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Archive for Tuesday, January 17, 2006

TV show honors art of campfire cooking

January 17, 2006

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— Take one rugged outdoorsman, add a pinch of Southeast Missouri style and a dollop of family-friendly entertainment, stir clockwise until a television show materializes.

That was Pamela Alford's original recipe for "Campfire Cafe."

In the four years since the show first aired on satellite TV, the recipe has been tweaked occasionally. But even with recent interest from popular networks like GAC and the Food Network and appearances on national news programs, the ingredients have remained the same.

"We cook in real time, which is very unusual. There are no stunt doubles, and there's only one recipe," said Alford, executive producer of "Campfire Cafe." "If a cake turns out lopsided, that's what you see."

That reality is part of what attracts viewers, said Alford.

The idea for "Campfire Cafe" came to Alford after a horseback riding event at which Alabama native Johnny Nix cooked meals for participants over a campfire.

Nix, who still lives in northeast Alabama, had never been on television but agreed to try filming a show based around cooking outdoors.

And not just cooking, but gourmet cooking. Everything from Tuscan roasted chicken to apricot shortbread to stuffed rack of lamb - all cooked over an open fire.

"Johnny's not a chef. He's just a regular guy who knows how to cook over an open fire," Alford said. "But viewers look at him and say, 'I can do it if he can.' It empowers our viewers."

The first series of shows was filmed over seven days in Sam A. Baker State Park near Piedmont, Mo. There was no artificial light or special effects, just Nix and the camera.

"We call those shows vintage Johnny Nix. He has improved light-years now," said Alford.

A series on cooking poolside, one on backyard cooking and then most recently a series on cooking with celebrities followed.

EMG Productions, which produces the show, released its first "Campfire Cafe" cookbook this fall. The show recently became available via Podcast on iPods. The "Campfire Cafe" Web site receives some 500,000 visits per month. EMG also maintains a product line with cookware and related items.

Larry Wiseheart, who handles marketing for EMG, said the show is popular with people of all ages.

"It's amazing, the diversity of our audience. We have doctors and lawyers. We have blue-collar workers. We have a rabbi in Chicago who watches," said Wiseheart.

The idea behind the show is that anything that can be cooked indoors can also be cooked outdoors.

Alford said the best thing about outdoor cooking is that the entire family can take part.

"We're all about getting you out there to try it," Alford said. "It's a method of cooking that's literally as old as dirt. Food tastes better when cooked over an open fire."

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