By Kae Lani Kennedy, Foodable Contributor
Living in a large city in the “Lower 48” I take for granted how easy it is to find whatever cuisine I’m craving. A quick walk to downtown or a few clicks on GrubHub and within the hour I can eat Pho, Chinese, Mexican, Pizza, Greek or even Ethiopian, to name a few. But on a recent trip to Alaska, I came to the realization that having an easily accessible array of exotic foods is a luxury and that there are some places within the United States where resources for specialty foods is not an option. In Alaska, where many restaurants are only open 6 months out of the year, chefs are bound to seasonal ingredients, as well as items that won’t spoil if shipped from the “Lower 48’.
Anchorage is home to 40% of Alaska’s population and the higher demand leads to a bit more availability. However, elsewhere in the Bush, the Interior, the Arctic Circle or even along the coast of the Alaskan Bay, dining variety depends on the chef’s creativity. The local “salmon bakes” are fun and casual, but they can get really old really fast.
Fine Dining in Seward
127 miles south of Anchorage is the small seaport town of Seward. Although the population is only 3,000, this little town attracts tourists from around the world for its exciting nature, outdoor adventures, and abundant fishing spots. But in a small town with a fluctuating population of diners that comes only half of the year, getting resources for more intricate dishes is difficult and not cost effective. That is why chefs like Jerry Phaisavath of the Seward Windsong Lodge’s Resurrection Roadhouse and Goliath Bar & Grill leverage local ingredients to create diverse and flavorful dishes.
The Windsong Lodge’s restaurants offers customers a variety of dining options to experience. The Resurrection Roadhouse is a an elegant rustic lodge with fine dining dishes, while the Goliath Bar & Grill offers a more laid-back dining scene, serving up pub classics. Phaisavath’s goal for each establishment is to keep it simple, while achieving bold flavors by using high quality local ingredients. These ingredients include salmon, halibut and cod to name a few. Though fish is not the only meat offered, it is certainly the staple at both restaurants. For example, at the Resurrection Roadhouse, the pan-seared salmon is simply seasoned with chardonnay sea salt, complementing its natural oils and flavors. The halibut is wrapped in prosciutto and served with caramelized fennel. Phaisavath also incorporates Alaskan fish and seasonal vegetables into sandwiches, soups and even burgers.
Phaisavath finds that creating dishes using ingredients that are readily available and are not too complicated leads to a smooth running kitchen and consistent presentation.
Mexican Flare in Cordova
Home of the much sought after Copper River Salmon, Cordova is small town that is only accessible by boat or aircraft. There is no road that connects this community to any other town, limiting the shipping of resources. But because Cordova is a self-sufficient fishing community, chefs like Andra Doll of Baja Taco seize the opportunity to create Mexican dishes using almost solely local fish and produce.
Since taking over Baja Taco in 2007, Andra Doll’s fish tacos have been recognized as Alaska’s best by Frommers and Food Network. The tacos are loaded with fresh fish and topped with crisp produce and are served with a heaping side of rice and beans, two ingredients that are a bit easier to have shipped in from the “Lower 48”.
Because it is a small community, being versatile is just as important as being creative with the menu. That is why Baja Taco does not limit itself to serving Mexican fare for only lunch and dinner. Chef Doll also has a menu of hearty breakfast burritos perfect for locals before they head out for a day of fishing. Espresso and coffee is also served throughout the day, making Baja Taco a favorite hangout spot for locals as well as visitors.
So even with the limited resources available, Alaskan chefs are still able to get creative with minimal Ingredients.