Kent and Shannon Rollins teach you how to cook the cowboy way — which includes no cellular service.
Whereas most instructors teach in classrooms, at the Red River Chuck Wagon Cooking School in Hollis, Oklahoma, owner Kent Rollins and his wife, Shannon, teach out of a refurbished 1876 Studebaker wagon. As for the lesson plan? At the school’s intensive Wednesday-through-Sunday program, held twice a year, Rollins focuses on baking because, as he explains, it’s the most difficult thing to master in Dutch oven cooking. “Anyone can fry meat and boil coffee, but part of being a good Dutch oven cook is the ability to consistently bake.”
The six to eight students, who sleep in tepees during the course, also try their hands at casseroles, grilled steaks, pork chops, sourdough biscuits, cinnamon buns — whatever Rollins cooks for real cowboys on working ranches. What they won’t likely get while cooking over mesquite wood is cell phone reception.
“I think folks enjoy getting away from everything, and it is a great bonding experience,” Rollins says. “Stories are shared around the fire at night, and there is a great sense of peace and camaraderie. We tell folks, ‘We’ll teach you about cooking, but we’ll teach you a whole lot about life, too.’ Life is simple, and at our camp is one of the best settings to realize that.”
Rollins learned ranch cooking the hard way. Back in 1982 when he was 26, Rollins and his uncle had taken hunters 21 miles into New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness. “He just threw some Dutch ovens out on the ground the first morning and said, ‘You’re the cook,’ ” Rollins recalls. “There were a lot of burnt biscuits until I figured out what was going on.”
More than 30 years later, Rollins and his wife have built quite a following, thanks in part to his television appearances on Food Network, PBS, and NBC. He won a chicken-fried steak cook-off against Bobby Flay on the chef’s Food Network show, Throwdown With Bobby Flay, and in early April, Rux Martin published Rollins’ cookbook, A Taste of Cowboy: Ranch Recipes and Tales From the Trail. Recipes range from staples that Rollins grew up on or that he has prepared on ranches over his 25-year career to new dishes, including his prized Bread Pudding With Whiskey Cream Sauce.
If you can’t make it to the Red River Chuck Wagon Cooking School, the cookbook is the next best thing. As Rollins puts it, “When people read it and look at the pictures by my wife, I want them to be transported to our camp — to smell the coffee and see the wide-open spaces.”
Find out more about the Red River Chuck Wagon Cooking School and purchase Rollins’ book, A Taste of Cowboy: Ranch Recipes and Tales From the Trail, at www.kentrollins.com.
From the May/June 2015 “Best of the West: The Food Issue.”