In the Kitchen With

Chef Susie Linford of Alaska Coastal Catering

Story by Anna Mason

Susie Linford grew up cooking for a crowd and never quit. The youngest of five children raised in San Diego by a former US Marine camp cook, she had to learn to cook big. That experience paid off later in life, especially for catering large events. “I don’t know how to cook for just a few people,” says Susie. “I’ve always cooked for an army!”

Smoked alaskan seafood chowder
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Today, Susie is the corporate chef at Alaska Coastal Catering, creating tastefully catered events throughout Southcentral Alaska. But the road to this culinary success had its share of interesting twists and turns – and a pothole or two.

Before moving to Alaska in 1993, Susie served as a police officer in California for five years; was one of the first female telecommunication engineers for US West Telecom; and could be heard by millions as the voice on the voicemail recording for Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris). Throughout those years, Susie was cooking and catering, including stints catering for the staffs of the Walt Disney Company, Warner Brothers, Prudential Commercial, Safeco, and other companies.

After moving to Alaska, Susie started a telecom engineering company. During this time she also met husband Christopher Linford, a mechanical engineer. Unfortunately, the economy took a downturn and she was forced to close her business.

Susie got back into the food industry and, in 2010, started Alaska Coastal Catering with her husband, where she makes a point of using locally sourced food products in her dishes. Susie and Christopher grow their own organic fruits, vegetables and garnishes in their home garden, which was featured on the 2017 Anchorage Garden Tour. For things she can’t grow herself, Susie turns to other local sources: “I am a big supporter of Alaskan farmers markets,” she says. “We’re constantly changing the menus based on what I can find locally.” Locally sourced seafood is one of her favorites, especially salmon. As for variety, Susie does a lot of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes. These dishes often require unusual ingredients, she says. “You have to get creative.”

Susie loves to share her lifelong experience through her business: “I make a point of mentoring,” she says. “If someone wants to learn, I’ll bring them on.” High school students, single parents, and people with economic challenges are all part of her team, and she teaches them all the skills they need to make their way in the food industry. Her mentees are also encouraged to build a portfolio of the dishes they make and the work they do, to help with future employment. “Cooking is something that will never go out of style,” she says. “High tech will never take over the art of cooking!”

This past August, Susie catered the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour at Joslyn Peony Farm in Homer, and called it her most memorable cooking experience. The tour is a national series of intimate dinners that promote local sourcing of flowers, food and beverage.

That opportunity wasn’t the only honor Susie has received for her cooking: Alaska Coastal Catering has been awarded Best Caterer by Best of Alaska multiple times, and Susie is a 2018 James Beard Foundation nominated “Best Chef in the Northwest USA.“

It’s not all about the awards for Susie. Alaska Coastal Catering donates food left over to Anchorage Rescue Mission and regularly donates dishes to families of cancer patients. “It’s good to give back to the community,” says Susie.

Susie’s best piece of cooking wisdom: “Experiment – a lot!” Susie teaches how to entertain at home during her cooking classes, and tells every student, “For entertaining, it needs to be colorful, it needs to be well balanced, and it needs to taste good.” She suggests studying a color wheel so that you can plan colorful dishes and garnishes that complement each other. “It has to look good, or no one will eat it!”