Mountain climbing is not associated with good food. Most trips involve dehydrated or instant fare that require little more than hot water to prepare. The resulting meals are adequate, but definitely not what you remember when the expedition is over.
For many years, Jackson Hole Mountain Guides (JHMG) was no exception to that rule — their clients ate instant meals and no one ever complained. But they didn’t brag about the food either. Now, that has changed.
Sarah Mansfield Pierce, who with her husband Phil Powers, as well as Rob Hess and Dale Remsberg, owns JHMG, thought they could do better. A lifelong private chef and caterer, Sarah decided to take on the challenge of making tasty, home-cooked meals that clients could enjoy in the wilderness.
“What I love about cooking is that you can never know everything there is to know,” Sarah says. “I love trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. So, for JHMG the challenge was to put a real meal in a bag.”
Because JHMG operates in Grand Teton National Park, guides are not allowed to prepare food. All they can do is boil water. So, Sarah had to come up with meals that could be cooked in a commercial kitchen, vacuum sealed, frozen, carried to high camp, and then heated by immersion in hot water.
“Five years and counting, with 6,000 served, we’ve figured out a system,” Sarah says. “Now, I know how to get meals from the kitchen to the office, into backpacks, up to high camp, and into a cooler to be ready for dinner.”
Sarah prepares food for almost every diet using the freshest ingredients she can find — including vegan, gluten-free, and vegetarian options. She buys beef from Jackson-area producers and vegetables from local organic farms. Her meals include vegetable coconut curry, pasta bolognaise, and shepherd’s pie.
“You can find out about the meals on our website, but it’s kind of buried,” Sarah says. “So, I think clients are surprised and happy to have real food at high camp. They don’t really expect it.”
Sarah started cooking as a child, standing on a stool next to her Japanese grandmother so she could see over the counter.
“My grandmother didn’t speak English,” Sarah says. “And … she wasn’t very expressive, at least in conversation. But her passion came out in her food. She expressed herself through cooking, and I learned that from her.”
About a year ago, Sarah heard a story on NPR about a man who started selling his mother’s secret pancake mix commercially. Sarah felt like she’d been hit with a lightning bolt. She, too, had a secret family recipe that people would love. Now, she sells her grandmother’s Samurai Bread recipe through her business venture Okano’s Kitchen.
“I call it Samurai Bread in honor of my grandmother, who made up the recipe after watching a baking show on TV, and for my grandfather’s samurai sword,” Sarah says. “It’s been a big hit. All you have to do is add water.”
When she’s not in the kitchen, Sarah is likely climbing, playing the violin, designing beautiful interior spaces, practicing yoga, or spending time with her four children. And, as anyone who knows her can attest, you can always count on her to show up to parties dressed in her usual chic outdoorsy-meets- city attire and armed with yummy food to share.