When you're a trained chef at the helm of one of New York's hottest restaurants (and part of a team that beat “Iron Chef” Mario Batali on TV), making food in a bag seems like a pretty sharp curve off the career trajectory.
Luckily for backpackers everywhere, it's a detour Jennifer Scism decided to take when she co-founded Good To-Go, a Maine-based company that offers lightweight, dehydrated gourmet meals that are both healthy and delicious.
After a tanking economy left her with an interior design degree in one hand and no job prospects in the other, Scism entered a six-month cooking program and bagged a degree in culinary arts.
“I worked in really high-end French restaurants — four star, three star — so I was totally doing the snooty chef thing,” she laughs.
A few years later, she opened the Greenwich Village restaurant Anissa with a friend and business partner.
“We took a year off and traveled the world to eat,” says Scism. “We wanted to taste dishes from where they were originally created.”
The duo hopscotched from Southeast Asia to the Mediterranean, Greece to Italy, Europe to France, then right back through the front doors of their new venture, which earned praise for ten years before a fire ripped through the building in 2009. The partners rebuilt their business, but Scism's heart was no longer in it.
“I didn't know what I was going to do exactly, but I knew I needed to get out of New York,” she explains.
Scism decided to pack her bags and move into her vacation home in Maine. There, she tried recipe testing for a cookbook and dipped her toes in the catering business, but struggled to find her “thing.”
During that time, she married David Koorits — an avid backpacker — and her hiking boots began racking up mile after mile on the trail. Day trips turned into weekend treks, and soon, Scism and Koorits were planning week-long adventures in the wilderness.
“At one point, I was like, 'I cannot live on Annie's macaroni and cheese for seven days',” Scism laughs. “We'd eat these dehydrated backpacking meals and when I would wake up I could see my cheeks were puffy. I mean, you need sodium if you're sweating that much, but not three times the daily allowance!”
In lieu of tasty and healthy meal options, Scism called on her culinary background and started experimenting with a tabletop dehydrator to see if she could turn some of her favorite dishes into lightweight camp meals.
It worked, and it wasn't long before friends and family were begging for their own dehydrated gourmet. Good To-Go was born.
“We were rubbing two nickels together to get started,” says Scism. “Our first sale was in 2014, and I think we sold 160 meals that month. Now we're selling 15,000 a month.”
With meals like Thai Curry, Smoked Three Bean Chili and Herbed Mushroom Risotto, Scism and her husband are doing more than filling a gap in the market — they're challenging the food industry to do better.
“I have a lot of fun working on new products, but I want to make sure they are nutritionally balanced and true to their recipes,” Scism says. “I just finished a Pad Thai that I'm so proud of, using real ingredients like bean sprouts and carrots and fish sauce, not riboflavin and niacin and stuff like that.”
All of Scism's meals are filled with whole, fresh ingredients you can actually pronounce.
“I started off as a snooty four-star chef and now I make food in a bag,” she laughs. “But I want to make the best food in a bag ever!”
So, how does she keep tabs? You'd think by sending her creations out on the trail with hungry hikers.
“No way,” says Scism.
“When I was first looking into this business idea, the guy who was helping me with my business plan was like, 'You really need to get this in the hands of backpackers.' I totally disagree, because when you're doing 15 miles in a day, you'd literally eat dirt and be happy about it!
“I've eaten some nasty stuff on the trail and thought it was amazing,” says Scism. “But if you can eat my meals in your home and still enjoy them, then I know they're really good!”
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