Fire up | Cookup

When it comes to cooking, there’s nothing more elemental than an open fire, says Franka Philip — who talks inspiration from two popular Instagram chefs as she plans a meaty menu for her grill

  • Illustration by Shalini Seereeram

About eighteen months ago, I decided to treat myself to an exciting food gadget. So I went and bought a barbecue grill. I got one that would hold a suckling pig, because I expected I’d be hosting regular limes where grilled and barbecued meat would be the star of the show.

I’ve used it only three times.

There hasn’t been any suckling pig as yet, but there have been pork chops. To be honest, the fare has been run-of-the-mill, with chicken, fish, and lamb chops ruling the roost. But now I’m excited all over again about the grill, because of all the food porn I’ve been watching.

Don’t be alarmed — food porn is not actually pornographic, it’s just a term used to describe photos and videos of extremely mouthwatering dishes. I’ve been following the hashtag #grilling on the social media site Instagram, and I have a renewed sense of excitement about getting the “barbie” going again. 

One of my favourite Instagram profiles is @overthefirecooking, curated by Derek Wolf of Nashville, Tennessee, who modestly describes himself as a food enthusiast. I’m one of 750,000 followers on Instagram who think he’s awesome. Wolf was inspired after watching Argentina’s top chef Francis Mallmann on the Netflix series Chef’s Table (one of my favourites, too). Mallmann’s philosophy is, “When you cook with fires, when you build a fire, it is a bit like making love. It could be huge, strong. Or it could go very slowly in ashes and little coals. And that’s the biggest beauty of fire: it goes from zero to ten in strength. And in between zero and ten, you have all these little peaks and different ways of cooking with it, and it’s very tender and very fragile.”

Wolf, taking that to heart, has been regularly posting instructional videos on his website and his Instagram feed where he cooks everything on the fire — from porterhouse steaks and mussels to eggs and nachos. Wolf’s passion ties into my desire to learn more about butchering and cooking meat, as well as eating in a very elemental way. It also helps that cooking on the fire is one of the best excuses for having a great lime with friends and family.

Another serious cook who loves cooking on the fire is Ontario-based Trinidadian Chris de la Rosa. He has a huge social media following for his website Caribbean Pot, where for more than a decade he’s been taking us on little adventures as he recreates the dishes of his childhood and other classic Caribbean fare.

He’s one of those people who can’t wait for the summer, to get outside and start cooking on the barbecue. De la Rosa told me why he loves to cook outside during those warm months. “My love for an open flame and smoke-infused dishes means that eighty per cent of the food my family eats during the summer months comes off my propane grill, my charcoal/wood smoker, my wood-burning stove, or my new best friend — my coal pot,” he says gleefully. “I get to enjoy two things which not only make me very happy, but help with stress-filled days: cooking and being outdoors playing with fire.”

A Trini who loves curry, de la Rosa takes this to the barbecue as well, and regularly makes one of his favourites, warmly flavoured geera (cumin) chicken skewers. “I enjoy currying tough meats like game, duck, and goat outdoors,” he says, “as I can cook up the spices without having to worry about the lingering scent in the house and on clothing. Plus I get to excite my neighbours’ taste buds with that captivating scent of a good Caribbean curry.”

Unsurprisingly, de la Rosa has mastered Jamaican jerk as well, and he’s used some of his favourite flavours to add interesting twists.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I do enjoy a good jerk — chicken or pork, and fish, too. I play around with flavours like pomegranate, pineapple, and even maple syrup, and a wonderful Concord grape reduction which I made using pure Concord grape juice. I add it to the jerk marinade and finishing glaze.”

I feel that because de la Rosa lives in a country where bitterly cold winters can seem to last forever, he appreciates the warmth of Trini cooking much more. He even harks back to cooking methods used by his ancestors — the indigenous people of Trinidad.

“My dad taught me about buccaneering,” he says. “It was a way, especially for hunters, to preserve meats. It was traditionally done by my great-grandparents, who learned from their ancestors about using smoke to have meats last longer without going bad.

“So with that sort of knowledge, I use my smoker to sort of duplicate that technique, but with added flavours of herbs, spices, and Demerara sugar for outstanding smoked meats.”

Now that many of us are enjoying the August holidays — an easier time when children are off from school, the pace of life has slowed a bit, and people are more inclined to lime and chill out — I’m going to host a couple of get-togethers where the menu will be cooked totally on the fire. I’ve cleaned up my grill, and stocked up on coals. 

I’m borrowing a recipe from Derek Wolf, and adapting it a bit. He has a really sexy-looking recipe for chipotle adobo skirt steak, and I’m going to replace the chipotle chillies with local pimento and habanero peppers.

Adobo is a marinade of vinegar and spices, and it will be helpful in breaking down the fibres of the beef, so we can cook it for about fifteen minutes on the grill. I’ll serve that with breadfruit, a twist on potato salad suggested by Chris, as well as some grilled vegetables fresh from the farmers’ market.

Let the cooking begin!

If you’re looking to sharpen your grilling and fire-cooking skills, check out Derek Wolf’s Instagram account @overthefirecooking or his website www.overthefirecooking.com.

Check out Chris de la Rosa on Instagram at @caribbeanpot, or visit his website www.caribbeanpot.com. His book The Vibrant Caribbean Pot: 100 Traditional and Fusion Recipes is available on Amazon.