For some folks, good food is as much a part of their soul as breath and memories. Chef Scott Ostrander of Red Stag is one such person.
“I grew up in a very food-centric family,” he recalls. “My maternal grandparents were first-generation Italian immigrants and had a family produce farm in the upper Hudson Valley of New York. We lived right on the edge of the farm and I spent a lot of time in the fields with my grandfather and watching my grandmother and mother cook in the kitchen.”
Though it sounds like the idyllic stuff of dreams, Ostrander’s childhood memories are very real and still influence his work today. “I got a little spoiled on freshness of product; I could always just go out to the barn and pick what I wanted, but that has carried on to be a positive in my career choice—well, I’m not sure the produce vendors would always agree,” he says with a laugh.
Though cooking was a hobby for Ostrander as a young adult, like catering out of his fraternity house, it wasn’t until he was 25 that he decided to pursue his passion and attended culinary school. Through the years, his career took him across the country, from New York City to the South, but it’s Asheville that he likes best. “The local product and farming environment of Asheville is right in line with the way that I have approached food my entire career,” he notes. “My favorite part is that I can live in the Southeast and still experience four seasons (and see a little snow!). I also spent a lot of time in the Adirondack Mountains in New York growing up, and the mountains of Western North Carolina are similar, so it reminds me of home.”
Ostrander may have followed the mountains, but there’s a recipe that’s followed him. “The Herb Crusted Halibut recipe is special for many reasons,” Ostrander begins. “I think the dish is most special to me personally because it is the one dish that has followed me my entire career. In one form or another, I have been serving it since 1999 and it is as popular now as it was then.”
At Red Stag, Ostrander is committed to sourcing fresh, high-quality ingredients, and that commitment is evident in his tried-and-true recipe. “It features a great, under-appreciated vegetable, the parsnip. Wonderful mushrooms and black truffle, and an item from the summer that we preserve for the winter in the tomatoes. The halibut is a wonderful, sweet, flaky fish that is abundant and sustainable. We source from Alaska during the Pacific season and we buy farm-raised product from the North Atlantic once the Alaskan season closes just after Thanksgiving.” It’s a flavorful and approachable dish perfect for a romantic night in.