once you make sleeping outdoors a habit you sort of become addicted to it. Sometimes maybe you have to make do with sleeping outside in the garden or on the balcony. But when you do it regularly you really get to experience all the individual aspects of the different months and seasons. Frequency makes for a great experience. And also, with time, you get used to what you need to bring and pack for the night.
Food tastes so much better sitting on a tree stump
When buddies Gustaf and Jonas go camping outdoors it is always chef Gustaf that does the cooking. Jonas takes care of the fire and brings drinks. Their habit of sleeping outdoors started three years ago, and in the beginning they always used to bring a tent, but nowadays they usually sleep under the stars.
– We tend to bring less things with us each time. A sleeping bag, mosquito nets, a tarp, an extra set of clothes and a headlamp. That is about all you really need. And ear plugs! You need earplugs cause every new place has so many sounds that you are not used to. (Gustaf assures us that it is still possible to hear wild boars with ear plugs.) And a sleeping mask is also good to have.
It actually sounds really nice cozying up in a sleeping bag, and a mosquito net will sure come in handy sleeping outside in the archipelago in the summer. Gustaf, who is used to sleeping outside all year, says that it is only during about two to three months a year that the mosquitoes are a problem. But using a tent with an inside net, or a canopy made for an indoor bed works great. Put it over a tree branch and you have yourself a great outdoor canopy. But just zipping up the sleeping bag real tight around you also works. The tarp is one of Gustafs favorite things as it is a very useful and cheap outdoor accessory.
– Sometimes you need wind and rain protection. And if you want to find the perfect spot you have to come really early, which we never do. And if you are using a tent you have to spend lots of time cleaning and drying the tent from the rain and mud in your apartment, and no one wants that. So, we usually bring a 2 x 3 meters large tarp to protect the tent from the wind and rain. It doesn’t matter if it tears, it still works. So don’t go buying loads of camping gear! Just get good quality things from the secondhand market. And a tarp.
A lot of people that Gustaf talks to about sleeping outside are afraid they will be cold. But he says it is not that hard to stay warm. One thing is crucial to stay warm though, having an extra set of clothes to change into if necessary.
– Bring extra socks and a base layer that you can change into for the night. Even if your feet don’t get wet during the day you still sweat in your shoes, and as soon as you get moisture into the sleeping bag you will never be warm. But knowing that you will be warm, dry and cozy at night enhances the whole experience.
The briefcase grill
Just as important as having a sleeping mask during the summer when the sun never sets, is having lights during the winter when it gets dark as early as three pm. And even if Gustaf has set the table today with beautiful lanterns, he prefers to use tent lights and dimmable flashlights. Battery-operated fairy lights are great to guide you when you get up in the middle of the night. And for cooking, a headlight works great, says Gustaf. The two outdoor buddies have tried all sorts of gear, lighting and DIY solutions to make dinner out in nature.
– I have tried everything from take away pizza to gourmet food outdoors when I spend the night. And usually, we end up on a smooth sheet of rock, and then you need a grill. Disposable grills make everything taste bad because they are prepped with lighter fluid – and they are also not very environmentally friendly. We use a portable camping grill that I bought at a garage sale that looks like a small briefcase. I load it with charcoal and bring the whole thing with me and then I light it with lighting chips so I don’t have to use lighter fluid. I don’t usually use wood when I am in the archipelago.
It really sounds like Gustaf has everything covered. Leave burning the hot dogs and marshmallows to us. But I just have to ask Gustaf about his worst food experience. He recalls a time when he made Choucroute garni, a sauerkraut stew with pork and sausage.
– We tried to cook it in the fire. It did NOT go well. But at least we could eat the upper half of the stew.
It is just about time for a fika on the beach, and Gustaf sets up his cooking station on a tarp underneath a pine tree. First, he gets some ready made pizza dough and crafts some lovely cinnamon buns that he bakes on the grill. The buns, that are almost fried in butter, are served with a pot of Swedish boiled coffee. The myths surrounding boiled coffee are just as many as there are nature lovers in the archipelago. But one thing is for sure, boiled coffee has a very undeserved bad reputation, it is perfect to make at the campfire. But don’t reheat the coffee several times, it just makes it bitter. Gustaf recommends Zoega’s dark roast presso coffee, unless you want to go for the fancy more expensive version, so called “Nobel coffee”. Then you should get Johan & Nyströms Sumatra Gayo – a rich, spicy coffee with notes of dried figs. A coffee for boiling should be ground to a size between brewing coffee and course ground.
Next to the coffee pot is one of Gustaf’s favorite things, the stainless-steel flask that can hold anything from cold water or iced tea to mulled wine and hot chocolate. – Drinks outside in the winter need to be warm, says Gustaf. It can also be nice to have something warm to eat while you cook, such as hot soup. If you feel like it is too much work making a whole soup on the spot, you can always bring dried miso soup powder to mix with hot water. Eating outside should be a whole experience, a sort of ritual, that you can take time to enjoy, not just something you need to do to refuel.
When Gustaf cooks, he makes everything from scratch. He dices onions and slices bacon. But he says it is important not to make things too complicated, you can do a lot of prepping at home, such as cutting vegetables and boiling eggs. If you preboil your potatoes at home, you can make potato wedges on the grill in five minutes. But today we are having grilled baguettes to go with the mussel stew. – It is not so much the making, but rather the eating experience that is so heightened out in nature.
Text: Annika Edestrand. Foto: Henrik Trygg.