Good, old home cookin'

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2001

"The New Alaska Cookbook -- Recipes From the Last Frontier's Best Chefs"

By Kim Severson with Glenn Denkler

Sasquatch Books, Seattle

243 pages, $19.95

If you are what you eat, then Alaskans are some of the most diverse people on the planet -- and the best fed. Proof of that pudding is spread across the 243 pages of "The New Alaska Cookbook -- Recipes From the Last Frontier's Best Chefs."

Thanks to Kim Severson, formerly of the Anchorage Daily News and currently the restaurant critic, food writer and editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and Glenn Denkler, chef instructor at the Anchorage School District's King Career Center and the Alaska Chef of the Year in 1993 and 1994, this book is a tasty sampling from some of state's best chefs.

Recipes range from the simple to the challenging. The ingredients include the familiar and the foreign. From blueberries to birch syrup, fiddlehead ferns to mushrooms, finfish to shellfish and vodka to Yukon Jack, there's literally something to satisfy every taste bud.

"Any serious eater who has visited Alaska leaves pleasantly surprised by the quality of the cuisine served in both city restaurants and remote fishing lodges," wrote Severson in the introduction.

Limited in the chefs she could include, Severson said, "I regret I could not highlight the work of more people, because there are plenty of professionals across the state turning out food as good as the dishes contained in these pages."

The book is her attempt to present "recipes that reflect a new style of Alaska cooking."

Denkler took responsibility for testing each of the recipes. Soothing the worried brow of water-burning novice cooks intimidated by such recipes as pan-seared venison medallions with raspberry-green peppercorn sauce, Denkler spends a few paragraphs "demystifying the process."

"A recipe should be considered a starting point," he writes. "A cook must learn to taste and not be a slave to a recipe. The more a cook tastes, the better the cook."

The cookbook begins by introducing the chefs.

Jack Amon, of Marx Bros. Cafe in Anchorage, honed his Alaska cooking skills in roughneck camps during construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline. JoAnn Asher worked at Marx Bros. after she arrived in Alaska in 1981 and opened Sacks Cafe in downtown Anchorage in 1983.

Kirsten Dixon, described as "arguably the best-known Alaska cook," has taken Alaska cooking all the way to the James Beard House in New York. The remote locations of her three wilderness lodges offer unique challenges, including marauding bears that break into her kitchens, root cellars and freezers.

Jens Hansen trained in Copenhagen and Paris, cooked along the pipeline, ran the

Crow's Nest at the top of the Captain Cook Hotel, and opened Jen's Restaurant and Bodega in Anchorage in the late 1980s.

Jennifer Jolis came to Alaska as a VISTA volunteer in 1966 and cooked on a Coleman stove in a village north of the Arctic Circle. She began cooking professionally in Alaska in the 1980s and credits her experience around the state with teaching her that "moosehead soup and a good pot-au-feu have a lot in common: 'Both can be very good if well made.'"

Farrokh Larijani, of Anchor-age's Orso and Glacier Brew-House and a graduate of Port-land's Western Culinary Institute, said cooking Alaska's wild fish has made him the envy of his chef friends in the Lower 48.

David and JoAnn Lesh are the well-known owners of Gustavus Inn on the edge of Glacier Bay National Park. The inn is built where David's parents, Sally and Jack, homesteaded 30 years ago.

Al Levinsohn had his first restaurant job at Sea Galley when he was 15. Now he oversees the Alyeska Prince Hotel's five restaurants, including Seven Glaciers at the top of Mount Alyeska.

Mark Linden, of Glacial Reflections Fine Catering in Anchorage, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and the former executive chef at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel.

Sean Maryott is well known on the southern Kenai Peninsula. After arriving in Homer in the 1980s to work on a fishing boat, he became the chef at Land's End Resort, began Cafe Cups and opened The Homestead in 1983.

Kirk McLean, formerly of the San Francisco Bay area, has owned the Fiddlehead Restaurant and Bakery in Juneau since 1999.

Jens Nannestad began his career in Austria, graduated from the California Culinary Academy and opened Southside Bistro in Anchorage in 1995.

Interspersed among more than 130 recipes are interesting stories and bits of information that make "The New Alaska Cookbook" fun to read. While both Alaskans and non-Alaskans will find these sidebars interesting, the home folks will most likely smile at such comments as, "To Alaskans who live in the bush, Fairbanks is a big city visited to get supplies and fuel. To Alaskans who live in Anchorage, Fairbanks is considered less than a culinary Mecca."

There are filleting tips and a plug for Alaska's wild salmon.

"The superior flavor and firm, meaty flesh of wild salmon are worth searching for. Farm-raised salmon, often from the Atlantic Ocean, are pale and mushy in comparison." Once found, "The New Alaska Cookbook" offers several ways for Alaska's wild and tasty salmon to be prepared.

A section on moose gives road kill a nod of appreciation.

"Even families that don't have a hunter can usually get meat from a friend. Or, if they're particularly industrious and have tools for butchering, they can wait for a moose to get hit crossing a highway."

It isn't all homegrown Alaska, however. Among the pages are such intriguing offerings as zucchini pancakes with cambozola, pistachio-crusted rack of lamb with port-olive sauce and the "simple recipe" for a chocolate truffle torte that is promised to "satisfy those mid-winter cravings."

Denkler advises that the recipes be treated with respect; "respect the talent of the cooks who came up with the ideas, but have fun." He encourages bold experimentation and gives permission for cooks to substitute favored ingredients for those that lack personal appeal. His technical points and tips are few, four to be exact.

And once the recipes are selected, the ingredients gathered and the appropriate utensils are at hand, Denkler's words promise to infuse food with flavor, whether it comes from these or any recipes: "Let your heart and your taste buds rule."

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