Meyers Chuck, Alaska
I've saved the best for last.
Meyers Chuck was the pinnacle of my entire tour of the Inside Passage. Not just because it was the quintessential seaside Alaskan coastal fishing village. Nor because, right out of a Northern Exposure episode, the postmaster was also the same woman who made our group 16 pies. Not the quirky locals, the warm community welcome, or the fact that all the fish used in our feast was outright donated by the local fishermen.
No, Meyers Chuck was the pinnacle of my entire trip because it offered up to me the ultimate chef challenge. My job? To arrive in Meyers Chuck, sight unseen, and within 2 hours, with the help of Tomi Marsh, Amy Grondin and our generous hosts Greg and Rebecca, serve 50 people a seafood buffet fit for kings and queens.
As soon as we dropped the anchor, I was dinghied over to Tomi's boat, inspected the boxes of halibut and Stikine king salmon, grabbed the other provisions and, along with my ingredients, equipment and generous helpers, made our way over to the outdoor kitchen to begin our preparations.
A view of the workshop, outdoor kitchen and raised bed gardens. You can see the wood fire starting to burn right in the middle of the shot. In the middle raised bed, later in the evening, we watched as an anemic mink stumbled around looking for food. I threw it a piece of geoduck. Turns out minks love geoduck.
It's always a challenge to learn how to cook in a new space. My particular challenge for cooking for this event was compounded by my lack of time and unfamiliarity with the venue. Add to that, I would be steaming some fish in a jury-rigged wok set-up, roasting the fish in a blazing hot outdoor bread oven and grilling some fish over an open wood fire pit. Each of these stations were as far apart from the other as possible, 3 points on a triangle with all the guests milling about the middle.
I quickly delegated and found a confident looking local. "You're in charge of the wood fire," I told him. "Whatever you do, don't overcook the salmon. Oh, and thank you!"
I needed to rotate the trays in the bread oven, left to right, front to back, every minute for a speedy 3-4 minute cooking time. It might have been 550-600 degrees in that oven. Then I would run around to the kitchen and check on the steaming fish in the rickety wok. Of course, everyone had questions for me and one of my usual challenges with cooking and teaching is to balance friendliness and education with the chef's surly need to tell people to get the hell out of the way, there's work to be done here people!
As always, the stress is for naught...things always have a way of working out.
Pictured above is Tomi Marsh, the only female captain of a King crab vessel (F/V Savage), and one of the founders of Fishwitches, an Alaskan seafood marketing group that enthusiastically spreads the word to consumers about the pleasures of Alaskan seafood. Tomi has worked in Alaska for 23 years fishing everything from crab in the Bering Sea to salmon in Southeast Alaska. She was trained as an engineer and the lore surrounding her is that she has been known to work on her boat's engine in the middle of 20 foot seas in the Bering Sea. Strangely, most of the men on the tour were uncharacteristically quiet after having a word with Tomi, a brilliant spitfire of a woman.
Rebecca Welti, an incredible artist and gardener, and I getting ready for the feast.
The outdoor bread oven we used for baking foccacia and roasting the fish.
Hijiki and carrot salad with sesame oil, scallions and sesame seeds. I also served a cucumber and wakame salad along with several different preparations of fish: Sake-steamed salmon with soy-ginger glaze, Roasted halibut with a pistachio-garam masala crust, Grilled salmon with lemon-pepper spice, and Steamed salmon with green goddess sauce. Tomi had generously prepared potato salad, geoduck ceviche, boiled spot prawns, and pasta salad.
Greg, Tomi and Rebecca heading off in the skiff.
Greg, aka "Alaska's Renaissance Man", cutting down a large chunk of old growth cedar stump for their handcrafted bowls. Greg carves the stumps into the bowls and then Rebecca finishes them with hand-rubbed color and varnish in her studio. The bowls are works of art; graceful, light, and functional.
Max's sunset pic of Meyers Chuck.
And so, to finish this chapter of the Grand Bank's tour of the Inside Passage, I leave you with this image: A local fisherman had trapped some spot prawns for our feast and had kept them alive in a tank so that we could see them swimming around. Accidentally, he had trapped an octopus in his trap. This, too, he put in the tank for a short time. After the feast was over and all of us had cleaned up, the guests gone back to their boats... several of us walked down to the dock with the octopus in a bucket and with the sun sinking in the sky, we slowly lowered it into the water and watched in awe-struck silence as it glided away, opening and closing, undulating in liquid ripples towards the safety of the dock.
Meyers Chuck props to: Amy Grondin, who works for Pacific Marine Conservation Council, connecting fishermen to consumers while promoting sustainable seafood. Amy was instrumental in providing the connections that brought our group to Meyers Chuck in the first place. Then, unpaid, she flew up, joined our group, helped Tomi cook, helped clean my dishes and even spoke to the whole group about PMCC, sustainability and eating locally. Amy, you rock sister!