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The Gearboat Chronicles

Mike Baird wins cooking gold for Team USA

Winding Waters river guide Mike Baird took home 1st place in the Dutch Oven Olympics Cuisine Contest held Sunday at the Hurricane Creek Grange in Joseph, Oregon. Competition was fierce, with 17 entries vying for supremacy in tasting the best. Goat, halibut, pig, venison, beef and I don’t know how many other representatives of the animal kingdom were combined into stews, chili, this, that and the other thing. All of them tasty.


Baird’s victory recipe involved a fancy-dancy pork roast with Cajun boudin stuffing, infused with a shot of bourbon. The pork slow-danced on your taste buds while the Cajun stuffing swing-danced with your flavor receptors. The whole shebang was artfully arranged in a gargantuan cast iron vessel for an overall effect of gaining two pounds just by glancing at the thing.


Judges Rick Steber and the Chief Joseph Rodeo court making their way through Calorie Alley.

Hosted by Fishtrap, a Wallowa County organization dedicated to promoting reading, writing, but so far has no affiliation with arithmetic – the event was a closing ceremonies for their Big Read event, where a good book is decided on and they do a bunch of cool stuff linked with the story. This year we all read True Grit, the story of an eyepatch starring John Wayne and Jeff Bridges. No, really, it’s a great read by Charles Portis. Read it as soon as you finish reading this.

The finale headliner was Rick Steber, eastern Oregon author who has collected over 15,000 interviews with colorful folks and rarely puts his pencil down, judging by his book catalog that runneth over with an impressive number of titles. (Sidenote: my pal Travis Craig grew up near Steber and his dad Dallas was pals with Rick. Dallas Craig is one of the best story tellers I’ve heard and I remember Travis telling me how when Dallas and Steber got going, it was really something to behold. So I was keen to hear this guy in action and Travis was right. Steber spins homespun yarns like a knitting champion. He even does a convincing old lady impersonation – which is saying something when you’re watching the voice of a 92-year-old woman exit the bearded face of a tall cowboy fella and it’s believable. End of sidenote.)


I never pass up anything involving the Hurricane Creek Grange and dinner. Because this:


What you see here are 4 cubic miles of homemade pies. I mean, really. Never has rhubarb been put to better use.

Mike Baird’s victory in the dutch oven cookoff means several things. It validates the well-known fact that Winding Waters River Expeditions treats it’s guests to outstanding food prepared in a wilderness kitchen. Now one of our chefs can rightly claim dutch oven mastery backed up by recognition in an official cookoff. This also means we’ll never hear the end of it. I can’t wait to not stop hearing about this. Especially because I was one of the people he beat. It doesn’t even matter what recipe I prepared – look at this awesome cast iron cauldron I used. Just look at this.


I really thought I could just pour a box of Honey Nut Cheerios in this thing and walk away with 1st place. But apparently not. Congratulations, Mike Baird. You’re in charge of all dutch oven dinners on the river from now on.