When many New York City dwellers fled to smaller towns and rural areas last year, I, like many others, was skeptical of their intentions. But the journey of one of my favorite voices in the city’s food scene, Lee Kalpakis, was one that felt inspiring (and soothing!) to follow during this time. When the pandemic hit, Kalpakis—who has worked as a recipe developer, food stylist, culinary producer, and video host—and her partner both lost their jobs; they decided to give up their Brooklyn loft and move the Catskills, where they both grew up. But instead of another apartment, they purchased a bare-bones 1976 Fleetwood Prowler van to refurbish. Now, they’re on their own land—much more isolated than when they had started out in 2020—but building a home all their own.
Though Kalpakis has spent most of her professional life working in restaurants (including her parents’ growing up) and large test kitchens, she’s accustomed to cooking in small spaces by nature of living in NYC apartments. Now, she’s figuring out how to evolve her cooking, not just for a weekend camping trip, but for the long haul in the woods.