In the kitchen with...

Chef Nancy Alip of Jens Restaurant

Story by Amy Armstrong

Photography by Latonia Gaston

For Nancy Alip, her career as a chef has been a lifelong love affair.

“Honestly, cooking is the only thing I have ever done,” she says. “At age 16, I got a job as a prep cook at the Red Robin that used to be in Midtown and I absolutely fell in love with cooking.”

It was 1988 and Nancy had just graduated early from Houston High School in the Mat-Su Valley. She landed a summer job that would set her career path. In the fall, she and a friend moved out of state and Nancy enrolled in what was then the Western Culinary Institute (now Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts) in Portland, Oregon.

Alaska pulled her back after graduation from culinary school, and she began working at the Hotel Captain Cook. Three years later, she accepted an Anchorage chef’s dream job – the opportunity to work under the tutelage of the legendary Jens Hansen, whose successful combination of Alaska seafood and Danish specialties made Jens’ Restaurant on 36th Avenue in Midtown a go-to spot for special occasions. Nancy has been at Jens’ for 17 years and took over as its owner in 2016, four years after Jens passed away.

She starts her day with “a really strong cup of coffee,” as she describes it.

“That is the first thing I do every day when I get here,” she says. “It helps me get a good plan of what needs to get done. It helps me get the ‘mise en place’ all set which is the most important element in a day of cooking.”

“Mise en place” pronounced MEEZ on plahs is a French culinary phrase meaning, “all is in place” in reference to ingredients. For Nancy, those ingredients regularly include the freshest items she can acquire from Alaska farmers and fishermen.

“A lot of our patrons are just becoming more mindful of where the ingredients in their food dishes are coming from. They are more concerned with what they are putting in their bodies and thus we strive to use locally grown ingredients as much as possible,” she says.

Recently, in June, she and her sous chef at Jens’ were the featured chefs for the annual Copper River Nouveau in Cordova, a ritzy gala benefitting the Prince William Science Center and showcasing fresh catch from the infamous Copper River. Before the event, Nancy confided she was “a bit nervous” to be cooking in a kitchen she had never seen, a kitchen she didn’t know. “It is a little nerve wracking to cook a five-course meal in an unfamiliar kitchen for 150 people, but I am so honored to be chosen,” says Nancy. The chosen entrée was a mustard-encrusted salmon with ground rye berry flour and lingonberry jelly glaze. She used Alaska-grown fennel and leaks plus fresh apricots and toasted almonds with a light vinaigrette for the accompanying salad.
She describes the endeavor, though, as the most exciting moment of her culinary career.

Nancy says she enjoys getting to create a unique dish. It is what she does at Jens’ as well. She changes up a new menu every couple weeks – especially during the summer – based on what is available in the local farmers markets.

At home, she likes to do slow cooking and is a big fan of braised items – particularly short ribs. She also likes to toast her spices before using them. “It brings out all the extra flavor and you can really taste the difference.”

The secret to her success really isn’t much of a secret, she says. It’s a common kitchen tool. “The most important thing to have in a kitchen is a really, really sharp knife. It makes a huge difference in the amount of time it takes to prep food. It cuts the work time in more than half, and it’s so much safer than a dull one.”

Learn more about Nancy Alip and Jens’ Restaurant at