Long gone are the days of Camp Denali’s cooks producing three-course meals over a Coleman two-burner stove. Nowadays, Camp Denali and North Face Lodge have two professional kitchens and a full-time bakery with all the equipment and expertise necessary to produce and serve some of the best food in Alaska.
At Camp Denali, our kitchen and dining room are located in Potlatch III, remodeled in 2008 to nearly twice the square footage as its predecessor. Additional equipment allows us to produce a more refined product. The Camp kitchen is where the baking is done for both lodges.
At North Face Lodge, the kitchen space is smaller, but equally equipped. The majority of our food storage is in a refrigerated, walk-in root cellar located near the Greenhouse. The kitchen was remodeled in 1989 and has a feeling not unlike your home kitchen.
It takes the hard work of ten people each day to keep both kitchens running throughout the summer. Each position is a piece of the larger puzzle of Camp Denali and North Face Lodge.
Our baker produces from scratch all the breads, desserts, cookies, and breakfast pastries for both lodges every day. Camp Denali guests may be drawn to the sliding window that looks in from the dining room to the bakery, where you can watch the bakers hand form loaves of multigrain bread, smell the focaccia baking in the oven, or catch a glimpse of flaky hand made croissants being slid onto cooling racks. We use sourdough starters, kept alive lovingly through the winter, for our exceptional Alaska sourdough dinner bread and sourdough pancakes. Every week we scoop and bake hundreds (perhaps thousands!) of cookies, from chocolate chip to crunchy peanut butter and soft oatmeal raisin. When we have downtime, we head out into the tundra and pick blueberries for our blueberry coffeecake, or lingonberries for a berry coulis. With promises of extra bowls after guest dinner, we recruit staff members to help us hand churn ice cream for the evening’s dessert.
Rising every day at 3:30 a.m. the breakfast cook is the first person you meet if you come into the lodge for coffee before the morning alpenglow. The breakfast cook works alone for the first few hours of their shift, slicing fruit, chopping herbs for a garnish, and cracking eggs for the cheese and herb soufflé. Last year, we used over 25,000 eggs (about 250 per day!), so they have their work cut out for them.
Closer to service, they begin flipping sourdough pancakes on our griddle, or warming up zucchini-ginger muffins, and making fresh pots of coffee. When it’s time for service, the breakfast cook introduces the breakfast meal. After guest breakfast, the cook prepares breakfast for staff. Other daily tasks ensue, such as roasting meats or mixing sweet and salty trail mix for lunch line, or helping to organize our root cellar for the afternoon delivery of produce.
The assistant cook is a critical part of our kitchen team. Everyday, he or she starts the day by helping the breakfast cook plate the meal and ensure it reaches the table as quickly as possible. Immediately after, all the food and cutlery needed to set up lunch line is gathered. Cookies are piled high on platters. Greenhouse sprouts are mounded into serving bowls.
As soon as you have chosen a hike for the day, the assistant cook and naturalist guides set up the lunch line. After cleaning up the lunch line, he or she starts making the sandwich spread for the following day— arugula walnut pesto with Greenhouse arugula or savory romesco spread. When the dinner cooks arrives at 9:00 a.m., they discuss the prep for the evening’s meal: making a blueberry vinaigrette for the salad, dividing broccoli and cauliflower into florets for roasting, or helping portion Alaska salmon filets.
After an afternoon break, the assistant cook returns to the kitchen to plate up the salad. Dinner service comes next, pouring the au jus just so over the meat, wiping drips off the plate rims, and sending the dinner servers out the door with your steaming dinner plates. Slicing the cheesecake and drizzling each with lingonberry coulis is next, topping each with an edible viola grown on site, and finally cleaning up the kitchen so everything is ready for the next day’s crew.
Beginning at the late hour (by Camp Denali and North Face Lodge standards) of 9 a.m., the dinner cook has a full day ahead of them. After consulting with the hosts to get the dinner count and any information about dietary needs, the dinner cook heads to the root cellar to see what vegetables just arrived from Rosie Creek Farm. A trip to the Greenhouse, to gather more parsley for the chimichurri steak sauce, or to get cherry tomatoes for the pure Alaskan dinner salad, may be in order. The day is spent dicing, slicing, and prepping the other elements of guest and staff dinner with the help of the assistant cook.
At 5:30 p.m., it's staff dinner. For some people, this is the end of a full day of work, but for the dinner cook, the busiest part of the day is beginning. After our guests are comfortably seated, it’s time to plate up the salad or ladle out the soup topped with garnish. Then it’s on to the entrée. Working with the assistant cook and the kitchen helper, the three set up an assembly line of warm plates and all the components of the dinner. The food is artfully arranged on the plates, topped with microgreens from our greenhouse, and handed off to the servers to bring to our guests. After the last plate has been brought out, the dinner cook feeds any stragglers among the staff who have just returned from hikes, or are simply hungry for leftovers. After plating the dessert, the dinner cook leaves the kitchen impeccably clean for the breakfast cook the following morning.
Last, but certainly not least, are the staff members from all our departments (housekeepers, naturalist guides, operations crew, as well as kitchen staff) who don a bandanna and work as kitchen helpers. They are responsible for the crucial and nitty gritty tasks of dishwashing, garbage removal, and keeping the kitchens clean.
The kitchen helper arrives at 6 a.m. and assists the breakfast cook. Then it’s off to the dish pit, where the next several hours are spent washing dishes, scrubbing walls, washing windows, deep-cleaning shelving, and generally helping out wherever necessary. Cleanliness is one of the keys to our success at Camp Denali and North Face Lodge. Mid-morning, the kitchen helper might help the baker scoop and freeze mounds of cookie dough, churn ice cream with the assistant cook for dessert, or grind coffee beans (in 2012 we went through 700 pounds of coffee!).