Tips for cooking in a van, bus, RV or small kitchen

Tips for cooking in a van, bus, RV or small kitchen

Living in a small space seems daunting, let alone cooking in one.

But Virginia Beach native A.J. Forget does both and has written his debut cookbook, “The Buslife Kitchen: Cuisine for the Modern Nomad.”

He, his girlfriend, Ayana Otteman, and their puggle live in a 2001 converted school bus (Sweet Bea) that gives them 90 square feet.

Forget worked as a wildland firefighter for the National Park Service in his 20s but his body couldn’t handle it anymore, he said.

In 2017, Forget started the next adventure: writing, cooking and building Sweet Bea with Otteman. He uses funds from the sale of his book, savings and odd jobs to make this dream a reality.

Forget grew up in a family where cooking was important to the men and he learned by watching his father. He also had a passion for writing and the desire to explore places he read about in novels. Forget attended the Virginia Beach Friends School and went to the College of William & Mary where he studied psychology and environmental science.

Ayana Otteman,  A. J. Forget and a puggle (not pictured) live full-time and travel in a 2001 converted school bus named Sweet Bea.

Since 2020, the bus lifers have wandered to places such as national parks where they set up camp for a week. Forget uses his three-burner propane cooktop to whip up pad thai and green chile, shrimp and corn chowder. He puts leftovers in the 70-liter refrigerator or shares them with other nomads.

Forget admits cooking in a bus is difficult.

“It makes you a better cook in the end because you have to be focused,” he said in a phone interview from Stewarts Point campground in Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada.

Forget suggests preplanning and organizing the cooking steps. Cooks need to consider the size of their workspace and how to utilize what’s in the kitchen already — a grocery store isn’t always nearby.

“Once you do this enough times,” he said,” it makes you a more efficient cook.”

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He recommends recipes that don’t rely on equipment like a food processor or oven. Omit and modify recipes that have lots of ingredients and extra steps.

For example, “If there are 10 spices for a recipe, you probably don’t need them all,” he said. “I don’t think it impacts the quality of the food.”

He “bakes” on the stovetop but it takes practice and learning how heat works with different pans.

“We’ve got it pretty much down to a science,” he said, bragging about the pumpkin cookies Otteman made earlier in the day.

His cookbook features over 100 recipes from huli-huli chicken with Hawaiian mac salad, to Vietnamese pesto pasta with clay pot pork. He even has a stove-roasted turkey that looks appetizing.

Forget includes a salsa blanca recipe similar to the white sauce at Plaza Azteca — a Mexican restaurant chain — as an ode to living in Hampton Roads.

Rekaya Gibson, 757-295-8809, [email protected]; on Twitter @gibsonrekaya

Sweet Bea is a 2001 converted school bus driven by A.J. Forget, author of "The Buslife Kitchen: Cuisine for the Modern Nomad."