Cookin’ Up Experience
A new foodie’s eye on Forest Fair action
“…these days are about wingin’ it and havin’ fun.”
– Blue Ristra owner, S. Hans Paap
By P.M. Fadden
So arrived July’s first weeks, with the season’s days marked by hopes for sun and the imminence of the annual Girdwood Forest Fair [FF].
The annual arts, cuisine-meets-music festival unfurled across three swinging days and nights, drawing thousands beneath the eaves of Girdwood Valley rainforest.
The fair is a keystone date upon the village’s, indeed the state’s, summer calendars and claims a near-army of habitual Forest Fairies so familiar with festivities they could dance through its events walleyed—and they do.
Yet everyone’s a first timer at least once.
Meet 28-year-old Schuyler Hans Paap, owner of food truck Blue Ristra and FF first-timer. Schuyler recently opened Blue Ristra doors to the Gazette, unveiling a fresh eye’s view on the iconic 42nd Girdwood Forest Fair’s action.
Schuyler, you’re no stranger to Girdwood, but let’s open nonetheless with introductions and brief background.
S: “You’ve seen me during winter, but this is my first time living in Alaska as well as first full summer here. I moved to Girdwood in August of ’16 and, over winter, coached snowboarding at Alyeska Resort.”
“As far as the food and beverage work, my start was basic commercial kitchens in Santa Fe, then working in and out of the food industry before landing my first food truck work at Portland, OR.”
What prompted your dedication to food truck work, in particular, and where have we previously seen you parked?
S: “Right now, it’s just a fun, new thing for me as well as my customers. I really wasn’t sure what to do for summer and I figured that a small, cool place like Girdwood might be an ideal location to try a food truck. It’s opportunity for myself, serving New Mexican cookery, to try this business out, see if I enjoy it.”
“So far, Girdwood Brewing Company has been my sole appearance previous to FF.”
Tell us more about Blue Ristra. From where does the truck hail, and what was the thinking behind its modern namesake and motif?
S: “Think of ‘Blue’ as reference to the glacial ice that surrounds what originally was Glacier City, and a ‘Ristra’, which is a hang-drying pepper bunch, is a common item and sight of the New Mexico area. My intent in combining the terms was to represent both where the menu is currently served as well as where its first influences are.”
“And, as far as Blue Ristra is concerned, the motif is fun. I’m offering a personal take on New Mexican creations that in the Southwest already have a passionate following.”
“So far, I feel my attempts to bring that zest for flavor to Girdwood have been successful.”
Whether a vendor or visitor, FF is a big event. Could you share any preconceptions of the festival? When preparing for it, what advisements had you received about what to expect or plan for?
S: “Prior to this summer, the only FF reference I’d seen was Alaska State Troopers televised by some cable network. They were chasing a face-tattooed man in a full-body gorilla costume suspected of selling mushrooms. I saw that and thought, yeah, this could be a pretty interesting time.”
“But mainly I’m sure it’s going to be lots of fun and, in the long-run, a family friendly scene. Originally, my concept was to select multiple locations from which to vend, places where crowds would be gathering for scheduled FF events.”
“That said, I had not really received any suggestion or advisements as to how Blue Ristra might prepare. I just absorbed what I learned along the way and made plans based upon where I thought my menu might be most welcome to public.”
“At the end of the day this was my first time, so I went for it by the seat of my pants, thinking about what I could serve efficiently and well—these days are about wingin’ it and having fun.”
Once the weekend arrived, Blue Ristra was active every day? What were your hours over those three dates?
S: “The opening plan put me in action all day long, over all three days.”
“The primary site was Alyeska Day Lodge, catching what I’d hoped to be large crowds seeking breakfast items pre-parade. Later, secondary location was Sitzmark Bar. Outside a social drinking site made sense and I knew there’d be people passing through as part of FF after-hours enjoyment.”
“Then, close of FF festivities will see Blue Ristra back on site Wednesday at Girdwood Brewing Company.”
So Saturday, in particular, offered Blue Ristra unique positioning with regard to the parade. Talk us through the busy morning.
S: “I’m going full honesty here (lengthy pause with a dry grin). The day was actually not busy at all. In fact, it was dead. Two hours into a day already wet and grey with rain, nobody was even looking toward the truck. So, while a key learning experience, the location was, in a sense, also a complete fail.”
Understood; from that primary location Blue Ristra then repositioned. Share results of that secondary spot.
S: “Right, so as I’d said, Blue Ristra re-parked in front of Sitzmark, remaining there until about 2 a.m.”
“Once there the truck saw some sales. Anything would have been an improvement upon the previous and just getting people stopping by, talking with them and growing interest in Blue Ristra menu gained a lot of ground from that non-starter.
“Again, full honesty, the learning curve had some rough moments, yet that kept the smile up, refreshed the fun of it.”
Fair enough, and shared with appreciated candor. Cheers. So, based upon what you’d observed tell readers then why you think FF continually attracts such larger attendance figures?
S: “Well, the crowds might not have found me, but I see that they’re drawn by the talent of many local vendors and the presence of good food options. And, as always, why wouldn’t you want to be in Girdwood when the weather’s really nice? That’s why we live here, right?”
Stemming from that, is FF important to the small town setting and small business sector? If so, why?
S: “Bringing business to a small town is always good. Income is income. In terms of local artists and entrepreneurs, FF gives them the chance to showcase creative talents and emphasizes feeling enjoyment in their crafts by sharing them with other people. That right there is pretty awesome and I’m not sure there’s really need for more.”
OK, let’s flip the question. What does FF gain from association with small business and small community?
S: “It seems that those relationships, that sharing, gains FF traction to grow as a fair. Collaborating with localized business, in general, is certainly a draw for FF. It’s mutually beneficial.”
Well, whether veteran or novice, continued learning is hopefully something we all strive for, so based upon what you have learned, what would Blue Ristra have done differently?
S: “Location, location, location; that and having learned to better gauge overstock levels as result of location miscues. Serve as close as possible to FF grounds proper or, for me personally, take the weekend off to just enjoy this great fair.”
“End of the day, it’s about everyone attending a happy, safe Forest Fair. I’m appreciative for the experience and offer special thanks to everyone who paid a visit to the valley and Blue Ristra. We’ll see you next time.”