Taking ‘to go’ a whole lot further

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Jennifer Scism, owner of Good To-Go, stands outside her production facility in Kittery. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

It was bound to happen. When an award-winning chef and an avid backpacker fell in love, someone was destined to be dissatisfied with the food.

A decade ago, Jennifer Scism was a self-proclaimed “city girl.” She was co-owner of one New York’s top-rated restaurants, Annisa, and part of the first all-women team on “Iron Chef” (the first team to beat Mario Batali).

“What had been cool and fun about city life in my 20s and 30s was now an obstacle,” says Scism, who is now 52. “I hit 40, and I wanted to enjoy the outdoors.”

Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

In 2006, she bought a house in Southern Maine and was a “weekender.”

“Once I had that taste of being outside and being alone, I wanted it,” Scism says. “All the things I was interested in doing—gardening, hiking, kayaking and biking—I was doing on weekends.”

She didn’t want those weekends to end and soon started planning for a full-time move.

Then the market crashed in 2008 and Scism stayed to support her restaurant partner at Annisa through those lean times. And then, in 2009, Annisa burned to the ground. It was another nine months before the restaurant was stable enough for Scism to leave New York for good.

By then, she had met outdoorsman—and future husband—David Koorits.

“He’s a lot,” Scism laughs. “He’s very handsome, very energetic. He’s a lot of person. And I think I just like a challenge.”

Before she knew it, Scism was strapping on a 40-pound pack and going off into the woods for a week—where it was difficult to prepare meals up to her four-star standards.

Difficult, but not impossible.

“As we started hiking more, I realized David was old-school in that he had a very big, heavy pack, and I wanted to lighten the load,” Scism says.

Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

And so the challenge parameters were set: Cook up delicious meals with a worldly flair and dehydrate them to make them shelf-stable and, most of all, light.

“When I think about dinner, my question isn’t what protein I want,” says Scism. “It’s whether I want Thai, Mexican or Italian.”

So, while running a catering business for a couple of years, she experimented with dehydrating recipes—ultimately creating favorites such as herbed mushroom risotto, Mexican quinoa bowl and classic marinara with penne. Just add boiling water, stir, seal, wait the specified number of minutes and open, stir and eat.

Out in the White Mountains or the Adirondacks, Scism and Koorits would meet other hikers who wanted some of what they had, which was totally different from the commercially made freeze-dried meals on the market—and never boring. And so the idea for Good To-Go was born.

After a year of recipe testing, branding and shelf-life study out of a yellow Cape-style house in Kittery, Good To-Go started production in 2014, making its first sale—about 190 meals—that April.

“Today we cook and pack anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 meals a day,” Scism says, explaining that it’s all gluten-free and there are vegetarian and vegan options. “We’re clearly hitting a niche. Everybody was already following the clean food market, but that wasn’t addressed in the backpacking world. We changed the category.”

Their Thai Curry, which won Backpacker Magazine’s Editors’ Choice Award in 2014, is still the biggest seller. But the hot new thing is the Bibimbap, a traditional Korean spicy rice dish, selected as Outside magazine’s top backpacking food of 2017.

“We’ve come up with some really interesting flavor profiles,” Scism says.

Having outgrown the yellow Cape house, last year Good To-Go added a production facility in what looks like a big red barn. Inside, 14 employees make the magic happen using two 80-gallon cooking kettles and a large commercial dehydrator. An addition of a 600-square foot packaging room is being planned next.

“But if we’re growing at the rate I think we’re growing, we’ll have to move to a more traditional, larger facility in about two years’ time,” Scism says, adding that she’d like to have a climbing wall on the outside of the building.

Some of the Good To-Go meals, including Mexican Quinoa Bowl, Pad Thai, Herbed Mushroom Risotto and Smoked Three Bean Chili. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

These days, Scism and David are united in their love of the outdoors—whether they’re on the trails, on the water or up in their screened-in treehouse in York. A few days before their eighth anniversary, they took their 24-foot sailboat out to an island overnight and brought their favorite Good To-Go meal options: Thai Curry and Pad Thai.

“When I moved to Maine, everyone said I should start a restaurant,” Scism says. “I’d already had a really great restaurant in New York City. How would I trump that? But with Good To-Go—I haven’t mastered it yet. And that’s what I’m working on.”

WHERE TO FIND IT

Good To-Go is available online and at outdoorsy shops like L.L. Bean,  Kittery Trading Post, Eastern Mountain Sports and Maine Bike Works. Single servings are $6.75, and double servings (romantic!) are $12.50.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at amyparadysz@gmail.com.

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