Rustic takes new meaning at cooking school

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

Photos Provided - The Widgeon II, an historic ship whose replica is on exhibit at the Pratt, serves as a cooking school. Kirsten Dixon

Photos Provided - The Widgeon II, an historic ship whose replica is on exhibit at the Pratt, serves as a cooking school. Kirsten Dixon

Old ships found no longer useful for sea travel often become time’s causalities, but occasionally one finds a new life, as is the case for the Widgeon II.
Its new role as a cooking school at Tutka Bay offers a renewed life for the World War II troop carrier that also served many years as a crabber. The school is operated by the renowned chef and lodge owner, Kirsten Dixon, whose name many might recall on her cook books filled with both stories and recipes inspired through the hospitality of operating lodges for more than 25 years. Located on a lagoon across from Tutka Bay Lodge, the boat was moored to shore during a high tide by the previous owner, who then built a two-story wooden structure onto the deck. With some added renovations by the new owners, Carl and Kirsten Dixon, the Widgeon II is now a rustic outpost adapted for cooking classes, large enough for 12 guests per day, and special events.
“It has a large dining room, large enough to seat 24 people. For classes, we’ll hold to one cooking topic for a week. People could leave Homer at 10:30 a.m., arrive at the lodge at 11, and then eat a luncheon at 1 p.m. from the culinary class. They’ll be back in Homer at 3,” Kirsten said. “We’ll hold some classes on the deck of the lodge, and continue to develop and refine the boat for our cooking school.”
Each week features a different cuisine theme. This week’s is the Harmony of Japanese cooking. A full schedule for the summer is available at withinthewild.com
The Widgeon II will host a writers retreat from Sept. 2-5, led by bestselling author of “Devotion,” Dani Shapiro.

HOMER TRIBUNE/Naomi Klouda - Sarah Schabel show RusticWild shop, which Schabel manages.

HOMER TRIBUNE/Naomi Klouda - Sarah Schabel show RusticWild shop, which Schabel manages.

The Dixons also opened a shop on the Homer Spit to help coordinate visits to the lodge and offer a new line of products, called RusticWild. The two-story shop is tucked away by Ramp one, just behind Munchroom Cafe west of the Salty Dawg.
RusticWild goes along with the motif of the cooking school on a misty ship, and relaxing stays at a lodge where the day’s agenda might be yoga and a kayak ride, then a massage. It is a home goods boutique that reflects the Within the Wild Adventure Company lifestyle and its seaside home, Kirsten said. “Many of these products we use at our lodges,” she said. It opened May 5 on the Spit, which is the departure point for folks headed to the company’s Tutka Bay Lodge, a 30-minute water taxi ride across Kachemak Bay.
 “Our store is our first venture into retail. It’s a personal collection of objects that we enjoy,” Dixon said. These include organic bath products, gardening seed collections, Japanese glass floats, linens from France, and natural gourmet foods, such as kale chips.
The Dixons operate three lodges, including Tutka Bay Lodge. The year-round Winterlake Lodge is located on the Iditarod Trail, 125 miles south of McGrath. Redoubt Bay Lodge is at the entrance to Lake Clark, across Cook Inlet from Homer. Each of the lodges offer visitors different opportunities, such as geology explorations and sport fishing at Redoubt, and tundra explorations at Winterlake. Guests tend to circulate between all three.
The Dixons bought Tutka Bay from Nelda and Jon Osgood, the long-time owners who also took national honors for their seaside lodge. The Dixons weren’t looking for a lodge to buy at the time, but found themselves liking the many possibilities.
Running lodges has become a lifestyle for the Dixons. Kirsten came to Alaska in 1979 to work as an intensive care nurse for the Alaska Native Medical Center. After she married Carl, the two decided they wanted to live closer to nature. In 1982, they sold their Anchorage home and moved to the Yetna River where they built a cabin and decided to open a lodge. At the same time, or soon after, Kirsten began to more deeply pursue an interest in the culinary arts, which went along with being a lodge host. She graduated from the Le Cordon Bleu Culinary school in Paris, the same one Julia Child attended. One winter when Kirsten was in Boston, she located Julia’s name in the phone book and gave her a call. That was the first of a many-year friendship. Kirsten prepared the meal for Julia Child’s 80th birthday.
“It wasn’t so easy in those days (the mid ‘80s) to find good cook books. Many were copied from somewhere else or listed recipes that weren’t accurate,” Dixon said. “The practice then was to find a chef and go to learn from him or her, spend time in their kitchen.”
This realization inspired two well-packed cook books by Dixon, “The Riversong Lodge Cookbook,” and “The Winterlake Lodge Cookbook.” With daughter Mandy Dixon, also a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, Dixon will be coming out with a third cookbook soon. Mandy, along with sister Carly, help run the family lodge operations.
Alaska has its own vibrant culinary story to tell, Dixon notes, and she works native ingredients into her menus. She follows the creed of buying local as much as possible and raises gardens at all her lodges.
“Each lodge is in its own micro climate, so there are different stages of growing activity in each place,” Dixon said.

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Posted by on Jun 15th, 2011 and filed under Feature. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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