Katherine Gividen greets most people wearing hiking clothes and a big smile.
Her passion is hiking, which she promotes as an instructor of the LSU leisure backpacking class, president of the Louisiana Hiking Club and through her job as an outdoor specialist at a local retail store.
But it wasn’t hiking trails that brought her to Louisiana. It was food.
Following her career as a trained chef, she came to Louisiana after John Folse hired her in 1995 to serve as his head pastry chef. She also did research and development for CC’s Gourmet Coffeehouses and taught at the Chef John Folse Culinary School at Nicholls State University. In 2002, she won the American Culinary Federation of Greater Baton Rouge honor of Chef of the Year.
It was her first multiday backpacking trip, on a vacation to the Grand Canyon with her brother and his wife, where her passion for hiking was ignited. She hiked the Hermit Trail and, afterward, couldn’t wait to do more.
She also learned how heavy backpacks could be.
“I had to have the park ranger help me carry out half my gear because I packed too much,” she said.
“Family lore says I had a cast-iron skillet in my pack.”
Most of the food she carried on the trip was freeze-dried.
“It was not the kind of food they have available now; it was more cardboard tasting,” she said.
Not long after, Gividen started experimenting with recipes that would taste good but could be packed in a backpack and cooked on a small, portable stove.
She adapted her favorite food, chicken and dumplings, to be made from broth and powdered milk; it was a hit.
“I made it one time, and people were complimenting me on how good it was, and I had actually forgotten to add the chicken,” she said. She began to try out more of her recipes on her Louisiana Hiking Club members and even won the hiking club contest for her coconut shrimp curry recipe.
“Someone said I should write a cookbook, so I did,” she said.
Gividen, now employed as a camping team leader for Academy Sports and Outdoors, does cooking demonstrations for The Backpacker, Pack and Paddle and annually at Louisiana Hiking Club’s Camp Fest. She also serves as president of the Louisiana Hiking Club.
The first edition of her book, “The Hapless Hiker Presents: Think Inside the Box: Using supermarket convenience foods on the trail that cook in 15 minutes or less” was published in 2007.
After suffering a power outage following Hurricane Katrina, Gividen found herself using her camp stove and recipes to feed her family.
She said she now includes prepackaged ingredients for several of the recipes in a 72-hour storm kit.
“There is something to be said for comfort food in times of crisis, and in our family, it is Chicken ’n’ Dumplings Soup,” she writes in the introduction of her book.
Gividen updated her book throughout the years and includes equipment checklists and recommendations for cookware, stoves and water filter systems.
Backpacking requires a great deal of efficiency. You have to carry everything with you: tools, stove, recipe ingredients and cleanup. Most meals are made with water, cold or hot, but you may have to filter the cold water before using. And everything that is packed in must be packed out.
Gividen recommends the following staples to bring: olive oil, soy sauce, Tabasco and salt and pepper or other seasonings. All can be repackaged.
“I minimize the weight as much as I can. I don’t bring any boxes on the trail,” she said.
She is always on the lookout for new items that can be taken with her on the trail. “Once you start thinking about it, you start seeing things at the grocery store that you can use in a backpack,” she said.