by Kelley Lane for Seward City News-
On a breezy Saturday night in early November, Sewardites and out-of-towners gathered for a celebration “with friends, food, and fermented beverages,” as the Alaska Sea Life Center website described the Beers by the Bay (BBTB) event. The evening boasted an invite-only appetizer chef-off in which chefs from well regarded establishments competed for two prizes. The two award categories were the Judges’ Award, done by blind taste test, and the People’s Choice Award, voted on by attendees. The evening also featured 13 different breweries and distilleries who served up 4 ounce pours of their beer, wine, ciders and artisan sodas. The evening was completed with a dessert challenge with Seward locals competing for Judges’ and People’s Choice Awards.
BBTB serves as an annual fundraiser for the Alaska Sea Life Center. Attendees pay $45 admission for 12 drink tickets as well as servings of each appetizer and dessert. The 250+ attendees, volunteers and judges stand in line to receive one serving of each appetizer and dessert.
Kerry Schutter, sous chef at Seward’s The Cookery restaurant, and her assistant Holly Robinson represented The Cookery at this year’s BBTB event.
Schutter’s appetizer captivated my taste buds and interest from the first taste. It was a brave combination of complementary flavors. Its base was a wheat berry cracker, topped with pork belly jam, followed by layers of coffee cured sablefish and smoked beet puree, and garnished with powdered spinach. The colors and textures were new and unique, excellent examples of how The Cookery plays with common foods to create newness. Nearly a month after BBTB, I was able to connect in person with Schutter and learn about how her wheat berry cracker appetizer came to be.
“Chef [Kevin Lane] and I came up with it together,” said Schutter. Her original goal had been to include at least one ingredient from Alaska. As it turned out, most of the foods ended up being grown and harvested in Alaska. The wheat berries were purchased from a farm in Delta Junction and shipped down via the US Postal Service. Schutter ground the berries into a rough flour by running them through a hand grinder 4-5 times and then finishing them off in a spice grinder. “The whole process took a month’s work,” said Schutter, starting with experimenting with how to make a wheat berry cracker. The pork belly originated from Luna Chick Farm in Kasilof. Schutter slow cooked it in the restaurant’s oven for two work days with korean chili paste. This transformed the texture from pork chunks into a spreadable jam, which sat nicely on top of the cracker. The sablefish was purchased through Resurrection Bay Seafoods, located on Lowell Point Road. Schutter coffee cured the filets for flavor juxtaposition. The smoked beet puree was prepared by peeling and quartering the beets, smoking them, then stovetop boiling them and finally pureeing them for a smooth texture. The finishing touch was a smooth spinach powder, prepared by dehydrating fresh spinach, then running it through a spice grinder. Schutter used a metal sifter to sprinkle a fine powder on top of each individual appetizer.
Schutter grew up in Seward, where she graduated from AVTEC’s culinary program in 2011. Kevin Lane, current co-owner of the Cookery with his wife and business partner, Stacy Lane, was Schutter’s instructor that year. In 2012, Schutter moved to New York to attend the Culinary Institute of America. She pursued and earned two degrees. In the summers, she worked for Chef Lane at The Cookery, enjoying the chance to spend time around her family. Upon graduation in New York, Schutter got in contact with Kevin Lane, asking for a “shot at the sous chef position.” Lane gave her the job and the challenge. She started in her new role this past summer.
The Cookery is something of an anomaly here in Seward. In various circles, I’ve heard multiple people say that they continue to be surprised at how well received it has been. It’s one of only a handful of restaurants that stay open year round, a challenge in Seward’s heavily tourism-oriented economy. It’s “on the border of too fancy for some people,” said Schutter. In an effort to create more comfort and feature Seward’s strengths, the restaurant emphasizes local artwork and creates connections with local farms. In the winter, they offer a wider range of meals, with lunch served Tuesday through Friday. On Saturdays they serve brunch from 10-2. Dinner is served Friday and Saturday nights from 5-9. The Cookery strives to keep local people employed year round. “It builds good morale with the community,” said Schutter.
Schutter’s BBTB prize for her appetizer is a stay at Granite Point Mountain Lodge, located on Resurrection Bay 15 miles from Seward. She’s excited for the chance to see the place for herself. Schutter is a delight to be around, one of those people who emanate gratitude and grace. “I was proud to be representing the Cookery,” said Schutter. Based on the hearty response from the crowd at BBTB when the Cookery was announced as the winner, Seward is proud to claim Schutter and the Cookery as its own. More information about the Cookery can be found at their website: https://www.cookeryseward.com/