Most people abandoned in the wilderness in “Naked and Afraid” would die naked and afraid in real life. Hungry, too.
Hypothetical life-threatening situations are far more enjoyable. So instead of air-dropping local chefs on a desert island with nothing but a cheese grater, we had them imagine a Bear Grylls-type situation and asked them what tool or ingredient from the kitchen they would bring to cook with and survive.
Jessie Krebs is a former U.S. Air Force S.E.R.E. (survival, evasion, resistance, escape) training instructor and is the founder of SERE Training out of Boulder. If anyone can fashion poisonous spork darts or build a shelter out of toothpicks, it’s her. She gave her insight into the chefs’ choices and offered additional survival tips.
ToolsA chef’s knife is a versatile tool that’s useful for whittling weapons, skinning snakes and impressing jungle babes. It’s what Hermosa Coffee baker Francilia Pena Ehrig and El Moro/Steamworks executive chef Sean Clark said they would bring in their rawhide satchels.
“A chef’s knife is an all-conditions kind of thing – it’s an indispensable tool,” Clark said. “Without knives, you are limited in what you can do.”
Ehrig also selected a knife because of its multi-purpose uses, and she said if she were on a tropical island, it would be helpful to crack open stubborn coconuts.
Krebs approves of their choice, though her prized knife, a Trekker one-sided bevel Swiss army knife, is not from Sur La Table. It’s important that knives are stainless steel because carbon steel, though flexible, rusts.
Clark’s Japanese Masamoto blade is sharp but delicate. It requires a seasoned hand in the kitchen to prevent chipping, so it may not hold up to a shark or gorilla attack.
Krebs adds that in many situations, a knife alternative can be made by beating two rocks together to make an edge. A crucial situation in which a knife would be especially handy is if it’s been relentlessly raining on the island for weeks. Knives allow a survivor to easily cut open a dead tree for its dry inner wood to start a fire.
The eight chefs on the Manna soup kitchen culinary staff – Rosanna Archuleta, Marielle Egizo-Huges, Tristan Greer, Bill Grimes, Roger Garcia, Eric Kauska, Raene Read and Joye Swinderman – thought kitchen shears would be the top chef survival tool.
“With a good pair of come-apart shears, you can prepare fish or use them on other kinds of proteins and vegetables,” said Manna Culinary Manager Heather Hinsley. “The ambidextrous multi-purpose scissors often have built-in pliers and serrated edges.”
Krebs was less impressed.
“To me (shears) have more limited uses. ... The two sides have a much larger bevel. They are much more blunt,” she said.
You don’t bring blunt-beveled shears to a panther fight. We’re sorry Manna team, you do not survive – but wait!
The Manna team said the metal could also be used to reflect sunlight and make a “signal flash.” Krebs said signals are the most underrated element of survival.
“Fire gets most of the notoriety. It’s the sexy survival skill,” she said. “Signaling is really the most important skill (people) can learn … If you signal correctly, and early, you’re out of there.”
Krebs said signaling is rarely mentioned in survival TV shows and movies, but many people have gotten lost and died despite search parties looking for them because they never put up a signal. Flashing as many of the three types – electronic, ground-to-air (mirrors, symbols), or pyrotechnic (smoke, fire, flares) – is more important than anything else, unless you need to tourniquet a wound first, she said.
The Manna team lives after all.
IngredientsChef Clark said he would grab sugar and salt from the kitchen rack. This would allow him to cure items and prepare meals without having to cook them.
“I could ferment things,” Clark said. “And I can make booze with sugar.”
Krebs said the best way to prolong shelf life in the wild is by drying. She said cooking and re-cooking also works. Re-cooking kills the bacteria in spoiling food, but it also kills nutrients.
“The key is to eat as much as you can when you can,” Krebs said.
The survival food philosophy is to eat two-thirds of your stash in the first half of the time that you expect to be waiting on the island. This is the time spent building a shelter and setting up snares to catch more food. After that, it’s mostly waiting, so more energy is stored.
But salt does more than prolong the freshness of wild-caught boar. It’s essential for flavor.
“The eyes and the blood (of animals) have a lot of salt, so if you wanted something with more salt, you can use juice from the eye,” she said.
If the island is running low on eye juice, Krebs said Tabasco is an alternative choice that was popular with MRE meals when she was in the military, and it’s helpful for anyone who might be finicky eating raw meat. For other foraged flavor, Krebs said anything with a square stalk is in the mint family that can be added to meals, and she particularly likes the smoked flavor fire brings to meats and veggies.
Let’s say there is no Morton’s and no eyes on the island. What is there to eat with flavor? Krebs likes ants’ citrus taste, and she said grasshoppers taste like nuts when they’re cooked. She is not as fond of worms’ sickly sweet aftertaste but appreciates their protein.
“Insects, pound for pound, have seven times the protein content of ground beef – some have 13 times,” she said.
Krebs was on the National Geographic show “Mygrations.” She and a group crossed hundreds of miles of the Tanzanian Serengeti on foot. Together, they ate a grub as big as a human hand.
“It tastes like lobster,” she said. “We just toasted it over the fire.”
The reality is, food is one of the least important aspects of survival.
“The food is the least of my concerns,” she said. “I can go a long time without food.”
People typically survive 30 days without a bite and only three to seven without water, which is why she suggests some other kitchen items to bring along. Finding a container in the wild to purify water is difficult, so a pot is not a bad choice. She also said oil is good for starting fires and lubricating knives. Dish towels would be helpful for insulating a structure.
Warning: The dish towels may start to resemble a magnificent feast after a few foodless days. Try not to eat the towels.