Meet Alaskan maker and private chef, Morgan Stewart of Gypsy Kitchen in Homer AK. If you're like us and crave seafood pretty much every day of the week, be sure to check out her Pesto Parmesan Baked Halibut recipe featuring Salmon Sisters Seafood.
Name of business, name of owner:
Gypsy Kitchen, Morgan Stewart
Where is your business located?
Homer, AK, or anywhere the wind takes me
How long have you been in business?
Less than a year
Tell us about your process and the pieces you create. How do you (literally) create them? Can you speak to the subjects and themes of your pieces? Where do you draw inspiration from? Are there special people, places, things that you look to?
I am a private chef based out of Homer. I was born and raised in the area and that has a huge impact on the way I work and the food I create. My food is derived as much as possible from the ingredients the area provides me. I often work in Homer in the wintertime where fresh reliable produce is scarce, but it's a fun challenge for me. I love working with the fish and shellfish that we have incredible access to during that time. There are also a surprising number of tenacious farmers who work hard to provide us with beautiful produce during the winter months with the aid of high tunnels, aquaponics, hydroponics, and I'm pretty sure magic.
What I have access to entirely shapes what I make, as does the tastes of the clients I work with. My goal is to create what my clients are craving, even when they might not be able to pinpoint exactly what it is. From there I formulate a menu that tries to capture the mood of the client, the bounty of Alaska, as well as matching it to the wines or beverages of their choosing. The combination of these criteria make the challenge different and exciting each time I pull together a menu.
Apart from the inspiration driven from Alaska, or wherever I am working, there are people and places that shaped that. Carri Thurman from Two Sisters Bakery has been a huge part of that. I worked there as the sous chef for a few years and I am pleased to call Carri one of my closest friends. She keeps me motivated when I'm uninspired; she’s a solid person to bounce ideas off of and is always there to tell me when I've gone off the deep end on an idea.
I also gain a tremendous amount inspiration from the traveling I have done. Each place I go do I try to eat and experience as much as possible. Often I will do an internship or workshop to really delve into my location.
Do you have a favorite piece? (It's OK if you can't play favorites.)
The closest I have to this would be my soul-deep love of hand rolling pasta, my complete obsession with making bread, or my all-around love of butchery and animal rearing.
Tell us about your customers. Where are they from? What draws them to your work?
My customers come from all walks of life. Over and over I am reminded that no matter where you come from, social standing, financial situation, or general understanding of food, everyone loves good food. Even if their mind is being expanded to a new food experience or someone who fancies themselves a foodie, there is always some root-level appreciation for what they are eating. I strive to present my food to my costumer as a new perspective on where their meal came from as well as all the work that went into it - from my own work to that of the producer of the products. With each of these interactions I learn something new and I hope my clients do too.
What (or who) sparked your interest in pursuing the life of a maker
I'm not sure I ever did anything else. I may not have always been a chef but almost everything I have done I've felt a need to literally have my hands in. It was only after spending a year of college split between the arts and academics that I realized my work lies in the arts.
What does being an Alaskan maker mean to you? How does the place influence your work?
Alaska shaped who I am as a maker but also as a person. I spend my summers working in the Aleutians on U.S. Fish and Wildlife's research boat the R/V Tiglax. Even though this has only been the last five years it has reinforced my connection to the state - the diversity, history, abundance, and, very importantly, the scarcity. Since the beginning, Alaskans have been forced to be creative. It builds a character, as well as a mentality that permeates generations. If I was to take away any one thing from this place it is making do in adversity.
What's the best advice that was given to you when you embarked on your artistic career (and adventure!)?
You don't have to do things via the channels and the ways that are either expected or understood. Sometimes you just have to do things the way that makes sense to you. Without direction there is more room for inspiration.
Do you have any dreams for your business in the future? Any goals you're chasing after?
To be honest, this is proving to be more of my dream I ever imagined it would be. The way I've set up my business allows for me to push myself, embrace creativity and connect directly with my producer and my customer. I'm currently ignoring the bug in my brain that wants a restaurant.
Pesto Parmesan Baked Halibut with Brown Rice and Roasted Tomato & Zucchini
1 Bunch each fresh basil, parsley, cilantro
2 Large handfuls spinach
Zest and juice 1 lemon
Small handful shredded parmesan
½ c walnuts
1 tsp pepper
1/2c olive oil
In a food processor purée until smooth.
For the halibut:
Pat the fillet dry with a towel then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Sear seasoned side of fillet in a medium hot skillet.
Turn the fillet over and spread with pesto, then sprinkle shredded parmesan.
Finish cooking in oven at 375.
On a baking sheet spread 5 tomatoes cut into thirds and 3 large zucchinis cut into ¼ inch disks. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Bake in the 375 oven until roasty and soft.
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Rich stories, sketches from the sea, recipes, poetry, time-tested advice, knot-tying - these are just some of the elements that weave into the fishing net of our lives. We are thrilled to be contributing members of The Young Alaska Fishermen’s Almanac, a first-ever compilation that celebrates our unique, shared and cherished fishing ways of life. The Almanac captures the ingenuity, persistence, humor and passion of the next generation of fishing leaders in Alaska and shares the stories of those who fish on Alaska's wild waters.
Meet Oceana Wills! We grew up with Oceana in Homer, Alaska. She fishes commercially for sockeye salmon during the summertime in Bristol Bay and works on her artwork the other parts of the year. Her ocean-inspired prints cover the walls of our own home and we are so happy to share them with you! Find her prints on our web shop and at oceanawills.com.
Thank you to everyone who participated in our Seafood Month facebook giveaway contest. We are blown away by all of your wild fish dishes! We wanted to share some of your favorites with the rest of our community, so that we can all be inspired to try out a new recipe or maybe a new kind of wild seafood! We hope you have a happy National Seafood Month!