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First Aussie Drive: Fire to Fork’s Impressions of Open Country A/T III

Harry Fisher’s unique style of open-fire camp cooking is part theatrics, part gourmet cooking; and his blend of ‘adventure content meets Masterchef’ is resonating with a rapidly-growing online audience. He explains why he chose an unlikely outback offsider in the form of a 2002 Mitsubishi Delica van, and why he’s trusting Open Country A/T III to unlock the country’s most beautiful backdrops for his al fresco creations.

I think I’m partly to blame for the Delica’s newfound internet stardom (but most of that can be directed at Sam Eyles). At home in Perth I’ve got an 18-month old Toyota Prado with a camper trailer that’s fully decked out, and if I’m taking the family camping that’s my rig. But I was sitting on the west coast dreaming about doing some touring over east, weighing up the option of freighting my Prado over but it just didn’t seem feasible.

I was approached by a vehicle manufacturer who was prepared to give me a brand new dual cab ute if I drove it around for two years and said nice things about it, but it seemed a little tacky to be talking about how more people should be getting out and touring and the virtues of whole simple bush cooking while driving a vehicle I could barely afford to buy, so I went as far as possible from that concept, used my own money, bought a backpacker’s van and relived my 20s!

The build of the Delica was very much in line with my style of cooking. There are things that you should without a doubt spend the money on, using good components, but there are other areas that you can cheap out.

For example, the van has got a good 12-volt system, good suspension and great tyres, but  everything else is crap! I sleep on a plywood bed with a cheap mattress and linen, but that allows money in the budget to focus on maintenance and repairs which is a constant factor with a car of this age.

Similarly, people’s camp cooking can emulate the way they build their touring vehicles - they either try and do it cheaply and their cooking is bland and repetitive, or they overdo it big time and it’s way too exotic and they seem to shop in Narnia. I’m committed to keeping my cooking realistic for the bush. Everything I take has to be available from a supermarket or a butcher. It has to be long-life compatible because that’s a reality of going off-grid, and everything you take out should be able to be used for more than one meal, meaning all your herbs and spices and the like should be multi-purpose.

I’ve always loved cooking over a fire. The fire is the heart of any campsite, so it makes sense - you sit around and chat while you’re cookin. It’s like dinner and a show. I didn’t realise that I was doing anything differently to anyone else, though. My mum was a Chef so we always ate well as kids, but when I started preparing full meal plans for a 10-day trip in to the bush with ten different meals, I was quickly designated as the chief camp cook!

It went like that for a decade, then I started posting about it on social media and noticed it was pretty popular. That prompted me to write a cookbook, which is the best-selling Camp Cook Book in Australia – a fact that blows my mind.

Because we’re always pushing to get to the most remote locations, I’ll be buggered if I’m going on cheap tyres! I’ve used countless brands, but even in the harshest of conditions, the only tyres I’ve never shredded were a previous set of Toyo tyres. It’s a brand that’s stood up to the test of the really harsh areas like the Pilbara and the Kimberley, which is why you’ll find them stocked in the big retailers and independents even in small country towns, which is handy when you’re traveling.

I run mud terrains on my Prado which insulates some of the reflected tyre noise thanks to modern soundproofing, but because the Delica is an older car with no rubber between the body and the chassis, you feel everything, so I didn’t want an aggressive tyre that was going to shake the car apart. The Open Country A/T III is a good balance between being really grippy off-road and really nice on-road.

I’ve put 10,000km on these tyres so far, including a recent trip up to Cape York where the tyres scrubbed like crazy on the body of the Delica. Not that you’d be able to tell, though. They still look brand new!

Off-road, these tyres out-perform any all-terrain tyre I’ve run in the past. I was confident that they’d perform well in the sand, but it was their performance in the mud that really surprised me. They bag out really nicely when you drop the pressure, and I’ve just got so much confidence in the strength of the Toyo sidewall.

Importantly, there’s no compromise to on-road performance. I’ve been doing plenty of driving in the wet, and I’ve got full trust in the tyre performing the way I need it to.

We’re doing plenty more travel in the Delica, too. We’ve just done the northernmost point of Australia and I’ll keep touring down the east coast to the southernmost point of Australia down in Tassie. At some point it’ll probably come home to Perth with me, but until then I’m happy that it’s making four-wheel driving fun again, prompting people to get out there and explore.

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