The wet weather didn't stop people from whetting their appetites at the Taste of the Kenai food show Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
More than 60 central Kenai Peninsula vendors many of which were small business with low profiles offered samples of their products in an attempt to familiarize residents with their food, beverages and services.
Salmon was the main item and ingredient in numerous booths. The fish is a staple in the diet of many Alaskans, but what made it an extraordinary addition to the food show was the method in which it was prepared.
"We wanted to do something different and unique with salmon, besides just smoking, baking, frying and barbecuing it," said Michael Hanzuk of Alaskan Salsa Salmon.
Food show patrons could sample three varieties of his product mild, medium and hot that Hanzuk claims to be the "salmon with an attitude," as well as his newest item, a blackened pepper salsa halibut.
The product began after Hanzuk tweaked a salmon jarring recipe he got from some friends. He experimented until he found what he believed was just the right recipe.
"It's a perfect balance between the natural flavor of the fish and just enough heat from the salsa that one does not overpower the other," Hanzuk said.
He said he began sharing the jarred salmon with family and friends, but was going through more than 50 cases a year. "That's when we decided to put it on the market," he said.
Hanzuk wasn't the only one with spicy salmon at the food show, though. Mama Rosa's Alaskan Heat, Fred West's Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon Sausage Chili, "Kenai Wild" Cook Inlet Brand Salmon, and numerous other vendors all offered samples that could deliciously torch the taste buds.
"The Kenai Wild salmon is very good," said Bill Pool of Kenai. "I eat a lot of fish, and you can really tell the difference between the wild and the farmed stuff. The wild is much better."
For those not tempted by fish, there were other options, including some with an international flavor. The Nikolaevsk's Samovar Cafe offered a variety of Russian cuisine, including pirozhki, pel'meni and borsch.
Ricia Dean of the Munch Wagon showcases a spicy chef's hat at the event.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Soldotna's Gourmet Garden Market and Deli showcased several samples of cheeses from around the world, including a mustard and ale variety from Wales, a Dutch variety with cumin and caraway and a British soft cheese with mango and ginger.
"Some of these cheeses would be perfect with salmon and a beer. Some others you wouldn't just eat, but cook with or grate over salad," said owner Peggy Mullen.
As to why the market and deli had chosen to have a booth at the food show, Mullen said, "We're a worldly store and this is to expand people's palates and introduce ourselves to anyone who might not already know about us."
Star McGlassen of Kenai said she enjoyed the cheeses she sampled.
"I really liked what I tried, so I bought a couple pounds of it," she said.
There also were plenty of vendors offering beverages to wash back all the food. Patrons could purchase cocktails from the beer and wine garden, try coffee from many vendors, satisfy a sweet tooth with a frozen fruit smoothie or sample an energy drink for a little boost.
"These are energy drinks that are good for you and not loaded with sugar like many other commercial energy drinks on the market," said Jamie Miller, in regard to his product XS Energy Drinks.
The beverage contains numerous herbs favored by health food fanatics, including ginseng, echinacea and reishi mushrooms.
Although most of the food and drink at the Taste of Kenai catered to people, one vendor Cohoe Micro Bakery did not forget about the canines. The bakery handed out samples of their pet product Alaskan Salmon Snackers.
"We use pink salmon caught and processed locally for our product. To that we add natural products white and wheat flour, rice, tomato juice, water, corn oil and vitamin E. There's no preservatives of any kind," said Sherry Karnikis of the snackers.
"In our experience, people are starting to understand fish as part of the daily diet is as healthy to dogs as it is to humans," Karnikis said.
The Taste of Kenai continues today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Soldotna Sports Center. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for students and seniors, and admission is free for children under 10.
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