Tasting the Chugach
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Three days of fine food and drink is a lot to take in, yet certainly worth the effort. So many different flavors caress the palate. Tastes move in delightful blur through a variety of food themed events. And then it’s time to wake up and do it all again.
Bite of the Chugach, a series of culinary events, had its inaugural launch this past weekend. Many hope it is the beginning of annual returns. Held at Alyeska Resort, the event was also co-sponsored by the new lifestyle quarterly Chugach Living Magazine (CLM) and Visit Anchorage.
CLM Publisher John Ragozzino explained the event’s concept over lunch from the new menu at Girdwood Picnic Club. He has experience putting on such events, and four months of planning went into organizing this weekend. After starting the magazine, Ragozzino approached Alyeska Resort and found a willing partner.
“I like to eat wherever I can and enjoy all of the locally sourced, sustainable ingredient foods,” Ragozzino said. “I took that concept from an event I had done in Oregon called a Bite of Eugene. I was able to develop a newer, smaller concept at Alyeska Resort to showcase the events’ culinary community that exists up here in Alaska.”
CLM also used the event to begin distributing its second issue to the public. Ragozzino was clearly excited about the potential for Bite of the Chugach and what it offers for attendees.
“It’s a cool opportunity because there are not a lot of times where you get chefs to compete against each other and you get to be the one who makes the decision,” Ragozzino said. “I can’t think of another time where this great lineup of restaurants got to be working against each other to try to give the best bite. I’ve seen the competitive spirit come out in them. They’re not just pulling out menu items. They’re pulling out their full quiver of everything they have available. They’re out to impress, and that’s pretty exciting.”
Bite of the Chugach kicked off Friday with a Bore Tide VIP Party at the top of the tram, which featured charcuterie, cheeses, hummus, pickled vegetables and a couple of drink tickets. Ava Earl was on the small stage singing and strumming guitar. It was an enjoyable, low-key start to the weekend’s tastings.
Saturday morning began with Bubbles and Bacon. Alyeska had a table with a number of types of locally sourced bacon, raw oysters, and pesto baked oysters. Drink tickets could be used to get champagne, prosecco, brut rose or select wines and beers. The bartenders provided helpful pairing suggestions.
In addition, Elim Café, Girdwood Picnic Club (GPC) and House of Bread each provided a small, flavorful sample. Elim Café had what it called a country benedict, comprised of a small, flaky biscuit with chorizo gravy and jalapeno bacon, topped with a poached quail egg. The flavors were rich, concentrated and slightly spicy. The quail egg added a pleasant contrast.
Maple bacon scones offered by House of Bread were studded with Alaska bacon and baked with a small slice on top. They were packed with flavor and light in density.
GPC provided maple bacon baklava, which was rich with butter and minced bacon. Cloves, ginger and cinnamon gave a pleasant boost tempered by honey and maple syrup. GPC owner Raleigh Hill explained that the baklava was made especially for Bubbles and Bacon and is not an item typically available at GPC.
“It’s a sweet and savory course,” Hill said. “Jenny, our head baker and chef de jour–and so many other titles–baked all of these things today. It’s the kind of offering you might find at the Picnic Club, but our schtick is mixing it up a lot. It’s not something you’d find every day. It’s special for this event.”
Hill was excited to show GPC’s versatility and increase awareness about it.
“We’re hoping to show the creativity we bring to the table,” Hill said. “Since we opened, we’re doing things that are different for us and different for Girdwood. Hopefully it’s another example of that, pushing the envelope for ourselves and trying something new. If you know about the Girdwood Picnic Club, you know we’re on our eighth menu in a little over a year. Trying new things is what we are about.”
Saturday’s Food Truck Party began early on the afternoon of a gorgeous fall day at Girdwood. Street Pizza had a selection of slices while Boomba Laddy’s offered samples of chicken teriyaki and mac and cheese as well as a full menu. The beer of the afternoon was Girdwood Brewing Company’s award winning No Woman No Cryo IPA.
The evening’s Gourmet Slider Competition was the highlight of the weekend. Seven area restaurants offered a slider each, including some genre stretching interpretations. Steve Norwood played a solo, acoustic set that fit well with the occasion.
Judges for the event were attendees who then voted for their favorite by placing a green spoon in a metal cylinder at the restaurant’s station. The top three finishers were separated only by a couple of votes.
Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ (TAP) scored first place with its bahn mi slider, and it was awesome. Bahn mi is a Vietnamese sandwich, and the version served was a barbecue interpretation.
“We did a Vietnamese rub on the pork belly,” said TAP owner Jack Goodsell. “We cut it in strips and smoked it for a few hours. Then we put a glaze on it and put it back in the smoker for another hour.”
Using slider buns smeared with dab of Asian aioli, the sandwich is built on a base of thin slices of very tender pork and topped with a slaw of carrot, red onion and daikon radish. The slider is crowned with chopped basil and cilantro, which adds an irresistible touch of freshness. The combination of varied flavors melded into a mixture of smoke, seasoning, pickled veggies and herbs.
Fat Ptarmigan came in second with its meatball slider on a Hawaiian sweet roll. The meatball was tender, very tasty and topped with a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese. The tomato sauce married flavors together nicely.
Alyeska’s Seven Glaciers took third place with its braised duck slider. CLM’s Ragozzino may have described it best as “reduckulous.”
Alyeska Resort Chef de Cuisine Jorge Villareal described the sandwich, stating, “We have a chocolate rye roll with braised duck, brandy cherry tomato marmalade, dressed arugula and duck skin cracklings on top of it all.”
The flavorful bun offsets the richness of the shredded duck and duck cracklings. Arugula adds a crisp, herby counterpoint. The cracklings are full of deep flavor and slightly salty. A mildly-oaked Malbec was an excellent pairing that offered in intriguing contrast to the duck.
Alyeska’s sushi restaurant, Sakura, offered an interesting slider interpretation by serving coffee and chili rubbed albacore, lightly seared and topped with a mole poblano sauce, a yuzu jalapeno slaw inside a nori togarashi bun.
Glacier Brewhouse/Orso served Cuban sliders with roasted pork belly, Paris Bakery brioche buns, smoked gouda, roasted pineapple, chili peppers, prosciutto and salsa fresca. Glacier Bowl and Poke served nuggets of delicately seasoned tuna atop a burger-sized patty of rice. Midnight Sun Brewing Company offered a chicken and waffles slider.
Bite of the Chugach concluded Sunday morning with a Breakfast and Bloody Mary Party. Alyeska provided a breakfast taco bar, fruit, smoothies and pastries. The main attraction was the build your own Bloody Mary. After choosing from an array of seasoned salts for the glass rim, attendees were instructed to hold the glass at the bottom of an ice luge to capture the vodka the bartender was pouring from the top.
The fun continued by choosing a mild or spicy mix and an assortment of fixings to top the drink. From king crab legs, shrimp and bacon strips, to olives, cheese cubes and pickled asparagus, each drink was a meal in itself. It was surprising how many items people could stack on their breakfast Bloody Mary, which was a fine compliment to the breakfast taco bar and its variety of salsas.
The first Bite of the Chugach showed promise for future returns. Organizers were discussing what they learned from the experience and how they can fine tune future events.
The exciting development bodes well for the area’s culinary scene.