Ever since his first trip to Alaska as a teenager, our editor-in-chief, Brian Hart Hoffman, has been in love with Alaska’s pristine landscape and vibrant baking culture. His favorite spot to return to time and time again is Tutka Bay Lodge. From the lodge’s cozy cabins, to its incomparable views of Kachemak Bay, and the mouth-watering pastries made by Mandy and Kristen Dixon—the award-winning mother-daughter chef duo behind the lodge’s culinary program—Tutka Bay Lodge offers the most luxurious way to experience Alaska. We sit down with Brian to talk about why he fell in love with Alaska, and why Tutka Bay Lodge is the perfect destination for our baking retreat on August 21-24!
Before your career in media, you worked as a flight attendant and lived in Anchorage, Alaska. How did you end up there?
Brian Hart Hoffman: I started my flight attendant career with US Airways when I was 18. I started at the ticket counter in Birmingham, Alabama, and a year and a half later, I became a flight attendant for them and lived on the East Coast. Fast-forward through 9/11, US Airways went into bankruptcy twice, and I lost my job. It turned out that Alaska Airlines was hiring. I had never forgotten flying Alaska Air when I was teenager and traveled to Alaska for the first time, but I had also met someone who had flown previously for Alaska Airlines. He told me that he loved the way that everyone knew each other. It was a family environment and you weren’t just a number. I applied and was hired at Alaska Airlines, and I was assigned Anchorage as my base.
What is something that surprised you after moving there?
BHH: I’m not outdoorsy—I don’t mountain climb, I don’t fish, and I don’t camp. When I moved there, I had my airline world, but I didn’t know how to relate to Alaska other than to just appreciate its physical beauty. Over the years, my family and friends would come visit me.
When they were in Alaska, we would do things like take a day trip down to the Kenai Peninsula, which is where Homer is, or drive highways in Alaska and see the most beautiful things. I learned so much about how to appreciate a place. Now in my career in media, one of the things I love the most is showing the unexpected ways you can interact with Alaska if you’re more of a luxury traveler rather than an adventure-seeking traveler. While the perception of Alaska is mountains, snow, fishing, and all that stuff, you can go and see it and enjoy it in a different way.
What was it about Alaska that left a lasting impression on you and made you want to return for a baking retreat?
BHH: That happened when I went to Tutka Bay for the first time. We were doing a travel story for Cooking with Paula Deen, another Hoffman Media title. We were exploring Alaska’s food culture. We linked up with Kirsten and Mandy Dixon, who are known nationwide as two of the country’s most talented chefs. They’ve worked in Thomas Keller’s kitchens, and they’ve cooked at the James Beard House. Now they’ve become the culinary face of Alaska’s food culture. With Mandy being a passionate baker, I got to know her on another level when we did travel stories with them.
We went back to see them for a feature in Bake from Scratch and explored the baking side of Alaska, the bakeries in Anchorage, and the café that Mandy owns in Homer. We went to Tutka Bay Lodge and saw that the guests were eating these phenomenal desserts after an amazing salmon dinner. Then Mandy and Kristen tell you that all the fruit was foraged wild from the property, and you just have this whole new appreciation of what they’re doing.
When you’re there, you’re drinking amazing wine and you’re sleeping in these really great cottages. There’s this huge sundeck where they offer yoga classes or an afternoon glass of wine. There’s a hot tub. You can be there and absorb the beauty of wild Alaska without hiking and climbing. I enjoy that. It’s an escape.
What do you think of when you hear “Alaskan food”?
BHH: When you first hear “Alaskan food,” you automatically think about salmon. But Alaska has an epic summer growing season for vegetables and fruit, things that we don’t associate with Alaska. When you know you’re eating food that’s foraged, fresh, and harvested for you, there are flavors you didn’t ever know you could experience.
Our baking retreat takes place in August at the height of Alaskan summer. What is so enchanting about being in Alaska in the summer?
BHH: In the summer in Alaska, you get 15 hours of daylight. I think that’s exciting when you’re not used to it. You go to dinner and you finish at 8:30 p.m., and you still have sunlight to go on a sunset cruise. It just offers this whole unique experience. I also love the fresh mountain air and the cool breezes. There’s that feeling that you’ve escaped summer heat but you’re not in the cold. The exhale is legit. When you’re there, you can control the volume of your life.
What would you say to someone who wants to join the trip but is unsure about traveling to Alaska?
BHH: It’s intimidating to travel to Alaska because, unless you’re going to Anchorage, Juneau, or Fairbanks, you can’t just fly directly to your destination. You have to fly into Anchorage and then find your way to your destination. We ask our tour group for the Tutka Bay Lodge Baking Retreat to fly to Anchorage and that’s it. We’ve done the rest for you. We are flying as a group from Anchorage to Homer, a place that not many people will be familiar with but that’s OK. From there, we have the group from Tutka Bay picking us up at the airport and taking us to the Homer Spit, which has so many cute restaurants and bars. We’ve done the hard work so all our group has to do is meet us in Anchorage. That’s easy. Every major airport has flights to get to Anchorage.
Alaska and Tutka Bay especially place high importance on using locally sourced ingredients. How will we embrace that on the trip?
BHH: We’ll do some unexpected things like a salmon pie, where we’re going to use the most famous ingredient in Alaskan cuisine and combine it with pastry. Then we’ll go on to learn some interesting techniques like baking a cake with steam. We’ll be using local beets, and beets and chocolate actually work really well together but people don’t expect it. We’ll also be foraging for wild berries and using them in a cardamom bread.
Any other recommendations for bakers traveling to Alaska on our trip?
BHH: If I could encourage everyone to add one city to their trip, I’d say to get on a plane to Juneau. It rivals Anchorage in terms of foodie offerings. There are amazing restaurants in Juneau, and you’re nestled into the side of the mountains right along the Inside Passage. You could take a day trip from there to Taku Glacier Lodge, where they do an amazing salmon meal, and you’re on a float plane and you fly over the glaciers. If you do the baking retreat with us, add on a few days, go to Juneau, do Taku Glacier Lodge. You’re welcome.
Brian and the rest of the Bake from Scratch team can’t wait to see you in Alaska on August 21-24 for this once-in-a-lifetime baking retreat! There are only a few spots left, so book today!