This is Tanesha Milucky. She’s a back-country guide and chef for some amazing cycling events like Ramble Ride and WTF cycling summits. Find out how she manages to combine all her favourite things with her love of cooking and learn out how she expertly packs the best cooler in town.
MK: What did adventure mean to you growing up?
Tanesha: Adventure to me was freedom. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a place that had really great access to the outdoors, and wide-open spaces with the mountains spread out from my back door in Boulder, Colorado. I feel really blessed to have had that. There never was any limit to exploring.
MK: What role did food play in your adventures early on in life?
Tanesha: When I first started riding bikes, I was like a lot of people. I thought food had to look like something that came in a wrapper, like a power bar. It wasn't very appetizing. I remember I went on this bike ride with a group of friends from Boulder. We ended up stopping at a coffee shop and buying a delicious loaf of bread and some pastries, just real food. I got really excited, and I think that kind of changed the way I look at eating on the trail. Food doesn't have to come in a wrapper.
MK: Can you describe what it’s like cooking for large groups in the outdoors?
Tanesha: I started guiding a number of years ago in the backcountry. A major part of backcountry guiding is cooking for your clients. You have to be able to feed people and feed them well. I've always loved cooking, and so that is kind of where I started with this whole idea of cooking well in remote locations without it being freeze-dried. Food can be fresh, whole, nutritious, and hot – all at the same time.
The first Ramble Ride I went on was the first year they went from Fort Collins to Steamboat Springs, and I enjoyed it so much. I wanted to be more on the organizing side of it, so I approached the organizer, Peter Discoe. I told him that I do this when I'm out guiding and that I thought I could do the same for him on a bigger scale. For me, it was a real challenge dealing with the size of it. It's never really been a challenge for me to cook in the backcountry; it’s always been something I really loved. Cooking for fifty people or a hundred people was new for me, though, and figuring that out was hard.
MK: What did you make for the last Ramble Ride?
Tanesha: Tacos are always a big hit, so I made a ton of the Carne Asada variety. Then one evening we made a bunch of lasagna in dutch ovens. We pile in the sauce and lasagna noodles and cook it over coals. It takes a while to cook over coals because it’s so very dense, but two hours usually does it. Then, for breakfasts, at least one morning, I do oatmeal. It warms you up on a cold day and it just stays with you. I’ll add things like toasted walnuts, blueberries, and other fresh fruits, too. I know everyone has their own way to dress their oatmeal, so I try to have yogurt, brown sugar, maple syrup, and other treats lying around. Just adding a lot of the little condiments and add-ons goes a long way. I also like to make the classic breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and toast. Who doesn’t love that? Then there’s coffee, of course – lots of coffee.
MK: What’s your favourite way to make coffee?
Tanesha: I do cowboy coffee! It's pretty easy, and in my opinion it makes the best coffee. It’s also a great way to make a lot of it. You get a big pot, add water, and bring it just shy of a boil. Then add about a pound of coffee, which is maybe a little bit finer of a grind than you would have in a french press. Give it a little stir to make sure all the grains are nice and wet, and then let it seep for about ten minutes. Then you just run it through a strainer, right into your mug. There you have your cowboy coffee: it's strong, it's hot, and it's really good.
MK: Where do you get inspiration for your recipes?
Tanesha: A lot of different places, honestly. A number of times I've gone out to dinner and eaten something that I absolutely love. Then I just think how I could recreate this in the backcountry. My mom's an amazing cook, too, so I get a lot of ideas from her. I honestly copy a lot of the stuff that I grew up eating. I don't know if I've ever actually followed a recipe to a T, though. I find a recipe and then I tweak it to add my own twist to it.
MK: What are some of the recipes that you ate when you were young?
Tanesha: We had a variety of things. My mom used to make these really amazing buttermilk biscuits. I love baking those in a dutch oven. They smell so good, just like fresh-baked bread. Also, a lot of grilling meat over coals. I grew up on a cattle ranch, so we ate a lot of meat. I always love making salads, too. The meal doesn't feel complete to me without a delicious salad.
MK: How do you suggest packing greens and lettuce? Do you have any tricks for keeping them fresh?
Tanesha: The trick is to keep them cold. So, if you’re going to pack a cooler, I believe really strongly in blocked ice. None of that cubed stuff. To pack greens in a cooler properly, make sure they are on top. You don't want to put them down towards the bottom where they're getting crushed. So, put your greens on top and wrap them with some paper towel, and then put that inside a Ziploc bag and seal it up well. Paper towel will absorb moisture from lettuce and keep it fresh.
MK: Can you go into more detail about the art of packing a cooler properly?
Tanesha: Well, first off, food safety is huge – especially if you're cooking for other people, but even just for yourself. There's nothing worse than getting sick when you're out there from somebody cooking improperly. I cannot stress the importance of that enough when I go into the backcountry. People think everything’s dirty, but that's not true. Wash your hands and be clean and keep a clean kitchen. Also, not cross-contaminating your cutting boards or your knives with raw meat and your vegetables. Just because you're in the back country doesn't mean you have to be dirty.
When it comes to packing your coolers, be smart. If you're going to have any kind of raw meat in the cooler, depending on how elaborate of a set up you want to do, it's not a bad idea to have a separate cooler just for your meats. But if you're trying to run a little more of a minimal set-up and pack your meats in the same cooler, I would recommend double bagging them and packing them at the bottom of the cooler. The idea is if that bag of chicken were to leak, it's not going to seep down onto a bunch of fresh fruit and vegetables. Your next layer is going to be milks and cheese and things like that. Save your top layer for fresh fruits and vegetables.
MK: What does your personal messkit look like for mountain guiding trips?
Tanesha: I guess there's two different theories. When you're guiding, sometimes there's a big difference between what I would do for myself personally, and what I would do for a commercial trip. Commercially it's a little more elaborate.
If I was doing a commercial trip, I bring plates. Something durable, something light. it doesn't have to be super fancy. It doesn't need to be a super lightweight and minimalist set-up. Then a fork, a spoon, and a cup. To cook, I use a dutch oven. You can do a lot in a dutch oven, at least a hundred different things! You can make soup, or a stir-fry. You can even turn the lid upside-down and make a pizza on it! It’s just really versatile. Then you need a good knife. It doesn't need to be really expensive, but if you're going to do any cooking, have a good sharp knife. It really sucks to try and cut a bunch of meat and vegetables with a little pocket-knife. I definitely use cutting boards and use both sides of the cutting boards. For utensils, I like metal. Plastics and rubber things suck. When you're cooking over coals or with a dutch oven, plastic things will melt. Metal utensils last a lot longer, and they're not going to melt into your pasta. Of course, you're also going to want a good stove, like a Camp Chef, and always make sure your propane is full. Check before you leave on a trip and always top it off even if you think you didn't use much last time.
On a personal trip, if it was just me, it’s honestly way more minimal. I probably just eat out of a bowl. I wouldn't bother with a plate. I really like the Jetboil stoves. They are extremely light, pack down pretty small, and are easy to clean. I've learned a lot from screwing up, probably more than I've gotten right, and I think that's why I know how to do it, and I know how to do it well now. But I guess that's life.
MK: Is there anything that you take in terms of a basic pantry?
Tanesha: I generally bring a few different oils. I’ll bring olive oil, and then I usually like to have some kind of high heat oil like avocado or coconut. It's really whatever you like the flavour of. Then I always bring a good salt. There's really a big difference between your basic table salt and a good kosher salt. I also use the heck out of hot sauce on my own food. There’s so many variables when you're doing a backcountry trip, but if I have the luxury of fresh herbs, I'll always go with fresh basil in my spice kit.
MK: Nice! Is there something coming up in the next year that you are excited about?
Tanesha: Yeah! There are a couple things this coming year. There’s a few of the Ramble Rides happening around the US that I’m cooking for, which is always a fun time. Then there’s the WTF women’s retreat up in Whitefish, which I'm really excited about. I love cooking, being in the outdoors, travelling, riding my bike, and meeting people. These events are a combination of everything I love to do, and I get to bring my dog!
I’m also helping organize the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival, which happens over three days in Arizona during the spring. We have six bands that play over that weekend, and we have four breweries that come in and pour all their beers. There’s a pretty extensive bike industry exhibitor list coming in, too. There are also women's clinics, skills clinics, and group rides.
MK: That all sounds like a lot of fun. We could use some of that warm-weather riding right about now. Enjoy!
Tanesha: Great, thanks!