Open Roads and Campfire Cooking with Symrin, Karena & Mariel

Art Director, Symrin is no stranger to nature. With Spatial Director, Karena Chan and Cultural Strategist, Mariel Wuilloud, we tag along with the trio as they speak to us about their personal relationships to the outdoors, the various places they've traveled, as well as their preternatural affinity to cooking in the open air -- an interest which has culminated in "COOKBOOK" a series about simple, sensual dishes, as a part of a broader, tender way to interact with the outdoors.

How would each of you describe your relationship to the outdoors and if / how that might have changed over the years? 

  • S: Overwhelming. A desire to dissolve into the dirt, into the smallest pollen, to be completely without body, to be sky. My imagination has always stemmed from the earth, and so it’s a place of magical thinking, always. That’s also where the three of us see eye to eye, I think. We walk together through the forest knowing that the world is glittering, laughing, longing for us as much as we long for her.
    Recently I have moments of feeling alienated from nature, even while in her embrace. I think this stems from guilt. That I am allowed to experience so much pleasure at the expense of an environment in crisis. I’d like to spend more time working towards earth stewardship and conservation, rather than purely the pursuit of my own balanced nervous system.

  • K: You know when you’re a kid and you’re playing house and a stump is your kitchen and the moss is your bed and you need to collect enough berries and flowers to make a soup? I still have that same relationship to the outdoors and it’s something I cherish very much.
    I definitely feel Symrin though about stewardship. The more time I’ve been spending in nature, the more anxious I feel about the fragility of it. Especially with all the wildfires lately, you’re always wondering... will this still be here the next time I come?

  • M: Nature has so much to give that I think it’s easy to want to establish one’s presence within it. However, more and more, I’m obsessed with the idea of harmony. This can manifest itself in small ways too, when I’m camping I try to think about how to work with what’s already there versus trying to set up something beautiful for myself at the expense of everything else.

You’ve discovered some wildly stunning locations on your camping trips- how do you pick your spots? 

  • S: I defer to Karena Chan! A master plan and a lot of wiggle room tend to go hand in hand. We all have a similar desire for sublime, spectacular beauty. I think our shared vision and sense of endurance for the journey help us on the hunt.
  • K: I guess word of mouth and extensive research. I’m picky though I don’t love to camp just to camp. I seek out spots with a lot of drama. A water source and away from people are high on my priority list. Having the setting to create a feeling and a lifestyle of wildness and also the freedom of being spontaneous.
  • M: Karena definitely has an innate knack for researching and discovering the spots! I love camping with Sym & Karena because having water and a place to swim nearby is a necessity for all of us.

Along with these landscapes, you’ve also graced our feeds with some incredibly handsome meals. Does food play as big a part in these trips as it seems? What’s your approach to cooking outdoors?  What are you packing and what are picking up along the way?

  • S: Stopping at farms, fruit stands and small grocers keeps the camp kitchen well stocked with fresh ingredients. Seasonal fruits, cheeses, goat’s milk and duck eggs are always my favorite things to pick up along the way. You never know what you’ll come across so leave room in the cooler for wildcards and treats. 
  • K: Cooking outdoors is my favorite thing and a huge part of our trips. It brings me back to what I was speaking of before where you just feel like a kid. Whether it’s rolling out pasta by a lake or collecting mussels off a rock, it feels surreal, it feels pretend, but the difference, now that you’re a grown up, is that you just made something that tastes and smells amazing. Of course, adapting and incorporating what’s in your surroundings is what makes each trip special. I’d like to get better at foraging, but honestly, it’s not just about the food. I can cook but I’m not a chef. The main driving force for me is creating an entire ambience by the magic of a fire that makes you linger and appreciate the ones you’re spending time with. It’s very romantic.
  • M: One of the best parts about camping is cooking. Fires are fun, and everything tastes better when it’s simple and outside. I think our ethos as a group is pretty aligned, we do a lot of vegetables seasoned impeccably and served with some thought. Good butter, maldon salt, a cast iron, and cute linens are key. Spice things up with anchovies or local jams you find along the way.

You travel extensively as a duo, trio, and with larger groups of lovers and friends. How do these experiences differ? Do you find yourselves showing up differently in these scenarios? Do you have a preference?

  • S: I love to travel in very small groups - specifically with other women - and by myself, though I haven’t mustered the courage to camp solo yet. I take things really slow when I’m outdoors alone and operate mostly on feeling.
  • K: A trio is a perfect number for me. The car isn’t too cramped, everyone has a role, and we can all have a sleepover in one tent. I don’t know if it’s just because I love camping with Mar and Sym but the three of us have a natural synergy where you trust each other to do the things that need to get done but also they take me further in areas I’d like to explore. There’s a magic and power to being in the wild with women.

  • M: I completely agree with the above. I love an intimate group that strikes a balance between trusting each other and pushing each other. There’s a beautiful kind of spirit that comes from being outdoors with some favorite women.  

How do you feel about solo adventuring as women in the outdoors? Are there any imposed limitations? Do you prepare any differently? 

  • S: I feel an innate sense of belonging and freedom outdoors that feels powerful to walk in as a South Asian woman. Nature is humbling and there is always cuase for caution. But what I actually fear most about being that along are other people. For the most part, there is an expectation of mutual trust and accountability out there, but sometimes you're really just in the cut and it can be frightening. I love that we all understand that though.
  • K: Lol. You will not find me camping alone, ever. I'm scared of the dark and have a wild imagination of what's lurking behind me. I think we all want to be able to do it solo, and we joke about having a trip where we have our own individual set-ups within yelling distance of each other.
  • M: There's definitely a different way of moving through the world as a woman. I think it's smart to have a bit of a heightened sense of your surroundings...generally feels easy to tell what is friend or foe. I do get spooked at night, so definitely appreciate being stronger together.

You’re a deeply creative group and word is you’re creating tools for the outdoors too. We’re here for it.  Tell us a little about COOKBOOK.

  • COOKBOOK was born at the end of last summer. We had all recently gone on a lot of camping trips, together, and in other groups. It felt like we’d established a rhythm and a philosophy that was worthy of sharing. Generally speaking, COOKBOOK is about simple, sensual dishes as a part of a broader, tender way to interact with the outdoors. It’s an ode to our adventures together and to the love we have for each other and for the planet.  We’re looking to do a series for COOKBOOK, each around a theme, that encompasses an intuitive and responsible way to be in the land. For the first edition, we’re starting with our foundational dishes, good for any place and any time of year. Think retro trail guide from a truck stop gas station, but filled with simple, elevated recipes. We want this to be the kind of book you let get dirty. Toss it into your pack, scribble notes fireside, fold maps and press flowers into it along the way. 

What do you think about the outdoor product landscape at present? What are you looking to inspire through COOKBOOK?

  • Camping is so magical because in many ways, it’s a blank slate. We’re all imagining a new, temporary home together and it’s often hard to find products that fit into our world. Most gear is aimed at a strong functional design, but lacks range, aesthetic simplicity or sentimentality. Especially when you start getting into gendered marketing - it’s a mess! So much of searching for the right gear can feel alietaing and like you have to shop within a small bubble of brands. We like to grab our pieces from all over, over time, and as needed. Army surplus, Japanese designers, thrift store cookware, and good ol’ hand me downs.

    With COOKBOOK we’re hoping to show people how easy it is to be outdoors. We think the more people understand what’s out there, the better they can be an advocate for the planet. We hope to impart a sense of responsibility within people’s relationship to the earth. This extends to where you’re sourcing your ingredients. Produce from the farmer’s market tastes infinitely better than from a grocery store, and that’s crucial for our recipes since there’s so few ingredients. 

Best meal you've prepared outdoors to date?

  • S: My role on the team is more a dishwasher than a chef, but I’ve been known to shine in the breakfast department. In a pinch I’ll throw whatever cheese is left from last night’s charcuterie onto a croissant with a little local jam, stone or pome fruit and a bit of black pepper. My favorite tip: Garnish everything with lavender. Even your coffee beans. 
  • K: I don’t usually eat breakfast but if Sym is making it, I’ll eat it! I love seafood so I think my favorite meals are the ones where we’re collecting things from the sea. Wild mussels are so flavorful and juicy. Also, there’s something so primal and erotic about eating raw gooseneck barnacles straight off the rock. I like recipes that don’t take a lot of work and you allow the ingredients to shine.
  • M: I love a leftover moment. It’s fun to get creative with the odds and ends and nothing is better than no waste! We made leftover pizzas recently in Point Reyes (caramelized leeks, goat cheese, and pomegranate, or ramen egg with broccoli). I derive a lot of satisfaction by getting crafty with it.

Three tips you’d bestow on to someone taking their first camping trip?

  • It’s easy to get overwhelmed and think you need a perfectly curated kit to get started. But really all you need are a tent, a sleeping bag, and a few things to cook. 
  • That being said, if you need comfort, make it comfortable. Sleep on an air mattress with your duvet and real pillows! Whatever it takes to get you feeling comfortable being outdoors is a step in the right direction.
  • Our all time favorite tip on food etiquette in the wild: “A fed bear is a dead bear.”

What is your idea of #TimeWellSpent?

  • Time well spent is time that you are present with.