June 11th cannot come soon enough for the Cornell Family: mother Meredith and siblings Phoebe and Scott – as the family patriarch, Darren Cornell, 50 – becomes increasingly unable to contain his enthusiasm about the forthcoming Clarence Valley Camp Oven Festival, held in the glorious surrounds of the Nymboida Camping and Canoeing Centre, over the long weekend of June 11 – 14th.
“We’re all looking forward to it, of course,” says wife Meredith – “We’ve been to a few before and you couldn’t ask for a more fun family weekend, and you definitely couldn’t ask for a more yummy experience! Absolutely nothing tastes better than good food cooked slowly, the camp oven way, and every time you think something couldn’t be any more delicious, you’ll try another dish and realise there’s still higher levels of perfection.
“Thing is, Darren was never quite the same after the 2019 Festival. I can’t remember the dish, exactly – it might have been the Lamb Shanks in Port Wine and Garlic, or the Bacon Wrapped Lasagne – but ever since then, he’s become obsessed with the Camp Oven thing – he sold the Webber on gumtree a while back and there’s half a dozen potholes in the backyard where he’s been ‘refining his camp oven skills’.
“Not that I’m complaining mind you, he’s become quite the Backyard Master Chef, but it’s tricky hanging out the washing sometimes when you’ve got various pits of hot coals to negotiate.
“And it can be embarrassing on the rare occasions we go out to dinner – Daz always asks the waiter if there’s any chance his meal could be prepared in a camp oven, and gets a bit miffed when they ‘look at him funny’. He was up on the Gold Coast last week and told me he could hear them scoffing on the Hungry Jacks drive-thru intercom when he asked if they did camp-oven flame-grilled as well as just regular flame-grilled.
“I told him he was a bloody galah.”
For their part, children Phoebe (15) and Scott (13) are looking forward to the long weekend at Nymboida for different reasons: Scott primarily for the calorific intake; Phoebe for the live music program, and both in the hope that their father might finally cool his jets, as his constant banging on about all things Camp Oven related is getting a bit tiresome.
“Honestly, you can’t make a sandwich without Dad getting out his phone and showing photos of that perfect Damper he nailed back in April, and going on for half an hour about how hot-coal distribution is part art, part science, part magic, and all skill, etcetera,” says a mildly exasperated Phoebe. “So I hope he gets it out of his system somehow at the festival.”
Scott, on the other hand, takes a more measured and philosophical approach to his father’s obsession with the upcoming event: “As long as there’s massive quantities of food, as well as desserts, and I can tear around outside, kick the footy to myself, and torment my sister for no good reason, then I not only do I endorse my father’s unbridled excitement, indeed, I echo it.
“Knock yourself out, old boy.”
Surprisingly, given the enthusiasm with which Mr Cornell has been practicing the art/science/magic of camp oven cookery over recent months, he has no plans to participate in the festival’s cooking competitions or demonstrations, and says he and his family will attend in the same capacity as the majority of festival-goers – simply enjoying all the food (the roasts, savouries, stews, dampers, and, yes, sweets), the fun, music, activities, performances and laughs the festival has to offer, saying modestly, “I’d love to show these folk a thing or two about the ol’ camp oven cookery, but I’d be giving away some pretty hard-won secrets, so I’ll just fly under the radar on this one.”
As we go to press, Mr Cornell is busy sewing a small camera and microphone into the lining of his jacket, with which to surreptitiously document and study the technique of some of the Nation’s finest camp-oven practitioners.