Denali-area eatery offers high-concept cuisine
A working chef in Alaska has been associated with some of the nation's top culinary honors, as her restaurant serves food symbolic of the Last Frontier.
Laura Cole has been featured on the television show Top Chef. She's been nominated twice for a James Beard award for best chef in the Northwest.
Cole's restaurant is 229 Parks, named for the mile marker on the Parks Highway. It's just down the road from Denali National Park. Cole built the restaurant 15 years ago almost since it opened, people have been seeking it out.
"We are sold out every night," said Cole. "And we are really proud of our reservation books. We take phone numbers for reservations, and most (of their area codes) are 907s."
Cole believes in serving food that is fresh and local. She said she tries to keep her dollars in-state to help strengthen the local economy.
"We work with farmers, ranchers, fishermen," Cole said. "We really feel strongly that there has to be a component on every dish that we present that comes from Alaska."
Cole's food has always been interesting, but over the years, she said, her menu has evolved.
"When I initially opened, the menu was a lot simpler to give people an opportunity to get to know me and my style of cooking and trust that I'm going to push the envelope."
She said customers seem more comfortable now ordering dishes some would find unusual.
"Where they are willing to go out on a limb that they weren't willing to go out on before," Cole said.
Reindeer ragout is on Cole's menu.
"It's one of the few sustainably ranched meats in Alaska and I feel lucky and privileged to be able to have access to it," said Cole.
Another dish from Cole's kitchen, a reindeer liver pate, comes with a "shrub" of fresh rhubarb on top and pickled grapes and mustard on the side.
Good food is often wasted, Cole said, and she strives to use the whole animal in her kitchen. That means halibut fillets are prepared as an entree. But she also deep-fries halibut and salmon skin to make a tasty appetizer that is served on a plate with a side of salmon roe.
Cole said her passion is to help people appreciate all that Alaska has to offer. She said her restaurant strives to be a place that both nurtures and nourishes all who walk through its doors.
Food sustainability is the focus of Harvesting Alaska. Below is a recipe for a tomato basil soup with wild Alaska shrimp made by Mary Smith and Jessica Stugelmayer with Edible Alaska.
For the full recipe, visit the Edible Alaska website.
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