Blog submitted by Mary Godnick
Jordan and Sarah Sauter moved to the Adirondacks several years ago, chasing a home that felt right for their growing family. Jordan is a professional chef by trade and has worked in a variety of roles in high-end restaurants. Now, Jordan is working to grow Red Oak Food Company, where he offers delicious catered meals, homemade baked goods, and wild-crafted products, including small-batch miso. He lives, works, and explores in the greater Champlain Valley with his partner Sarah and four kiddos. Hear from them below!
How did you two come to the area?
Sarah: Jordan and I knew we wanted to move from Philadelphia when we started dating 14 years ago. While we loved a lot about the city, it wasn’t really where we felt called to stay. We traveled to Savannah, GA, Portland, OR, and Portland, ME, but none of those places felt right. By the time we’d had our second child, Jordan’s Dad had bought a camp in Saranac. The first time we visited, it totally clicked, and within 6 months Jordan was packing up to move to that camp and start a new job.
The camp is rustic, off the grid, and he spent two and a half months there by himself in the middle of winter, while I took care of the kids in Philadelphia and got ready to move our home. It definitely felt monumental. I got rid of most of our stuff. We do miss some things about Philadelphia. The diversity. The museums. The food. (Can I insert here that a cheesesteak is in fact not called a Philly and never ever contains peppers or mushrooms?) It also has its own brand of sarcasm that doesn’t fit everywhere. But loving a place and wanting to live and grow there don’t always go hand in hand.
The Adirondacks are really special. We’ve met so many amazing communities and people here. The wild nature feels like a gift I still can’t believe we live in. And our kids (now four of them) can run out of our house and into our woods. It’s beyond magical. Jordan and I always talk about those moments when we think to ourselves, “Whoa, we live here.”
What inspired your move from cooking in restaurants to running your own food business?
Jordan: The move from cooking to running my own business was something that was supposed to happen further down the line, but after being laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we started it a bit early. Working in restaurants is a tough business, and I knew I didn't want to remain in it much longer. So it was a bit serendipitous.
How do you balance stewardship of the land and productivity of your business when it comes to sourcing your wild and cultivated products?
Jordan: I’m very careful with the gifts that nature bestows upon me. As far as the cultivated products go, they are new this year and also easy to regenerate. In regards to foraged goods, common sense and awareness are very important. Wild mushrooms will regenerate because they are the fruit of an underground mycelium. I am always careful to leave some of the patches of mushrooms that I find. This allows for spore drops, but (just to note) picking them also facilitates spore drops. The most detrimental thing for wild mushroom populations is logging and development.
As far as wild-harvested ramps, I closely guard the patches, only harvest the greens (leaving the bulb intact so that the plant will come back next year), and I also have transplanted ramps to several locations which will start new patches over the years. I won’t over harvest just to make money. I skip patches from year to year. I do think that it is important to educate rather than scold. If you see someone picking whole ramps (bulbs and all), you have a chance to politely educate the person about their future choices and the stewardship of the gifts that the forest gives us.
What is one food that you think is representative of, or unique to, the Adirondacks?
Jordan: Eating food according to locality and seasonality is most representative of this area. That includes farmed and wild food. Essex County has an INCREDIBLE Food/Farm scene and everyone should definitely take advantage of all it offers.
What is some advice you might offer folks who are looking to up their home-cooking game with local ingredients?
Jordan: The Adirondacks are all about adventure, so BE ADVENTUROUS! Try something new. Add that spice. Try an ethnic recipe. Improvise. Use “poetic license” when following a recipe and make it your own. The most common thing that I notice with home cooks is that food is generally under-seasoned. Does it need salt? Acid? Umami? Is it missing something? Pay attention to your food, take stock of how it tastes and don’t be afraid to adjust and re-season. Salt is your friend and key to making things go from good to great.
Sarah: As a home cook who was afraid of scrambling an egg before I met Jordan, the best thing I’ve learned from watching him is “know the basics.” Understand the relationship ingredients have to other ingredients (example: how salt affects meats, sauces, or baked goods). I’ve learned that asking a chef “How long should I cook this for?” will result in the same answer every time: “Until it's done.” Once you really get what’s happening, you feel more confident to have fun and experiment.
You can find some of Jordan’s offerings at one of their summer market or pop-up locations where he is selling foraged mushrooms, fresh bread, fresh pasta with seasonal flavors, miso, seasonal salts and vinaigrettes, and other specialty ingredients like black garlic and koji mustard. His products can also be found at the Hub on the Hill in Essex, Green Goddess Natural Market in Lake Placid, and the Farmacy in Keeseville. Visit RedOakFoodCompany.com for more info and to inquire about catering offerings.