Kirsten Dixon—chef owner of Alaska’s Tutka Bay Lodge and Winterlake Lodge—and her daughter Mandy (a chef at both lodges) know that when it comes to food, passion should always be the main ingredient. WW sat down to talk with these power partners about working together, cooking for guests, and their mutual love of the culinary arts.
WW: Moms and daughters don’t always get along. What is it like working together?
Kirsten Dixon: The secret is allowing our approaches to complement each other. I really appreciate Mandy’s energy and her youthful perspective. Food is like fashion, and I know we can sometimes get stuck in traditional ways we really love. I hang on to some very dear aspects of how I was trained while Mandy brings in some newer, more modern ideas, and we blend those really nicely.
Mandy Dixon: We work great together. She comes in with a wealth of knowledge and years of experience, and I really respect that. We have a similar style of cooking and philosophy. We get along really well.
WW: How did you both find that love of food?
KD: For some people, loving the art of cooking is in their DNA. That’s me. I wanted to cook from the time I was a little girl. Cooking is like breathing to me. I’m also really compelled to write about food and what we do here in Alaska.
MD: I grew up at the lodges, so I spent a lot of time with chefs from all over the world, and I really learned a lot from them. And when I graduated from high school, I went to culinary school—although I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Once I got there, it really clicked. I realized it was something I had wanted to do my whole life.
WW: You have to feed people at two lodges. What’s your philosophy for keeping guests well-fed?
MD: We start by ordering fresh food locally. People really respond to that. Take advantage of the farms around you. There are tons of farmers here, and we’re actually starting our own farm this summer. We’ll order from fishermen at Tutka Bay, and they’ll drop the fish right on our dock. We prepare three meals a day for our guests, and we have a cooking class every day at Tutka Bay Lodge at 4:00, before appetizer time and a wine tasting. Offering people new wines to try always goes over well. We do a lot of foraging every day; there are tons of edible things around. We also collect seawater every day and put it in our greenhouse, where it dehydrates over a couple days, to make our own sea salt. Each day is so different, and all these things help to fuel your imagination when it comes to food. The other things that guide us: the weather and what the guests want to do.
WW: What are some of your favorite food traditions? What makes a meal special for you?
KD: One thing I really love is a more formal table service and sitting down to dine together. I think we accomplish a lot with our guests. Sometimes when they come to us, they’re a little edgy and maybe nervous about where they’ve come in Alaska, but when they first sit down at the table and eat and relax, they heave a sigh of relief. I think that’s my favorite moment—when food really transforms the mood of the guests and they start to enjoy themselves. I also think there’s something really lovely about creating your own traditions—they’re based on what is meaningful to you.
To learn more about the Tutka Bay and Winterlake lodges, visit www.withinthewild.com
Check out this lightened-up version of Kirsten and Mandy’s famous Smoked Salmon Cardamom Spread with Salmon Bacon on Cucumber:
Smoked Salmon Cardamom Spread with Salmon Bacon on Cucumber
Author: Kirsten and Mandy Dixon
Serves: Makes 1½ pounds, or 24 (1-ounce) servings
SmartPoints value: 3
- 6 ounces Alaska cold-smoked salmon lox (about 10 slices)
- 1⁄2 pound rhubarb, washed, trimmed, and chopped
- 1⁄2 cup honey
- 1⁄2 cup apple cider
- 1⁄2 shallot, sliced
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground coarse black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Coat the foil with spray release or with oil. Lay down each of the pieces of salmon onto the baking sheet. Set aside.
- Place the rhubarb, honey, apple cider, shallot, and about a teaspoon of black pepper into a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until the rhubarb is cooked and begins to fall apart. Add a little additional apple cider if more liquid is necessary. Cook for about 30 minutes until the mixture has reduced down to a thick syrupy consistency.
- Brush the salmon with the rhubarb lacquer. Place the baking sheet onto the center rack of the oven and bake for about 5 to 6 minutes or until the bacon is just crisp.
- Makes about 10 slices of bacon.
- 1 pound kippered (hot smoked) salmon
- ¾ cup thick low-fat Greek yogurt
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 lemon
- Chop half the kippered salmon in the bowl of a food processor.
- Add the Greek yogurt the cardamom, and pepper to taste.
- Grate the zest of lemon into the salmon mixture as well.
- Process the salmon mixture until it is pureed.
- Transfer the puree to a large bowl.
- Coarsely chop the remaining salmon and add it to the puree.
- Mix well, cover, and refrigerate until serving time.
Serve a dollop of spread on a sliced cucumber with the salmon bacon and a garnish with chives.