• Pastry chef Mandy Dixon takes second at Great Alaska Seafood Competition
By Sean Pearson
Is your seafood social conscience bothering you? Feel like you’re just not doing enough for the world with your dolphin-safe tuna? Executive pastry chef Mandy Dixon can help out with that. Just last Thursday, she officially opened the doors to her family’s new seaside café, La Baleine, on the Homer Spit. And, thanks to the edible pairings of Dixon and her co-owner/chef and mother Kirsten, you can enjoy a down-home gourmet meal while helping keep Cook Inlet waters pristine.
Under the umbrella “Within the Wild Adventure Company,” the Dixons own and operate the Tutka Bay and Winterlake lodges, as well as a home boutique and the Tutka Bay Cooking School. The family feels a strong need to not only serve dishes made by locally sourced and grown Kachemak Bay ingredients, but also find a way to serve the community by giving back more than just food.
“We have a long history of cooking, and it’s always been something we’ve enjoyed,” said Kirsten Dixon of her family’s food-friendly background. “Homer has such a strong water presence, we wanted to find a way to help protect Cook Inlet habitat.”
The solution was to donate a percentage of the cafe’s proceeds to Cook Inletkeeper, thereby indirectly supporting the whales of Kachemak Bay.
Hence the name, “la baleine,” which is French for the whale.
“The cafe kind of acts as our Homer-side base, and we love being a part of the maritime atmosphere,” Kirsten said of the Spit location. “All the fishermen and fishing boats are right here in our backyard, and we try to buy all local fish. You can’t get seafood much fresher than that.”
Dixon said if a specific ingredient is not available from Kachemak Bay, they at least make sure it’s all Alaska seafood.
And, while everyone knows Alaska seafood is the freshest and highest in quality, Dixon’s youngest daughter and chef Mandy takes that seafood to an even higher level. She recently finished second in the 2013 Great Alaska Seafood Competition in Anchorage on May 8.
Dixon and her assistant, Neil Lippincott, squared off against five other professional Alaska chefs from Anchorage and Seward.
Dishes offered for the competition had to be completed in one hour, and Dixon called the process, “quite intense.”
“The hardest part was having to do all the hand-cutting of ingredients, as no prep work is allowed,” Mandy explained. “I was shocked to win second place, and the judges gave me some excellent feedback.”
Dixon’s entry consisted of hand-cut ramen noodles with sea broth, king salmon, spot shrimp toast, salmon bacon and king crab beignets.
“The judges kept telling me that if I had made some minor changes and ‘tweaked’ my dishes a bit more, I would have won,” she said. “They strongly encouraged me to come back and compete again next year.”
As it were, Seward chef Kevin Lane took the top spot.
Mandy Dixon grew up in lodges amid a family that “enjoys feeding people” and “loves all things culinary.”
When she graduated high school, like many teens, Mandy had no idea what direction to take in life. Some gentle prodding from her mother steered her to the famous Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Pasadena, Calif. It was the same school her mom, Kirsten, had attended in the past.
Four years later, in 2006, Mandy enrolled in the intensive pastry program at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif. During school and following her graduation, she worked as a pastry chef for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, and was a featured chef at the James Beard House in New York. She returned to the family business in 2010.
“I have always enjoyed cooking,” Mandy explained. “For some reason, I just ‘clicked’ with the classic French teachings.”
Armed with ingredients from the Homer Farmer’s Market, as well as other locally produced ingredients, La Baleine Café will feature a frittata of the day made with fresh veggies, Alaska-grown potatoes, thick-cut bacon, homemade ketchup and hearty greens. Another menu highlight, the salmon bowl, features brown rice, roasted root vegetables including beets, seasonal greens and grilled salmon served with a miso ginger dressing.
Cafe hours are 5 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Only breakfast and lunch are served. Kirsten said they are looking to target local Alaskans, as well as the early morning crowd.
“It is a great opportunity for fisherman who want a boxed meal for breakfast or lunch to take with them out on the boat,” she said. “We are very family friendly, reasonably priced and everything is homemade, from scratch.”
The Dixons are testing recipes all summer for their Tutka Bay Lodge cookbook that is due out in 2014.
For more information on the Within the Wild Adventure Company’s remote wilderness lodges and the Cooking School at Tutka Bay, go to www.withinthewild.com.
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