Downsized: Cooking in a small, mobile kitchen

A friend, exasperated by her decluttering challenges, asked me this question one day:

“Just how many spatulas should one person have anyways?”

Clearly she was joking. But because I have an opinion on just about everything, I had the answer at the ready:

“Two, of course. One that you use. And a back-up one. Because the first one is probably dirty or in the dishwasher.”

Truthfully, I only care about spatula counts because we spend as much time as possible roaming around North America in a 240-square-foot RV with a tiny kitchen.  Having a limited number of small cooking items is part of our minimalist approach to making it all work – part of the whole RVing gig, to paraphrase Robin Williams.

Learning as we go

When we first started out, I complained about the itty-bitty cooking space to my highly pragmatic son who had spent several years cooking in restaurant kitchens.

“That’s more space than you typically have in a restaurant work station. You just have to be more organized.”

I have to be more organized? Me? Right. Challenge accepted.

I remember my first approach was to start researching “space-saving solutions.” There are lots of very clever hacks out there on how to store your stuff in an RV.

But I quickly realized that I didn’t want a bunch of stuff stored in makeshift solutions, I just wanted less stuff.

That’s why I developed The Test – looking at whether to bring something
through the lens of three questions:

  1. Is it light?
  2. Is it small?
  3. Does it serve multiple purposes?

I also started looking at collapsible items: from measuring spoons to Tupperware to laundry baskets. Show me a collapsible item and I’m all in.

saleswoman show collapsible flat stacks laurie best photo
All of our Tupperware has been replaced by six collapsible containers that fit easily into half an overhead cupboard. (Demonstrated at Costco by “She who didn’t want to be named!”)

However, my very favourite kitchen item is not something that I found at all.

It is something given to us as a gift when we first hit the road, and something we’d never seen or heard of previously: a Thermos Shuttle Chef. (And nope, I’m not promoting this in exchange for anything; I just think it is the perfect tiny-living cooking system.)

thermos shuttle chef laurie best photo
This thoughtful gift has turned out to be one of our most-used kitchen cooking solutions

Unlike a slow cooker, the Shuttle Chef cooks without using an external heat source. My version has two 3-litre stainless steel pots that fit inside an insulated tube and locking lid. It’s perfect for doing a double-batch of one dish, or cooking two separate dishes at the same time. (We often cook a meat dish in one, and a rice dish in the other. )

How the Shuttle Chef works

Without going into too much detail, the Shuttle Chef uses thermal heat to cook food slowly over time. Because it’s insulated, it only loses 3-4 degrees of heat per hour, meaning the food inside it continues cooking – and stays safely hot – for about 8-10 hours. And because there is no additional heat added, things don’t overcook or get dried out which I find can be a problem with crockpots (at least how I use ’em.)

Allow me to demonstrate. (Well, actually it’s the Sam the Chef demonstrating as he makes chilli on our recent road trip.)

Sam cutting steak for the shuttle chef laurie best photo
Clearing off a workspace is an important first step in our small kitchen!
Adding all the ingredients laurie best photo
All the ingredients go into the pots at the same time.
hand adding spices laurie best photo
Final adjustments are made!
boiling pots laurie best photo
Everything is brought up to boiling temperature.
putting pot in shuttle chef
Then the pots go into the “Thermos” to cook – while we go off to play!
wooden walkway through ecological reserve laurie best photo
This day we were exploring Alert Bay at the north end of Vancouver Island, British Columbia
taking the lid off
Hours later, pull the pots out, lift off the lids…
stirring the pot laurie best photo
…give everything a stir, and voila! It’s ready to serve. (And, as per usual with Sam’s cooking, it was delicious!)

The benefits

The Shuttle Chef is perfect for our unplugged, boon-docking lifestyle. It means we can walk away from our rig for hours without the risk of leaving an electric outlet plugged in, and/or running down our batteries. It also means that we don’t have to turn on an oven or stove in the late afternoon heat to have a hot meal. Best of all, it means we can prep a meal in the morning, drive all day, and eat when we stop moving. It’s ready when we are, and what could be better than that?

You can find all kinds of resellers of the Shuttle Chef, which comes in a variety of sizes, by typing the term “Thermos Shuttle Chef” into Google. And here’s a pretty good blog with everything you want to know about Thermal Cooking.

Bon appetit!

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