People Who Inspire Us:

La Baleine Cafe’s Mandy Dixon

This is the beginning of a new monthly series in which we introduce you to people we meet while traveling who sweep us off our feet by things they are doing in big and small areas of the country.

TutkaBay801SWPart of our team met Mandy Dixon on our first Alaskan adventure last year about this time. We were excited to enjoy the luxury resort Winterlake Lodge, near Anchorage. This remote destination proved to be one of the most relaxing stays I’ve ever experienced.

Mandy and her family own and operate Winterlake Lodge and Tutka Bay Lodge. Both locations are truly the way to experience Alaska: gourmet meals, massages, local activities, and plush cabins. At least that is how this city girl did it!

At Winterlake Lodge, Mandy amazed us with her delectable recipes that were full of flavor and plated beautifully. She did have a good role model. Her mother, Kirsten Dixon, is a chef known and respected around the world. Our stay was incredible on its own, but the delicious cuisine created with so much love and passion was truly memorable.

We met Mandy once again on our second journey to Alaska over the summer–this time at her restaurant in Homer. Not surprisingly, La Baleine Cafe was packed the rainy day we were there. No
rain was going to keep customers away from enjoying the handcrafted recipes that utilize many of the area’s freshest ingredients.

Mandy and her Mom are very humble–another trait that makes you love them even more. Get to know Mandy below, and then try some of her favorite recipes she shares with us.

Tell us a little about your restaurant
The La Baleine Cafe [French for the whale] is a small upscale, casual cafe that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week from the first week of May to the first week of September. It sits on the harbor side of Homer Spit, a lively wharf area in the small seaside town of Homer. We have been open in Homer for two summers now, going into our third season. We serve mostly organic cuisine, all hand prepared. 

Why did you choose Homer to open a restaurant?
A few years before I opened La Baleine, my family bought a wilderness lodge called Tutka Bay Lodge across the bay from Homer. Although we’ve mostly lived inland, we wanted to explore the maritime culture of Alaska. We looked at several seaside communities and settled on the vibrant and energetic community of Homer. 

What is your specialty?
We look at the food products of Alaska first and foremost. Seafood is the biggest star on our menu, but we always want to serve hearty cuisine for the hard-working fishermen that come from the working boats in the harbor. 

What makes your restaurant unique?
There’s nothing pretentious about our food. We cook with authenticity and integrity. We are mostly organic and local market driven on our menu items, which makes sourcing time-consuming but worth it. We keep prices as low as we can to appeal to locals and not take advantage of tourists. 

Favorite items on the menu?
Our homemade ramen noodles served with local veggies in a savory broth with halibut or salmon. Also our hearty breakfast musher meal, inspired by the meal we serve dog mushers along the Iditarod trail in the winter.

Favorite items to work with? What local products do you use in your dishes?
Alaska has so many incredible food ingredients we call our own. We have some of the best honey in the world. Alaska gardens are known for potatoes, cabbage, beets, sweet carrots, rhubarb, and lots of other vegetables. Our Pacific seafood, of course, including wild Alaska salmon, black cod, halibut, cod, and others. We grow remarkable vegetables throughout the summer and have wild berries such as blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and salmonberries everywhere from mid-July on. One of my favorite ingredients to work with is the rhubarb. We like to bake with it (pies, Danishes, muffins, breakfast bars) and make ice cream, sauces, and jams, as well as savory chutneys and sauces for meat dishes.

What do you want customers to say when they leave your restaurant?
People love the atmosphere at the café–it’s convivial, inclusive, and small-town friendly. Everyone loves the food. We have regulars now, which is so great for us– people who plan to meet their friends on Friday mornings throughout the summer at the La Baleine. We want our customers to say they trust us, they know we care about them, and they’ll be back. 

Alaska Salmon Burgers
We often use salmon “spoon meat” (the extra meat scraped from the bones of a filleted whole salmon with a spoon) for our burgers. This is a healthy alternative to “burger night.” Makes 4 ¼-pound salmon burgers
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  1. 1 pound sockeye salmon fillet
  2. 1/8 cup chopped cilantro
  3. 1/8 cup thinly sliced green onion
  4. Juice of half a lime
  5. 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  6. 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  7. ½ teaspoon sesame oil
  8. 1 pinch smoked paprika
  9. 1 each shallot
  10. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  11. Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Dice half of the salmon into a medium dice. Puree the other half in a food processor. Combine in a medium glass bowl. Add the cilantro, green onion, lime juice, soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, and smoked paprika.
  2. Slice the shallot into thin slices. Put into sauté pan with butter over low heat until the shallot caramelizes and browns. Once at a preferred caramel color, let cool slightly, then add to salmon. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Patty the burger into 4 (or more) round patties, and chill until ready to grill.
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Dark Chocolate Blackberry Tart
When we photographed this recipe, the entire office ate it immediately after the photo was taken. It can be dressed up with different fruits and garnishes. We like to combine dried and fresh fruits. Makes 1 tart
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For the Crust
  1. 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  2. 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  3. 1 large egg yolk
  4. 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  5. 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Chocolate Filling
  1. 12 ounces dark chocolate 70% (about 2 cups chopped)
  2. 1 cup heavy cream
  3. 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  4. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  5. 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  6. 2 egg yolks
  7. 1/2 cup sour cream
To assemble
  1. 4 tablespoons blackberry jam
  2. 1 pint (2 cups) ripe blackberries, gently rinsed and laid out on a towel to dry
  3. ½ cup dehydrated blackberries
  1. For the Crust: Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Pulse the butter and sugar in a food processor fitted with a metal blade until combined. Add the egg yolk, and pulse a few times more. Add the flour and salt, and process just until the dough holds together when you press it between your fingers. Knead the dough briefly to bring all ingredients together. Then press it into a flat disk about 6 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
  3. Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface to a 1/8-inch thickness. Roll the dough circle up onto the rolling pin, and unroll it over an ungreased 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Center dough, and press firmly into bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the top by rolling a rolling pin over the edges.
  4. Bake tart shell on te middle rack of the oven until crust is light golden brown, 20 minutes. Set pan on a rack to cool.
  5. For the Filling: Place chocolate in a medium mixing bowl.
  6. Bring cream, sugar, and salt to a full, rolling boil in a medium saucepan. Pour boiling cream over chocolate, and let it sit a few seconds to begin melting. Then stir gently with a whisk just until chocolate is smooth. Whisk in butter, about a tablespoon or two at a time, until each piece is incorporated. Whisk in egg yolks until smooth. Fold in sour cream.
  7. To Assemble: Spread the jam evenly onto bottom of tart shell. Pour filling into tart shell, and top with both fresh and dehydrated berries. Set tart aside at room temperature, uncovered, until it is completely cooled and softly set, about 1 hour.
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