Perhaps you’ve read her blog or her column in the Anchorage Daily News or sampled her work at the Flats Bistro in Kenai. Now you can take Maya Wilson’s recipes home with her new cookbook ‘Alaska From Scratch’.
Shaylon Cochran: Before we get too much into the food, I’m really curious about the photography aspect. Is that something that you had a lot of experience with or did you develop that over time doing the blog?
Maya Wilson: I didn’t start doing food photography until I became a food blogger. If you look back at my early photos, they’re a little bit embarrassing to me now because I really didn’t know what I was doing. I really picked it up as I went along. When I was hired to do the photography for my book by my publisher, I was so honored because I felt like I had really arrived.
SC: Does that influence your recipes in any way in terms of how the final product will actually look? We know that general philosophy of we eat with our eyes first, but how has that played into how you actually develop recipes?
MW: It certainly plays into the time of day that I cook, depending on when we have daylight! In the winter, like right now, you have to cook in the middle of the day to get some good light for your shots. But also I think about getting beautiful colors and a lot of variety on the plate. For example, shooting corned beef and cabbage is not the most beautiful thing. So you really have to think about those things as you’re developing food. Because I grew up in California and I have those kinds of sensibilities that I bring to the table, I think a lot of color comes with that, and freshness.
SC: I know you’ve written about this a lot, but that move from California, which is so much the garden of the country in so many ways, to here where it’s very much less so, how hard was that adjustment? Or was it sort of a challenge and realizing this is a different world and so we’ll do it this way.
MW: It was certainly a challenge and a little bit of culture shock for me when I moved up here and I realized how spoiled I was to have all this fresh produce year round and to have a Starbucks on every corner. And then I was in Nikiski and no drive-thru’s to speak of. But it really tapped into my childhood, growing up with some food insecurity. And being up here my first winter, I realized, I know how to do this. I know how to work with little or nothing. I feel like it tapped into something deep inside me and that’s kind of how the blog was born.
SC: Something that stuck out to me in the book was this huge range of ways to get into the kitchen and get your hands dirty and make some good stuff. There are some very basic recipes and some really gourmet things here.
MW: I think that really speaks to my evolution in the kitchen as well. I went from a home cook, mom of three, to a food writer and then to eventually a chef at the Flats Bistro. And so that evolution really shows up in the book where you see some very homey, fundamental recipes and then you see some chef-ier things.
SC: We can’t not talk about the local aspect of the book because there are so many great local recipes. I do like that you have given folks a chance to substitute some things; moose isn’t available everywhere. But given all the different ways there are to take advantage of the stuff we have to offer here, how long did it take to whittle down and figure out what is the essence of how I want to describe this place in terms of food and in terms of how to prepare that food?
MW: I feel like the seafood chapter is really my pride and joy because seafood resources are really the state’s pride and joy. I really wanted to reflect that in the book because this is Kenai and we are a fishing community and I wanted to represent that well. That was really important to me.
SC: Maybe you could share some of your favorite recipes. Some of these things I’m sure you make all the time and others are a little bit more special fare or don’t come along too often, but what are some of the standbys in your personal life that made it into the cookbook?
MW: One of my personal favorites is the Swedish pancakes. It’s something you really can’t get up here, something that speaks to my personal food history. It’s a family favorite, I make it for guests, my kids request them all the time. When I was a brunch chef at the Flats I used to have them on the menu. Another favorite is the peanut butter cookies. We just made a batch of them this weekend. And the ginger peanut salmon noodle bowls we had for dinner last night.
SC: Ginger and salmon is a really underrated combination, I think. I also know that you have on your website a ton of recipes there. Is there stuff there that’s different from the book?
MW: Yes. Eighty percent of the book is brand new and then about 20 percent is previously published, favorites from the blog, favorites from the column. But you will find that there is a lot of new material in there. So those who have been reading the blog or the column for a long time, this is some new stuff.