In the kitchen with...

Chef Kirsten Pedersen of Alaskan Events and Catering

Kirsten Pedersen takes the phrase “keeping it local” to a whole new level. It started simple, with the executive chef sourcing her produce and seafood primarily from local farmers and businesses, like Bushes and Bunches in Palmer and Anchorage’s New Sagaya Wholesale. Soon, she was growing her own vegetables on the 14-acre site of her business, Alaskan Events and Catering, at the base of Hatcher’s Pass.

Then came the herb gardens and edible flowers.

Then the honeybees.

Skewered Pearls of Alaskan Scallops Encrusted with Matcha-Pistachio
served with carrot puree, roasted red beet gnocchi and miso ginger vinaigrette

“Then I took it one step further and decided, wouldn’t it be lovely to create our own fused glass pieces?” Kirsten says. Cue the kilns: Kirsten handcrafted an array of beautifully colored glass platters that evoke the Northern Lights on which to display menu selections. “We can embellish someone’s request for specific colors and really make a setting pop with our own locally made glass. I don’t know how much more local and sustainable we can get!”

Though she "keeps it local" now, Kirsten lived internationally as a child. The daughter of Scottish and Danish parents, she grew up flying between Anchorage, London and Copenhagen back when international flight was simpler.

“So I was exposed to a vast array of interesting European foods at a young age,” she explains. “It really helped develop my palate.”

But Kirsten’s sights weren’t set on cooking when she launched her career. She logged over 15 years in the medical field before a car accident in her mid-20s resulted in short-term memory issues that made taking her medical school admission test seem impossible.

“I couldn’t see equations the same way anymore,” Kirsten recalls. While rehabbing from her accident, she struck upon the idea of making jam. “I think that was the path to healing for me. It was therapeutic to follow a recipe and see that it worked, whereas looking at equations and not being able to get them to work – that was just frustrating.”

That batch of jam eventually inspired her to go to the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. Back in Alaska, she started her career with the Marx Bros. Café, simultaneously offering personal chef services in the Mat-Su Valley – an endeavor that grew and grew as Kirsten realized working in a restaurant wasn’t for her.
“Doing events, it’s different from the day-to-day grind of the restaurant,” she explains. “There’s a big push to do the event, then it’s over. For me, it was like my paramedic days. There’s the adrenaline rush, and then it’s done.”

She’s since grown Alaskan Events and Catering into an enterprise that sees repeat business from 65 percent of its clients; Kirsten has catered the launch of Alaska’s Target stores, Sarah Palin’s gubernatorial ball and the debut of Alaska Airline’s “Salmon Thirty Salmon” aircraft. “No two events are ever the same,” Kirsten says. “That’s both the challenge and the fun element.”

As someone who crafted her own glass platters just so she could better display her food, Kirsten knows the value of a meal that’s both delicious and attractive. Her advice to home cooks? Keep the presentation simple: Garnish dishes and drinks with eye-catching edible flowers like pansies or nasturtiums. Or include unexpected elements on the plate, like a bit of honeycomb with brie and apricots. Handcrafted local bowls and platters also make a meal more special – or, if you’re handy with a chainsaw, some nicely cut rounds of birch can be transformed into plates that lend your table an Alaskan flair without too much fuss.

Kirsten’s got plans for the future: The two vacation units above her kitchen have her dreaming of offering “cooking weekend” getaways; she’s working on an indoor hydroponic wall that will produce edible flowers through the winter. She can’t seem to stop the ideas from blooming. Whatever’s next on the menu, though, clients can rest assured she’ll keep it “Alaskan grown.”