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Backwoods Gourmet

Chef brings big-city menu to the backcountry. by Darren Choate
May 5

Some foods are great in a resturant but don’t taste any good when dehydrated. Good To-Go owner and chef Jen Scism travels the world to find ingredients that stay tasty in the backcountry.

Jennifer Scism graduated from a top culinary institute in Manhattan and was a big-city chef and restaurateur. Thankfully, she decided to bring her food skills to sportsmen and women and refocused her energy on creating dehydrated delicacies for backcountry hunters and anglers.

“Hungry hikers everywhere owe Jen a thank you,” said Kristen Hostetter, editorial director of Outdoor Retailer’s The Daily. The site named Scism as one of the outdoor industry’s Best & Brightest” in 2017.

“She fused her undisputed culinary talent with a love of backpacking and the result is downright delicious,” Hostetter wrote.

Scism and her husband, David Koorits, founded Good To-Go, a company that collects the world’s best portable foods to make outdoor adventures healthier, easier and just taste better. But success has taken a lot more than just adding water. In fact, it’s been a slog.

City Life
Her career began when she landed a position at Bouley, a restaurant that the New York Times, gave 4 stars, its highest rating. Then she brought her talents to the Upper East Side’s posh Arcadia. She also opened The Lobster Club for Anne Rosenzweig, who is a very big deal to anyone who knows top-shelf restaurants in the world’s capitals.

“I loved living in NYC in my twenties,” said Scism. “I thought it was the coolest place to be. Every second I spent somewhere else, I missed the energy and the New York City lifestyle.”

At the time, her big dream was to open a restaurant with her friend Anita Lo. To develop their menu, the pair traveled the world, sampling food from many and various cultures. In 2000, they opened Annisa in Greenwich Village. Lo became the head chef and Scism the restaurateur.

“I transitioned from being a chef to a sommelier and running the front of the house. It was exhilarating. I really enjoyed orchestrating each dinner service,” she said.

By 2005, Annisa was a city favorite.

Their combined success led to a fantastic opportunity. One evening at Annisa, a producer from the TV show Iron Chef asked Lo to be a contestant. Lo formed a team of her sous-chef, Sawako Okochi, and Scism. It was the first all-women team on the show, and the first team of any gender to beat celebrity chef Mario Batali.

“The day we won Iron Chef and headed back to work dinner service after the taping was my best day at work,” said Scism.

In 2008, Scism met Koorits, her future husband and business partner. The bright lights and big city were great, but they both realized they needed nature.

“I started having a wandering eye, looking at other places to live,” she said. “I spent time on Long Island, fishing, kayaking, gardening, anything to be outside. That’s when I discovered Maine.”

She realized the sparsely populated Pine Tree State should become her permanent home, and she made plans to make it happen.

One evening in 2009, however, a fire burned her restaurant to the ground. When she arrived, the fire department was smashing in the doors and trying to put it out. She didn’t absorb the enormity of it all until the next day, “when we arrived to see the burned-out shell of what was once my beautiful, serene restaurant.”

No one was hurt, but it was tragic. The team had built the business from nothing, and it lay in ashes. Yet, Scism made Lo a promise to rebuild, rehire, train staff, and reopen. All this despite Scism’s plan to leave the restaurant and make a new world in Maine.

“Everything was covered in soot,” she said. “It was heart-wrenching. My dreams of selling my restaurant and moving to Maine hung in the balance.”

It took nine months for Scism to fulfill her promise to Lo, but she did, and finally moved up the coast to start a new life in the country.


Founding Good To-Go
Kooritsi is an avid outdoorsman. He’s a bowhunter, wildland firefighter, and backpacker, and he introduced Scism to the outside world. On one of the couple’s first dates, they went deep into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. With camp set up, Koorits pulled out his portable stove and began preparing dinner.

“I can’t even remember what the food was, but I do remember it was bad. I went to bed hungry,” she said.

In the morning, Koorits pulled out the stove again and made a simple breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. Scism was unimpressed with the food, and wondered how to combine good, healthy food with this new outdoor lifestyle.

Eventually, Scism took over as the backcountry chef. She prepared elaborate meals for their adventures together. The menu for overnight hikes was often steak tips marinated in garlic, cumin, and olive oil served with chimichurri sauce, blistered green beans, and mashed potatoes. Snacks included retooled trail mix made with pistachios, pepitas, currants, coconut shavings, and single-source Venezuelan cocoa pieces.

Soon their overnight trips became weeklong backcountry adventures. The fresh food packed in vacuum-sealed bags was a major hit but also too heavy to carry deep into the woods. Scism began working with a table-top dehydrator to make meals that were lightweight and manageable on the trail.

This was her “ah ha” moment. She perfected three comfort-food meals in no time, and they became the staple of their adventures. Scism opened a small catering business and served local events along the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. The business was a success, and she got to use her commercial kitchen skills. Still, she realized her heart wasn’t in it. That’s when she figured out that there was a whole market looking for excellent backcountry food, just like she had. She could make dehydrated meals for hunters, fishermen, and others with the same appreciation of the backcountry as they did.

Good To-Go went live and has been a partner with Guidefitter since 2020.


The Future of the Brand
Instead of working to achieve a Michelin Star for a restaurant, Scism works diligently to create exciting new meals for backcountry enthusiasts.

“I read cookbooks, scour the New York Times cooking website, and order the strangest ingredients from around the world to play with and see if they can work in one of our meals,” she said.

Scism said sourcing ingredients for new backcountry meals are tricky. Some ingredients don’t translate to packaged food as well as others. The process of developing a dehydrated meal is the opposite of making a fine-dining meal, she said.

“The difference between cooking and developing a dehydrated meal is that you have to work almost in reverse and deconstruct and reconstruct everything, which I find fun and challenging,” she said.

Meanwhile, Koorits oversees Good To-Go’s sales, marketing and business expansion. His current focus is a larger production facility to reach new markets.

Both Good To-Go co-founders said they figured that client retention is a top priority in the outfitting business. Whether an outfitter is miles into the backcountry or taking a short break on the side of a forest road, a hot meal goes a long way.

All of the Good To-Go meals are gluten-free, have zero preservatives, and have a shelf life of up to four years. Throw them in your pack, behind the seat, or include them on your backcountry menu, and you will be set anytime, anywhere.

Darren Choate is an avid hunter, a professional guide, a volunteer conservationist, and a freelance outdoor writer and photographer.

From the Summer 2021 issue of Guidefitter Journal.

Guidefitter Staff
Guidefitter Staff
Bozeman, Montana
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