TORONTO — There's no "TV magic" when it comes to the constraints of cooking outdoors over an open flame and prepping a feast for a large crowd — all before the sun sets.
In fact, it can be downright stressful, say chefs Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles, co-stars of "Chuck and Danny's Road Trip," which premieres Friday on Food Network Canada.
The duo, who are partners at work and best friends, spent six weeks in an RV exploring a half-dozen regions of the country. Each of the six hour-long episodes finds the Montreal chefs preparing a campground feast with unique ingredients sourced through local cooks, fishers, farmers and foragers.
"We're feeding anywhere between 12 and 20 people — and we're not only feeding them, we're feeding them what we helped gather from their ingredients and you see how much hard work they put into whatever they're growing or whatever they're harvesting — and you just don't want to screw it up," says Smiles, chef at Le Bremner, one of two restaurants co-owned by Hughes.
"You want to honour them and their product."
In the first episode, set in Prince Edward and Hastings counties in Ontario, they cook a 43-pound roast over an open fire, enhancing it with wild juniper foraged with chef Justin Cournoyer.
Neither Hughes nor Smiles had ever worked with such an enormous hunk of beef.
"You're really nervous because A, you didn't want to screw it up, that amount of meat. It would be sad," says Hughes, host of "Chuck's Day Off" and "Chuck's Eat the Street." The two-time cookbook author and co-owner of Garde Manger restaurant also appeared on the first season of "Chopped Canada."
"On the other side, we have a time frame and no matter what, with TV on an outdoor show, you've got sunset, which you're always fighting. There's the reality of cooking for 20 people and then there's the reality of the sun's going to set and even if we wanted two more hours for this roast, it's really not an option."
That only adds to the pressure, along with not having all the comforts of home at their fingertips.
"That's cooking. It's problem solving," chimes in Smiles, who was on the third season of "Top Chef Canada."
Other episodes of "Chuck & Danny's Road Trip" take the pair to Vancouver Island, B.C.'s Salt Spring Island, the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.
Though both chefs are well travelled, neither had been to Salt Spring Island.
"The experience there was amazing. And second of all, coming from the East Coast, when we go to B.C. as cooks, B.C.'s got it all," says Hughes. "For us it's the crab, the salmon, the cod, the shrimp. It doesn't stop — plus we had figs and fruits that we can't necessarily grow in Quebec."
In Prince Edward Island, they foraged for chanterelle mushrooms, munched on wild apples, dug potatoes, procured oysters and feasted on fresh lobster.
One of their more memorable tasks was collecting wild rice "the old-fashioned way in a canoe with sticks," says Hughes.
And both were surprised to find wild sumac while foraging in Ontario. The burnished red clusters of the plant lend a citrus flavour to food traditionally associated with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking.
They hope the show will encourage people to savour the outdoors, "but most importantly I think for us is to get people just cooking and enjoy that, whether it's outdoor, open flame or it's in your kitchen or on your barbecue, really just get inspired by Canadian ingredients and get out there and cook," says Hughes.
Both chefs, who will be part of Jamie Oliver's Big Feastival Canada event slated for Aug. 18-20 north of Toronto, raved about the scenery across the country.
"We get to see the beautiful landscape that's Canada and some of the campsites we were at were unbelievable. They were national parks that anyone could go to," says Hughes.
"It's not like we were special. Anybody can get the exact same campsite we had with the view of the Bay of Fundy. Hopefully people will be inspired to visit their own country. We're always so quick to go somewhere else."
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Lois Abraham, The Canadian Press