The Road to Tutka Bay Slideshow
August 7, 2015
Exploring Alaskan seafood at an upscale wilderness lodge
The Road to Tutka Bay
We have landed in Anchorage en route to a wilderness lodge at Tutka Bay. If you don’t know where Tutka Bay is, it’s just across Kachemak Bay from Homer. If you don’t know where Homer is, it’s time to hit up Google maps.
But that’s tomorrow. Tonight we drink wine and feast on Alaska seafood.
Great White Salmon
Sockeye salmon are perhaps the most prized of the species, but for our main course we are being served a rarer fish — a white king salmon. Does it taste different than other salmon? A touch milder, we are told, but as we enjoy it poached with a corn velouté, zucchini strips, and summer truffles, who can tell?
Rust’s Never Sleeps
As this is the land of the midnight sun, we sleep in late. Then we are off for Tutka Bay Lodge, luxury in the wilderness. We know that it’s a wilderness lodge because we can’t drive there, and our Uber app won’t work. Our choices are to go by slow boat or by float plane, so we call on Rust’s, which can easily land us on a glacier or, hopefully, dip down into Tutka Bay.
Aloft, we fly over marshes, across rivers, and past glaciers on our way south. When I see Homer out the right window, I know we’re almost there. Homer is a fishing port well known for a natural neck of land that sticks out into Kachemak Bay. It’s called the Homer Spit. No, I’m not making this up.
Tutka Bay Lodge
Forty-five minutes after takeoff, we touch down at the dock of our destination – Tutka Bay Lodge, owned by the Dixon family. Here we can hike, kayak, learn to cook seafood, forage, haunt the beach at low tide, go deep-sea fishing – or do nothing at all. Our group of writers is assigned to a half dozen cabins hidden in the woods around a central lodge.
Ship of Chefs
Kirsten and Carl Dixon quit the medical profession years ago to come to Alaska. In time, Kirsten became known for her talents as a chef and cookbook author. At Tutka Bay, she conducts cooking classes in a beached troop carrier and crabbing vessel called “The Widgeon.” Each afternoon, Kirsten and her chef daughter Mandy will teach us to prepare seafood.
Keeping an eye out for rampaging moose, we go foraging in the forest and along the beach to find ingredients and spices to flavor seafood. We also pick trailside blueberries for desert. Today in The Widgeon, Mandy is taking seaweed dried in sheets and then crumpled to add piquancy to an aïoli in which to dip her luscious, deep-fried crab beignets.
Crab Is King
Each summer, the Dixons hire a small team of chefs who want to take a sabbatical from the big city. This year, the young team of three chefs is from Las Vegas, and they prepare for us a cooked breakfast and a three-course dinner daily. Tonight, the main course is king crab with smoked egg yolk, corn bread, and charred lemon. Dessert is blueberry panna cotta.
Because the lodge sits along a seashore with high tides, many of the cabins and The Widgeon are connected by a series of elevated wooden walkways. A large patio serves as a party venue and an occasional helicopter landing pad. This morning, most of the guests are going deep-sea fishing on charter boats. I sign up for a guided walk along the shore.
Star of Wonder
Tutka Bay employs an excellent crew of guides — most with impressive science backgrounds. Two of them take me on a tutorial along the rocky shoreline at very low tide. The Alaska coast is teeming with creepy-crawly characters, including many different kinds of starfish, as well as anemones, crabs, razor clams, sea cucumbers, and barnacles.
Nothing but Nets
Later in the afternoon, I board ship to watch salmon fishing in a nearby cove. Although the state has hatcheries, almost all Alaska seafood is caught in the wild and most of it by net fishing. Marine biologists determine in advance how much of each species can be caught, where it can be caught, and for how long a period. Sustainability isn’t just a goal here; it’s a reality.
The following day, we board ship to cruise up along the coast to a nearby fishing and vacation village called Halibut Cove on Kenai Peninsula. One of the cove’s claims to fame is a floating post office, but, as none of us had our mail forwarded, we disembark for lunch at restaurant built into the side of a cliff — The Saltry.
At The Saltry, we meet Adam Walker, one of several young and innovative chefs in Alaska who prefer the dim lights far from the big cities. He starts sending out appetizers, including two interesting takes on salmon: spreadable salmon rillettes and pickled salmon. Some local fishermen and a couple who farm oysters are invited to join us.
Oysters à la Mode
Chef Walker, who likes his dishes with a flowery touch, serves us local oysters on the half shell. Sitting next to me is the beautifully named Weatherly Bates, who with her husband, Greg, grew these Glacier Point oysters at their farm a few miles away. Previously, they raised shellfish in Maine for a nonprofit venture affiliated with artist Jamie Wyeth.
Hail to the Chefs
On the fifth day we say reluctant goodbyes to Tutka Cove and catch water taxis to Homer, where Kirsten and Mandy also run a small café called the La Baleine Café. After a breakfast fit for a fisherman, we say goodbye again and start to make our way back to Anchorage for the long flight back to the East Coast. I am sure to have my passport stamped.