Alaska is famous for its wildlife, scenery and charming rural towns. But if you know where to look, the state is also full of under-the-radar cooking classes and culinary gems where you can recreate famous roadhouse pies, prepare fresh-from-the-ocean seafood, or even bake a loaf of ethically sourced bread.
If having a mother-daughter team of Le Cordon Bleu-trained chefs running the Tutka Bay Cooking School isn’t impressive enough, consider the setting: A dry-docked World War II-era troop ship located in an isolated cove, a half-hour boat ride away from the small town of Homer.
That troop ship, the Widgeon II, is your cooking school; and the dishes you’ll create are equally grounded in the chefs’ broad knowledge of world cuisine and the finest seasonal, local ingredients. And if you’re not quite ready to head back to civilization, the family’s remote Tutka Bay Wilderness Lodge is located just a short walk away.
Breathtaking views of 20,310’ Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley) and a healthy serving of quirky, small-town charm may be what initially draws visitors to the small community of Talkeetna, Alaska. But it’s the famous pies at the Talkeetna Roadhouse that will inspire you to pull up a chair and stay a while (or at least long enough for another serving).
If you’re already dreading the idea of being without those pies when you leave, there’s a solution. Book your visit to coincide with one of the roadhouse’s pie-making classes, and you’ll learn how to create the same delicious desserts at home. And if that’s not enough roadhouse goodness for you, sign up for mail delivery of their equally famous ginger-molasses cookies.
If your travels take you up the Inside Passage to Skagway, make sure you leave room (both in your itinerary and your stomach) to prepare your own organic four-course meal at Alaskan Garden Gourmet. Class is in session as soon as you harvest the ingredients from the garden, and you’ll create a fresh, Alaska-inspired specialty such as smoked salmon linguine pasta or halibut chowder. And when you leave, you’ll take the recipe along with you as well as a packet of seeds to grow your own ingredients.
The Fire Island Rustic Bakeshops in Anchorage may not have achieved worldwide renown (yet), but they’re beloved by locals for their range of tasty baked goods made from ethical, sustainable and often local ingredients. They also offer hands-on workshops for bread baking and other useful skills like smoking meats and making stocks and broth. You may not be an Alaskan homesteader, but the bakeshop’s classes are a fun way to connect with the locals and create your own edible souvenirs.
Juneau is a capital city like no other: You can only get there by plane or boat, and the main attractions include a massive glacier, the massive mountains looming over downtown, and opportunities to see humpback whales bubble net feeding en masse. But for the culinary-minded, you can also pay a visit to Chez Alaska and enjoy a delicious lunch of salmon and reindeer, Alaska-style. The meal is cooked in front of you (with one lucky guest playing assistant to the chef), so you can take plenty of notes to recreate the same flavors at home.
Okay, this slice of Alaska probably won’t make it all the way home with you. But if your flight happens to be routed through the small island community of Sitka, you can snag a slice of the best pie in Southeast Alaska without leaving the airport. You will have to leave the plane, though, and quickly duck into the Nugget Restaurant. Savvy travelers know they usually have enough time to grab a “to go” slice and head back through security. And some clever locals deliberately book themselves on the daily “milk run” flight which makes several stops in small communities, including Sitka, just so they can grab a slice of Nugget’s delicious pie.