Luxury may not be the first thing to come to mind when picturing the unforgiving wilderness of Alaska or the tough, self-sufficient individuals who populate it. But the Dixons—Kirsten, Carl, and their 32-year-old daughter Mandy—have transformed the old homestead of Winterlake Lodge into a posh compound complete with six cabins, numerous gardens, a dogsled camp, and a sauna—most of which were erected by Mandy’s father. The resort and its surrounding pristine wilderness have lured the likes of outdoorsy jet setters, adventurous food fanatics, and even Neil Patrick Harris. The foodies have been arriving in droves for Kirsten’s world-class and James Beard Award-recognized cuisine and, more recently, for Mandy’s desserts. We sat down with Mandy, head pastry chef of the Winterlake Lodge, to get her expert opinion of Alaskan cuisine. Read about it below and get the web exclusive Honey and Nut Orange Tarts recipe she shared with us here!
For the full story on the Alaskan complete with a handful of Mandy’s recipes and her Anchorage bakery picks, get our March/April 2018 Issue.
What is Alaskan cuisine like? How is the food specific to the culture?
Mandy Dixon: Whether you live in a city, which our cities are rather small, or whether you live out in the bush, all Alaskans are very self-sufficient. We all harvest in the summer and preserve in the fall for the hardy winters. Much of the food techniques and ingredients that we grow in Alaska today are holdovers from the Gold Rush era. Sourdough breads and bean dishes, because we need hardy, durable food that will survive. Most of our year is winter.
What cultures have contributed to Alaskan cuisine?
MD: It’s a mix of several different cuisines. We have a lot of Asians in Alaska because of our proximity to Japan and the greater Asian continent. The commercial fishing, gas, and oil refining businesses have brought in a lot of different cultures. We also have a lot of Russian foodways built through our cuisine because we were once owned by Russia. There is also an important element of native Alaskan culture—the first cuisine, really—that started in Russia. We share the same latitude as the Nordic countries, so we have a touch of their hardy cuisine. So it’s blend of Asian, Russian, Nordic, and uniquely Alaskan cuisine.
What’s one of your favorite representations of a classic Alaskan baked good?
MD: The Russian salmon hand pie is a very Alaskan dish. My family has been making these since I was born. It was probably one of my favorite dishes growing up. It’s this flakey pastry with brown rice and mushrooms and cream, salmon, and cheese filling. It’s very popular in the villages in Alaska. It’s a super high-protein food for the mushers, miners, and other hard workers of the Alaskan frontier. [Find this recipe in the our March/April 2018 Issue.]
What do you want people to take away from your take on Alaskan pastries and baking?
MD: What I want people to take away from my food is the authenticity. I’m being true to what is grown in Alaska, true to the history of the influences in Alaskan cuisine. When people visit Winterlake Lodge they’re getting the opportunity to be up on mountains, standing in spots that humans may have never stood before, and they get a chance to mush a section of the Iditarod trail with their own dog team. They get to go on all of these incredible Alaskan adventures, and we want that adventure to come through in the food as well. We want to match that excitement for the future of Alaskan cuisine.