In Alaska, where the short growing season for produce is offset by the sheer abundance of the world’s freshest salmon and halibut, Nancy Alip began mastering her culinary skills by age 16.
Though she dismisses the notion that she was a natural cook, Alip caught the cooking bug as a teenager and never looked back. Her career since 2002 taken her from line-cook to co-owner, and finally to becoming full owner of Jens’ Restaurant in 2016.
“My family has been in Alaska since my great-grandfather came up from Illinois to work on the Alaska Highway,” Alip says. “Alaska is a pretty tight community, and that has been a blessing … and because of it we have a really supportive and loyal clientele.”
Even in the face of challenges brought on by escalating costs, Alip is optimistic that the longstanding Anchorage gem she now owns will continue to plate dishes that draw crowds. In this week’s Q&A interview with Boxerbrand’s blog Recipe for Success, we caught up with Alip.
Boxerbrand: How did you become a chef?
Nancy Alip: I was not a natural talent, but I started cooking when I was 16, and developed a real interest in it. After high school, I got my culinary degree in Portland, Ore., before returning to Alaska to work for Jens,’ which was opened in 1988 and run by Chef Jens Hansen and his wife Annelise.
Boxerbrand: What is your secret for stretching ingredients culled from a short Alaskan growing season?
Nancy Alip: We incorporate mushrooms into our platings and with our wild-forged produce, we dry them ourselves so we can rehydrate them through the months, using them in our sauces in soups. We also make and preserve our own red currant jelly, which we use throughout the year.
We’ve also taken advantage of the availability of locally grown livestock, which is a great advantage to this region. We recently brought in a half a pig, butchered it here for pate’ and also made our own house-smoked bacon, which we incorporate into some dishes.
Boxerbrand: How are you accommodating higher costs?
Nancy Alip: Because we use ingredients from micro-farmers and go very local with as much as we can, we’re able to offer fresher, more creative fare at a lower carbon footprint, and shipping cost. Through micro-farms we’re able to get Elk, Yak and Alaska-raised Bison. But shipping is a concern. Alaska relies on the transportation of foods on barges, trucks or by air.
Boxerbrand: What is your niche?
Nancy Alip: We specialize in fresh Alaskan seafood, with the halibut and salmon being our most popular seafoods that we serve. There’s a real advantage to being so close to the famous Copper River. But, besides proximity, we’re also able to get line-caught salmon, which is a gentler method than traditional catches with nets. The fish doesn’t get damaged on the line, the way it can when caught in a haul in a net.
Boxerbrand: What is your signature dish?
Nancy Alip: We have a halibut with mushroom in a white-wine sauce that we’ve had on the menu for 34 years. It’s our signature dish. We lightly brown a halibut filet, and then sauté mushrooms, and make the sauce in the pan. We then add the fish back into the pan so it simmers. The result is the fish has a great flavor and a very delicate texture. Jens’ Restaurant of Anchorage, Ala. uses Boxerbrand menu covers in its table presentation. Thank you!