Walking into Jori Jayne Emde’s kitchen is almost like walking into a chemist’s laboratory. She is a master of alchemy, as is seen on her website Lady Jayne’s Alchemy where she claims her products are “made in a barn in the woods” in Old Chatham, NY.
Taking it all in is overwhelming, verging on admirable exhaustion. There are fermentation crocks for producing kimchi, sauerkrauts and miso; huge vats, called carboys, of liquids on the floor – later identified as different vinegars; jars of preserves, brined and salt-packed vegetables lining the shelves that encompass her kitchen; plates of tomato leaves to make an enfleurage (process to capture a fragrance) to create a tomato scent; cascades of drying red peppers hanging from the ceiling beams, and floor-to-ceiling book shelves loaded with cookbooks, reference books and historical texts. In one corner of her kitchen there is an odd-shaped contraption called a rotary evaporator or rotavap that she uses for distilling and creating vinegars and extracts.
No, she is not a mad scientist. She is a culinary professional with a keen and in-depth knowledge of how to create any food product from vinegars and bitters to jams, preserves and condiments, cordials and liqueurs. She has an acute palate for discerning and pairing flavors and for concocting products made with ingredients from her garden and woods.
She is also a partner of the highly praised restaurant Fish & Game in Hudson with her life partner, Chef Zak Pelaccio. The year-old restaurant has received glowing reviews and has been talked about as the East Coast’s French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s four-star restaurant in Napa. Jori Jayne Emde’s alchemy has contributed greatly to the success of Fish & Game. She uses her wizardry to create kimchis like cabbage, daikon and rhubarb; bitters like celery, ginger, anise and orange; cordials made with fruit pits from the summer’s bounty (a new one is made with plum pits that was inspired by an old Russian recipe), and butters that have been aged from one to two years wrapped in horseradish and maple, ginger and turmeric leaves and ash. Her Worcestershire sauce has won rave reviews; Rachael Ray told her TV audience that it’s the best she has ever tasted, and then bought up every last bottle. The response to Ray’s comments was so overwhelming that Emde’s next barrel of Worcestershire that has been fermenting for a year is already spoken for.
Her next experimentation is to make a “true terroir-driven” Hudson Valley miso with native koji made from local rice and create a locally-sourced vermouth. She forages on the farm lands and marshes that she and Zak share with his family and grows cranberries, strawberries, blueberries and experimental crops. Some of the plants growing in the marshes from which she will create a product are: wild angelica, trout lily, pepperwort and yarrow. What she doesn’t grow on their Blue Heron Farm in Old Chatham, she grows on the large farm, which is the main food supply for the restaurant, owned by their Fish & Game partner, Patrick Milling-Smith. This year she turned about 800 pounds of tomatoes into 72 gallons of canned tomatoes for multiple uses, as well as 125 pounds of salt-cured and dried chilies packed in extra virgin olive oil ~ all for supplying the restaurant. Nothing goes to waste in the Fish & Game’s kitchen.
Emde participates in creating the restaurant’s menus with Pelaccio and his co-chef, Kevin Pomplun. In talking about Pelaccio as chef, Emde says that what initially impressed her most was his incredible technique for layering flavors utilizing all the knowledge of his culinary experiences in Southeastern Asia and Malaysia, his extensive travels in Europe and his exotic preparations of food using locally sourced ingredients. About Emde, he says she “is a modern day medicine woman. She is a creative force in the world of scents, tinctures, natural medicines, pickles, sauces, ferments, vinegars and elixirs of all kinds.”
When asked where her interest in gardening and plant life all began, she believes that she was born with it. She always wanted a garden, but growing up in Texas with sun-dried, hard earth made it difficult. Although unaware of her innate culinary talents, she recalls at age eight trying to replicate canned soup with fresh ingredients. She says that she was always making snacks for school friends and bringing dishes to parties.
While attending boarding school in northern Idaho near the Kootenai Native Tribe, she along with some students and teachers, revived a neglected garden and greenhouse producing fresh-grown food. On hikes in the surrounding woods, a Kootenai woman showed her all the different wild plants and taught her that she could ease her aching stomach by drinking wild ginger with vinegar and hot water – an early introduction into her world of alchemy.
Following high school, she returned to Austin where the Texas Culinary Academy was opening a Le Cordon Bleu program. Her mother, recognizing that Jori had a passion for cooking, urged her to attend the new school. Unaware of her innate talent, she enrolled even though she thought the school was an expensive holding place while she figured out what she really wanted to do. But after working in the restaurant on campus starting in sauté, she says she fell in love with the intensity and energy of the chef’s world. She graduated from the Academy with an Associate’s degree based on the Le Cordon Bleu curriculum.
Emde left Austin to extern in New York at Lupa restaurant. Following the lead of a friend she pursued her culinary career at 5 Ninth where Zak Pelaccio was chef. She followed him on to his Fatty Crew restaurants becoming sous chef, recipe developer and super taster with her intuitive acumen at discerning flavors. She also began experimenting with fermenting vinegars in their Brooklyn apartment, which became known as the “fermentation station.” The rest, as they say is history.
She still loves being in the kitchen, just not 14-hour, six-day weeks. She is content to concoct in the barn, forage in the fields, experiment and enjoy the bounties of what nature produces and walk in the woods with their Australian shepherd Waylon (named after a good old Texas country singer Waylon Jennings)
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