When I’m camping in a borrowed or rented house out of town, I love the challenge of cooking in the invariably rudimentary kitchen with whatever is there. It’s fun to devise solutions to small dilemmas: making roasting pans out of tin foil, or rolling pins out of wine bottles. I’ve made cheese souffles in cast-iron skillets, and used the same skillet to smoke trout using dried twigs from a nearby apple tree. These small challenges are somehow gratifying.
The one thing I always bring with me, though, is a good knife – NOT a set of chef’s knives bound in a leather roll – but a simple, inexpensive, picnic knife from France, the Opinel. I can do just about anything with it, from filleting fish or boning a leg of lamb to chopping herbs. It affords much more pleasure than the cheap stainless and/or serrated knives I often find in second-home kitchens. It keeps its edge for a long time, but is easy to sharpen on a piece of metal or stone. Because the 3 1/2-inch blade folds into its wood handle, you don’t have to worry about packing it up (just don’t bring it in your carry-on bag if you’re flying).
The Opinal also makes a fine gift, perfect for chic picnicers or a farmer who has done you a favor. I like the classic Opinel: carbon steel (easy to sharpen on-the-fly) with a beech or pear wood handle, though the Opinel website offers fancier versions, with rare woods, stainless steel, corkscrews. There’s even a folding saw.