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Kenai chef uses local fare in creating gourmet eats on the run

Posted: December 7, 2011 - 8:30am  |  Updated: December 7, 2011 - 8:35am
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Logan Tuttle
Ony Pool, aka, The Galley Wench prepares chili outside of her van at Midway Auto Park along the Kenai Spur Highway Tuesday. Pool turned her van into a mobile food station this summer to be able to experience Alaska’s scenery while making Alaska-inspired dishes.

It all started when Ony Pool was a young girl growing up in Skamokowa, Wash. She was the only female in her family, with five brothers and her father. They played pirates on the beach and used her oldest brother's sailboat as their pirate ship. To be included, she was charged with the task of fetching her brothers drinks from the galley.

"I was the galley wench," Pool said. "You know, it was really fun -- not many little girls get to play pirates on the beach."

To Pool, being the galley wench is not just a playful name, it's her identity. She's hosted the "Galley Wench's cooking show" for the last six years, and has catered events and taught cooking classes dressed in a bodice, a female article of clothing commonly seen in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and a skirt. This summer she created a mobile food service of the same name -- The Galley Wench -- and has traveled the central Peninsula area feeding residents with her Alaska-inspired creations.

"I haven't seen another chef yet that cooks in bodices and skirts, especially in Alaska," Pool said. "I bring a surprise because I'm not billing myself as a chef -- I'm billing myself as a galley wench."

Pool learned the art of cooking early on by watching her father, a master chef (the highest level of certification possible in American culinary arts), cook in his restaurant.

"I grew up in a kitchen from the time I was a baby," Pool said. "So I've always been in a kitchen -- it's like breathing."

Outside of the kitchen, Pool would immerse herself in Jack London and Walt Morey stories about Alaska adventures. What she read would lead her to an adventure of her own.

"I just always wanted to be here," she said.

When Pool was 16, she got her chance. After she was through with college, she found herself on the beach in Kasilof where she got a job babysitting for fishermen.

"I spent my first summer on Kasilof Beach Road in a big Army tent on the beach," Pool said. "It was awesome, quite an adventure when you're 16, you know."

After stints working in chef whites (the common chef attire), Pool wanted to do something new.

This summer she bought a van and transformed it into the a mobile food vessel. Her goal is to show people what they can do with Alaskan ingredients in-person instead of behind a microphone.

"I thought a van is a good way to do that," she said. "Alaska does have some of the best ingredients in the world, you know.

"Nobody has salmon as good as we do, nobody has halibut as good as we do."

In addition to her mobile food serving van, Pool will be releasing her book, "The Galley Wench's Recipe Book", as well as spices and sauces that she will introduce in the future.

Pool has always been allured by the Alaskan wilderness, which was one of the inspirations for her mobile operation.

"Alaska is just so beautiful it would really suck so bad to be stuck in a kitchen and never see anything but those four walls all the time," she said.

Being mobile allows her to get to where the scenery is most appealing, she said.

"I can park where I can watch the inlet and the sunset or sunrise," Pool said. "You can get yourself into some very beautiful places because Alaska is full of them."

Pool has been parking her van for lunch in front of Nikko Gardens on the Kenai Spur Highway on Mondays and Midway Auto Park on Tuesdays.

"It's very kind of them to let me start out in their spots," Pool said.
The menu consists of a razor clam chowder and a caribou and buffalo chili, which, Pool said, is authentic because there are no tomatoes in the recipe.

"It's just meat and beans and onions and spices -- it's really good," she said.

She can sell 50 servings of chili, and managed to sell out of her supply Monday at Nikko Gardens. Dave Cole, of Soldotna was one of many who stopped by.

"I saw her when I was driving down the road -- I saw her sign while she was parked at Nikko Gardens," Cole said.

Cole was so impressed he returned to the van on Tuesday for a second helping.

"I found my new soup girl," he said. "I should say she likes to be called the Galley Wench."

Logan Tuttle can be reached at logan.tuttle@peninsulaclarion.com.

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