Picnic, you say? Perfect, we reply. Done right, al fresco eating is an art, swirling food and drink, scenery and company into a picture of pleasure. From beer-soaked beach barbecues to remote backcountry lunches to intimate wine-and-cheese rendezvous, doing it outdoors is always better.
We pried secrets from Seattle’s food and drink elite—chefs, foragers, cocktailers, confectioners, and retailers—to bring you the ultimate guide to summer picnicking. Read this and get out there.
The experts ...and their favorite fare
Langdon Cook (LC)
Author, The Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager
“A bottle of Prosecco and a jar of homemade elderflower syrup make for refreshing summer cordials.”
Michael Hebb (MH)
“Most recently, watermelon with French feta, heirloom tomatoes and shaved fennel. A salad of avocados, blood oranges, oil cured olives and radishes.”
Anson and Jenny Klock A&JK)
Owners, Picnic: A Food + Wine Boutique
“Cured meats, pâté, cheeses that complement the charcuterie, and some fruit that works with the cheeses.”
Robin Leventhal (RL)
Chef, Stopsky’s Deli
“The Woman from La Mancha from Gothberg Farms—local goat cheese with smoked paprika—plus Salumi mole salami and pickled raisins from Boat Street Pickles.”
Matthew Lewis (ML)
Chef/proprietor, Where Ya At Matt?
“The flavors in cheese brighten as they warm up. I’m a fan of the Kurtwood Farms’s Dinah’s cheese, Mount Townsend and Coach Farms.”
Cormac Mahoney and Zoi Antonitsas (CM & ZA)
Chef/owner and chef, respectively, Madison Park Conservatory
“Cold chicken (baked or fried), oysters, Triennes rosé, or grapefruit and Cazadores.”
Emily Resling (ER)
Creative Endeavors and Social Media Chief, Marination
“Champagne, followed by domestic pinot noir.”
Ethan Stowell (ES)
Chef, How to Cook a Wolf, Staple & Fancy
“Oysters, sardines, anchovies, spot prawns, watercress or arugula salad, good bread, La Tur cheese, Rainier cherries. Rosé, rosé, rosé! And Rainer beer.”
Joe Whinney (JW)
Founder, Theo Chocolate
“Fresh figs, Marcona almonds, arugula, crusty bread, sharp cheese, day-old roasted lamb, small jar of homemade mayo and a few bars of our 85% Ecuador and Dominican Republic blend dark chocolate.”
PLAN your outing...
Is a picnic better fully planned in advance or improvised?
LC: It’s like a wedding. If you insist on a carefully coordinated master plan down to the last detail, you’ll be beset with gaffes, but if you allow a loose script to take shape, serendipity will carry the day.
ES: To make sure you have an amazing experience, plan it out.
A&JK: No need to overthink—it’s more authentic.
JW: Improvised! I like catching your meal as part of the picnic experience.
MH: Almost everything is better
if you let chaos seep in under
RL: Put some love into a few items, but a picnic should be effortless.
ER: I can’t fault any kind of picnic.
CM&ZA: Depends on how early in the day you started drinking.
Is it true that everything tastes better outside? What’s a possible explanation for this phenomenon?
ML: When we’re outside, our senses are heightened, giving a greater awareness of the world around us, allowing us to be in the moment, actually tasting food.
A&JK: Not necessarily. We’re big fans of picnics on the living room floor, in front of the fire.
JW: It’s certainly true that when you’re enjoying some yummy food with loved ones that everything sparkles outside on a beautiful day.
RL: It’s about the notion that when you’re famished everything tastes delicious. Something about the rustic environment will enhance it.
Is picnicking a daytime-only affair or is a nighttime picnic feasible?
LC: A picnic under the stars can make for a magical evening.
MH: An evening event classifies under feast or campfire.
A&JK: There are no rules on time of day or time of year. Picnic is a state of mind, a way of life.
JW: Lanterns make any outside evening event lovely.
ML: A picnic at dusk on a hot summer evening can’t be beat.
RL: During a full moon, the moon’s reflection on the water is bright and beautiful, and the beach itself will glow.
One word: BUGS. How do you deal with them?
LC: Bats! I’m looking into a portable bat house.
CM&AZ: It’s nature, live in it. Or use citronella candles.
RL: An organic, eucalyptus based spray won’t affect your palate and, if you touch it, won’t make you feel like you shouldn’t touch food. Beaches are great for picnics because there’re usually no bugs.
ML: If you have the space, those domed mesh covers for food are pretty handy in keeping bugs away.
JW: That’s why God made restaurants.
What do you look for when picking a location?
ER: I look for somewhere rad and keep an open mind—rad comes in many forms.
LC: Scenery is important, but good company can make a success of an abandoned lot beside the freeway.
ES: Cooking ability, scenery, and a view. You need to have a pleasant place to picnic and you need a place where you can cook.
CM&AZ: Everything but convenience, because that’s where the annoying people will be.
What do you want to avoid in a picnic?
ER: Anything high-maintenance. Picnics are about chillin’.
A&JK: Fussy foods or anything that requires reheating, being sauced or garnished.
CM&AZ: The Euro-dude sunbathing with his junk hanging out.
JW: Never bring more than you really need; who wants to carry all of that extra food back? Those fancy picnic kits are lovely to look at but not something I want to manage. Location-wise, avoid any place where you can’t hoot or holler.
ML: If you pack your whole kitchen, you’re missing the point of a picnic. Avoid the first spot you see. Often just a little farther away you’ll find the perfect spot.
RL: The thought of warm egg salad...Ugh. Avoid chocolate—it melts.
What about outside the city—do you seek out any specific country stores or roadside stands?
LC: Big roadside signs and antiques are tip-offs that you should keep driving. We like the berry stands in the Skagit Valley and select cherry and peach stands east of the Cascades.
CM&ZA: That’s what the town of Edison is for.
JW: The general store at Roche Harbor has some decent wines.
RL: There’s a great market in the Skagit Valley called Snow Goose Farm Market. I’ve made lot of good meals out of that spot.
Are there more complex dishes you typically prepare in advance, or is that too complicated?
ER: I save the complex stuff for my compadres. Knock yourself out!
A&JK: Just because preparations aren’t elaborate doesn’t mean they’re not elegant.
RL: If you wanna fuss on one thing, bring a nice dessert. A jam shortbread is fun, easy and delicious—just two shortbread cookies and with some jam sandwiched between them.
How do you transport food items?
ER: I use a hodge-podge of canvas bags that all have a story. I also have an insulated wine bag that comes in super handy. It can hold four bottles, but in my case it typically holds two bottles, sparkling water, and a bomber of beer. There are pockets for ice packs—bonus!
A&JK: I like my market tote. It’s a basket that I take to the farmer’s market, sturdy and easy to carry and fits everything. I also like vintage baskets—they don’t make ‘em like they used to.
MH: My Tarboo tote bag is the ultimate picnic basket.
CM&ZA: Anything that holds ice. Double garbage bags in a pinch.
JW: Canvas sack. I can fit what I need, carry by hand or on my shoulder and it’s always ready by the backdoor.
RL: Whatever gets the job done. Not very romantic, I know. I make up for it with the food.
ML: Paper bags from the supermarket, plus I have a soft pack cooler. I’m not into fancy gizmos.
What are the absolute necessities, equipment-wise, for a good picnic?
ER: Tarp under blanket (does the NW earth ever get dry?), cutting board (aka land-table), wine key, knife, cloth napkin. Extras: Insulated wine bag. Fire pit. Romance.
ES: Blanket, grill, real plates, real silverware and some type of entertainment—Frisbee, baseball, softball.
CM&ZA: Oyster knife, .38 snub nose, jumper cables...
RL: A wine key and a pocket knife. And your lover.
What’s the single most important thing to keep in mind when planning a picnic?
ER: Don’t worry, be happy.
LC: Bring a blanket.
ES: Check the weather.
A&JK: Don’t forget the corkscrew.
MH: Invite people you adore.
CM&AZ: Chilled rosé. Always.
JW: Bring a sharp knife.
ML: You should never leave a picnic hungry.
RL: Your meal tastes better if you sweat for it.