Eating, writing, and learning about food with the New York Times' Sam Sifton

Published: Jul. 18, 2016 at 1:32 PM AKDT
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The idea was to fly to Homer, catch a water taxi to Tutka Bay Lodge from Anchorage, eat some local seafood, cook, and learn about food writing from one of the greats -- New York Times food editor and former chief restaurant critic Sam Sifton.

As our group of chefs, bakers, food lovers and journalists got to know each other, we awkwardly bantered about how we ended up at this writers' retreat hosted by writer James Beard, nominee, and the Atwood Chair of Journalism for the University of Alaska Anchorage, Julia O’Malley.

As you leave the Homer Spit by water taxi to get to the lodge, the views of Kachemak Bay inspire. On all sides, mountains and rocky coastline are topped with blinding white snow peaks. (Wear your sunglasses.) The water is clear as air with glints of gravel and rocks below. On cloudless days, look for the two volcanoes, Iliamna and Augustine. If you're lucky, you’ll spot whales, eagles, and otters. As our boat sped through the bay, the spray splashed our faces and the wind whipped long hair barely contained under baseball caps.

Tutka Bay Lodge is located nine ocean miles from Homer at the southern end of Kachemak Bay. There are six private guest cabins, a main lodge, and an old Bering Sea fishing vessel that is now converted into a cooking school on the 11-acre property. It’s here, at this cove on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, where chef Kirsten Dixon and her husband Carl live. She’s an award-winning chef and food writer who trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris. Dixon often uses the word “sustainability” to describe her work here at Tutka Bay.

After we arrive, we wind our way through the wilderness trails surrounded by Sitka spruces, blueberries, and watermelon berries as well as mushrooms. You can pick, learn, and of course, eat.

And we did a lot of eating. Garlic spears, earthy fresh mushrooms, bok choy, seared scallops with salmonberry chile reduction, king crab in handmade crab and egg yolk ravioli, silver and king salmon, miso seaweed broccolini, fresh halibut with carrot coffee foam, black cod in an Asian inspired marinate (made by my incredible cooking partner Terry!), and sea lettuce.

As cool nights turn into another bluebird day, we write and eat and sip water infused with rhubarb and strawberries. I’m admittedly nervous about being critiqued by Sifton, O’Malley, and my fellow writers. Sifton is kind and constructive. It’s here in this remote setting where I’m inspired to go back to work.