You might remember her blonde bouncing curls from Season 10 of Next Food Network Star, or perhaps you’ve made your way up to Ithaca, NY and exchanged stories with her around the campfire at Firelight Camps. Regardless, you would know if you’ve seen Emma Frisch, as her vivacious energy and beaming smile stand out from a mile away.

Frisch is a jack of all trades; not only is she an active cook, but she’s also an outdoor enthusiast, food blogger, wife, business owner, mother of one (with another on the way), cookbook author, and more. Although she’s traveled and accomplished more in her 30-some years than most of us, Frisch’s modesty is one of her most admirable qualities.

After Frisch visited my Food Writing class to share her many cooking-related endeavors with us, I had the opportunity to speak with her.

Photo courtesy of Emma Frisch

Frisch talks freely and candidly about her busy life, eyes shining with passion as she discusses her family, travels and her newest cookbook, Feast by Firelight.

Frisch’s inspiration behind Feast by Firelight came from working at Firelight Camps, which she co-runs with her husband, Bobby. She says, “We run wild foraging classes at Firelight Camps, and I also teach cooking classes, so people would go on hikes and come back with things that they found and [wanted to] learn how to incorporate them into recipes." Four years after Firelight Camps made its mark within the Ithaca community, Frisch began to look for other opportunities to bring together her passion for the outdoors, food and community. Thus, the idea for Feast by Firelight was born.

The book touches on several areas of Frisch’s life and includes recipes she gathered, as a result of her lifetime of international travel. “My parents are Italian and British, and I have immediate relatives on five continents, so growing up I was surrounded by all languages, all color…so I was exposed to a lot of different types of food,” she says.

Frisch incorporates elements from her colorful travels into Feast by Firelight through recipes, such as “Wild Elephant Snack Bars,” which was inspired by her uncle’s neighbor in Kenya, who’d invite Frisch into her home for a taste of her savory nut mix.

Feast by Firelight tackles the challenge of cooking outdoors for cooks of varying ages and skill levels. The book gives readers a collection of essential tips and tricks to adopt when cooking outside, such as the importance of food prep and organization before venturing into the wild. “It’s really important to have a few key things prepared that can jazz up anything,” claims Frisch. “Especially once you don’t have access to your spice cabinet.” Frisch also addresses common misconceptions about cooking outdoors, such as how it involves packing a lot of gear.

…It’s actually most optimal if you have less gear. The best case scenario for cooking outside is sparking a grill or campfire, throwing a grate over it, waiting until the coals die down a little bit and putting pre-sliced veggies and/or meat on the grill with tongs and little bit of olive oil and salt ‘n' pepper. And, that’s it!

Frisch hopes Feast by Firelight will simplify the process of cooking outdoors for people. Not only does the cookbook include a gear list (and a minimalist one, at that), it also has a menu planner for campers to adhere to. Frisch emphasizes how she made sure none of her recipes sacrifice flavor, while catering to beginners, as well as the “foodies heading outside.” Frisch ensures that every recipe in Feast by Firelight was tested outdoors in Ithaca in local sites like Taughannock Falls, around the campfire at Firelight Camps and even in her own backyard.

Photo courtesy of Emma Frisch

Many of Frisch’s recipes in Feast by Firelight reflect her passion for sustainable cooking, often summed up by the phrase “farm-to-table”. Although Frisch doesn’t consider herself a “dogmatic” chef per se, she is a huge proponent of purchasing local produce to support smaller-scale farms, while avoiding food grown with chemicals or pesticides, as well. Frisch emphasizes how eating locally-sourced food is healthy because “…When we’re putting food into our body, we want to make sure it’s food that isn’t contaminated, and that has peak nutrition…You get peak nutrition when [produce is] harvested when it’s ripe and it doesn’t spend a lot of time in transit getting to you.”

Frisch’s mission to cook sustainably is reflected through Feast by Firelight, especially within recipes that use naturally-sourced ingredients, such as the “Smoked Salmon Spread”, which is made with wild, candied sockeye salmon. This recipe is one of Frisch’s personal favorites because “It’s so easy, it’s so nourishing, and it sort of tells this story of why our food is so representative of getting back to nature and preserving what we love.”

When Frisch isn’t busy hosting guests at Firelight Camps or going into the Ithaca Commons to work at Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, she likes to spend time with her daughter and share her love of cooking and outdoor exploration with her. “It’s really important to me to have a mom and business balance,” Frisch says. “It’s hard to strike, but becoming a mom has become the most important thing in my life.”

Despite having a full schedule as it is, Frisch and her husband plan to open up another location of Firelight Camps in the Catskills region. The second location will have a “full-blown restaurant and beverage program”, giving Frisch the chance to delve even deeper into her passion for sustainable, outdoor-friendly cuisine

Frisch’s bright, congenial personality combined with her fondness and expertise for cooking outside makes her the ultimate outdoor food authority. For those who have yet to experiment with cooking in nature, Frisch recommends prepping as much as possible at home beforehand to ensure minimal gear and cleanup. Frisch’s biggest piece of advice for cooking outdoors is to “Just free yourself. Don’t be scared, tune into all your senses and soak it up! It’s such an incredible opportunity to connect in every way when you’re cooking and eating outside.”

You can find Feast by Firelight on See below for a sneak preview of one of the recipes in the cookbook, courtesy of Frisch.

Photo courtesy of Emma Frisch


prep: 5 minutes

cook: 5 minutes

yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 extra-large handfuls corn tortilla chips

One 15-ounce can black beans, drained

1 cup Roasted Corn Salsa (page 107) or store-bought corn salsa

2⁄3 cup quick pickled red onions (see page 38) or store-bought jalapeño pickles

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Sliced green onions, hot sauce, and plain yogurt or sour cream for topping (optional)

Fire the grill to medium heat, or let the campfire burn low so the coals are red and glowing at medium heat. Position the grill grate 6 inches above the coals.

Put four 12-inch sheets of aluminum foil on a flat surface and grease with the olive oil. Place a generous handful of tortilla chips in the center of each foil sheet. Divide the black beans, salsa and pickled onions evenly over each pile of chips. Sprinkle 1⁄4 cup of the cheese over each serving.

Fold up two sides of the foil to meet in the middle and fold the edges over each other to seal the top. Then, fold the two open ends of the foil to seal the packet. Place the foil packets over direct heat and cook for about 5 minutes. Open the packets carefully to allow steam to escape. If the cheese is not melted, return to the heat for a few minutes more before digging in.

Serve the nachos directly from the foil—fewer plates to clean!—and top with green onions, hot sauce, and a dollop of yogurt if desired. Demolish these—leftovers don’t keep well.

Note: To prepare at home, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet or dish with aluminum foil and assemble the nachos as directed. Bake for about 10 minutes until cheese is melted.

PHOTO CREDIT: Reprinted with permission from Feast by Firelight, text and illustrations copyright © 2018 by Emma Frisch. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Photographs copyright © 2018 by Christina Holmes