Chef Carrie Catterall is a Wilderness Gourmet Rockstar
By Jasmine Wilhelm4 Min. Read
When Carrie Catterall goes camping, at least half her car is her camp kitchen. That’s because Carrie knows good food. She’s been experimenting with flavor since a fateful dinner at a friend’s house in high school. The meal was as good as something you’d get in a restaurant, and she thought to herself, “Wait, you can do this at home?!” Decades later, Carrie not only does it at home but also on her farm, at the farmer’s market, at catered events, and on OARS Wilderness Gourmet and Wine on the River rafting trips.
As a chef, Carrie is all about quality and flavor. She achieves the best of both by growing her own produce and by cooking what’s in season. Carrie and her partner farm part of the 10 acres they live on in Southern Oregon. They named the farm, Root Down Family Farm, because “we are sowing our roots as a family and we are also sowing roots in the community.” The farm provides produce for her catering company, Sugar Pine Dine. Sugar Pine Dine started as a supper club on her farm where the outdoor dining room looked out on a fallen sugar pine tree. Although the pine initially lay in view of diners, Carrie set aside the wood to mill — she is making tables, benches, and serving platters from the wood. She is utilizing the resources on her farm to the fullest extent and reinvesting them in her land and her community. This is indicative of her food philosophy as well.
Sugar Pine Dine has grown beyond the supper club and she now sells at the farmer’s market and caters special events. She loves catering fundraising dinners for the community, especially for Cultivate Kids, an organization that teaches gardening and nutritious eating to kids in the community. She also organizes and caters an annual Illinois River clean-up float.
Carrie is deeply connected to the land and what it produces. She explained, “healthy roots require healthy soil, which in turn makes healthy, happy plants, and better quality produce.” Carrie and her partner use compost from their kitchen, manure from the goats and chickens, and any other organic material they can source locally to keep their soil healthy. This allows them to operate as a no-till farm to continue having healthy soil and tasty produce season after season after season. She cares for the land, and the land provides incredible fruits that she transforms into delicious and nutritious meals.
Carrie told me, “I live in a place that has four distinct seasons. And you can taste each season.” Carrie won’t even eat tomatoes until hers are ready. She knows it’s worth the wait to eat tomatoes that are bursting with flavor. There’s power in looking forward to tasting those flavors and she relishes the anticipation. She makes creative preserves and jams so that she can be reminded of the season’s flavors during the winter and spring. She loves the way eating in season fosters her connection to the land.
If you go on a Wilderness Gourmet trip with Carrie as the chef, you can expect that same ethos to be present. You will eat food on the banks of the Rogue River that was sourced from her nearby farm. The produce will have been harvested a mere few days prior to your trip, and the water you’ll watch float by from your dining table is the same water that fed that produce.
Cooking for September raft trips is a joy for Carrie because everything is in season. All the summer crops are in and the fall crops are starting to get harvested as well. There are zucchinis and beans, lots of herbs, fun-colored peppers, and fruits from her orchard. “The smoker will be going in full swing,” she said. She’ll be smoking beets and fruits, which she will of course be smoking over locally sourced woodfire. Her favorite dessert to make is a smoked peach cobbler.
I asked Carrie what she hopes people feel when they eat her food. She said, “I hope that they think about the area they’re in and how the food they got to them. But mostly, I hope they feel happy, excited, and nourished.” I got a sneak peek of September’s menu, and if I ate wine-braised short ribs topped with mushroom demi glacé on the banks of the Rogue, I’d be feeling happy, excited, and nourished.
I know those feelings are true because I was lucky enough to raft with Carrie earlier this season. There was so much love and attention in each meal. The flavors of the three courses each night were always creative and mouthwatering. Plus the wine was expertly paired, and the dining room was as scenic as it gets.
Just as Carrie once thought, “Wait, you can do this at home?!” I found myself wondering, “Wait, you can do this on the banks of a Wild and Scenic River?” If you appreciate quality food, come join OARS for Carrie’s farm to paddle delicacies. You won’t regret it.