Denali Dispatch

It is our pleasure to present Denali Dispatch, a journal of the goings-on at Camp Denali.


Written by members of our staff, Denali Dispatch is an opportunity to peek into life in Denali: notable events, wildlife sightings, conservation topics, recipes from our kitchen, and insights into the guest experience at Camp Denali. Denali Dispatch will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.

A Pinch of Recipe Planning, a Cup of Bulk Ordering, and a Whole Lot of Heart: Preparing for Fine Dining in the Wilderness

May 03, 2024

by Erin Werner (they/them, Executive Chef at Camp Denali)

Staying at Camp Denali comes with a checklist. See a grizzly bear. Hike to the Muldrow Glacier. See the Northern Lights. See the Midnight Sun. Go bird watching with David Sibley. There are many more, but among the less-than-expected things that our guests take home are the memories of our dining hall. Biological necessity aside– food is foundational to the hospitality business, and the dining room is where we gather to spend time together, to share highlights from the day’s events, and to get to know fellow travelers and Camp staff.

Which brings me to my checklist. As the approaching season takes up more and more of my brain space, I’m all too aware of the many puzzle pieces that must fit together to keep guests and staff fed throughout the summer season. It is truly no small feat! I’m endlessly grateful for the years of tradition and labor to set precedent and expectations, but that doesn’t mean the preseason is without unique challenges and effort.

I’ve had the great fortune of being able to take October off since I transitioned to seasonal work. Most of the Camp Denali staff have a work season that is only a couple weeks longer than our time with guests, a handful of us are busy year round working in the office, and I operate in an odd middle ground of a winter that slowly builds up to the full-on intensity of summer.

We take great pleasure in sourcing 100% of our proteins from Alaska–reserving whole hogs and lambs from Homer is usually the first step I take toward the season ahead, usually in November. Then there’s hiring in December and January. In January, I take a brief trip back to Denali where seasonal supervisors and year-round staff have a mini-conference and hammer out an enormous amount of details in a few short days (we also play pond hockey, have plenty of potlucks, and enjoy the other extreme of Alaskan weather– winter!). At this point I’m starting to feel the excitement of the coming season.

As January turns to February and February to March, I’m menu-planning, looking through reservations to assess the volume and quantity of food I need to order, and taking note of guests’ dietary restrictions. During this time I also speak with our Greenhouse Manager, Hannah, who makes the most of our brief growing season to bring us fresh salad greens, herbs, radishes, peas, edible flowers, rhubarb, and more. We are truly blessed by our greenhouse bounty, and as long as I’ve worked at Camp Denali every salad served in the dining room has been grown in our greenhouse. As April comes around I’m busy contacting purveyors and working on our delivery schedule (as a fly-in lodge everything arrives by small plane), writing orientation week training plans, and placing our annual bulk order. 50# sacks of flour, 25# sacks of dried beans, sugar, oats, nuts, dried fruit– ordering for trail mix alone is around half a ton of dry goods!

And all winter long the recipe testing goes on. I’m a passionate cook, it’s wired into me somewhere, it’s my skill, my trade, and my love language. The privilege of cooking and providing for our guests and my coworkers/community/summer family brings me such joy. We maintain very high standards in our kitchen, our goal being to nourish our guests and staff during their long and active days. Just about everything is made from scratch in our kitchen, from artisan dinner breads, to soup stocks, to kimchi. Our amazing bakers turn out what I believe to be among the best pastries out there.

When asked if we have a specialty at Camp Denali, I often find myself answering with “accommodation.” No matter the dietary restriction, we do our best to make sure everyone has an equally incredible meal.  Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, nut free, dairy free, pescatarian, etc, are all seamlessly managed in our kitchen and we truly enjoy going over the top to handle even trickier restrictions. I fondly remember a past guest who was gluten free and allergic to both cinnamon and vanilla– they were ecstatic that the bakers took the time to make them special cookies and desserts that varied every day and were on par with the regular fare.

We are so looking forward to sharing the beauty of Denali with you and cooking for you this summer!


1) Samosa pasties! Much like the traditional Cornish Pastie, but filled with a warmly spiced mixture of potato, onions, peas, and curry spices. It all gets folded up in a short crust pastry shell with some tamarind chutney for a delightful on-the-go lunch. Our new fly-in model has greatly increased the amount of lunches we serve, so this is a solution to minimize sandwich production and to improve the workflow in the kitchen.

2) The first steps to making celery and black pepper stir fry. While I truly love this dish, it didn’t feel quite right for the dining room, but it will certainly be added to my staff meal rotation (as a staff we eat incredibly well).

3) Notes and a prep map for a mole recipe. Part of my winter recipe testing is to assess how feasibly any given recipe can be executed at our scale. *Recipe credit from Serious Eats*




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