A few hours after Kyra and Ethan negotiated Root Glacier with crampons, we sit down for a four-course dinner at McCarthy Lodge . Neil Darish, the owner and reigning Alaska SBA Financial Champion of the Year, winks at me from across the room as I shush Kyra and Ethan, the only kids here tonight. Darish convinced me to bring the kids, saying that that’s what sets their restaurant apart from other fine dining establishments.
“I can do anything I want,” Joshua Slaughter, the 33 year old executive chef (whose pedigree includes Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, California, WD~50 in New York, and Ducca in San Francisco) confirms later after dinner, as he drives us back to Kennecott Glacier Lodge. “Like tonight, I found out at 2pm that I had to create four completely different menus. Besides the regular guests, I had your kids, vegetarian, and kosher, now that was a challenge.”
Chef Slaughter has a pretty awesome job. He works only 120 days out of the year. A workday starts at 6am. He makes breakfast until 10a.m.; sometimes he hops on a Cessna to a local farm or some remote location to harvest raspberries, salmon berries, or morels, then returns at 2pm to prepare dinner.
As soon as the cheese pizza arrives, Kyra devours hers in one gulp without even admiring the artistic presentation of the finest meal that she has ever eaten. Ethan is more interested in our lox. Or maybe, he’s still sore from being carried down the glacier after he dipped his foot into a water slide.
Both kids ignore their macaroni and cheese once they taste our seared halibut on a bed of kale and tomato bread pudding, drizzled in orange butter.
By the time, they consume our Copper River salmon balanced on potato gnocchi, encircled by a moat of carrot foam, I finish off their breaded chicken strips and fries, which I must say are the best I’ve ever had.
Darish laughs at our switch-a-roo and says that somehow Chef Slaughter magically manages to get picky kids to eat. Later in his car, Chef Slaughter shares a secret with me. The source of his magic is synesthesia, a gift where a person a smell a sound or hear a color. “I cook until the music sounds right,” Slaughter explains.
On Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while the adults enjoy an up to 28-course tasting menu, Chef Slaughter entertains kids with an 18 course menu of edible crayons, upside-down ice creams, or a salad their parents have to make in their mouth.
Dessert is served nearly two hours after we start dinner. Chef Slaughter takes his time to concoct the perfect chocolate pecan mousse for the kids. He wows us with an apple tart on peach dust, accented with almond panna cotta.
Licking the last trace of mousse from her lips, Kyra holds her swollen tummy and says, “Oh, I’m sleepy.” On her way back to the lodge, she passes out in the backseat of Chef Slaughter’s car. After all, she has to save her energy for tomorrow’s job of earning a Wrangell-St. Elias Junior Ranger badge.
Honestly, I’m still in shock that my kids dined with us at a restaurant listed in Food Wine Magazine as one of 5 Top New Summer Destinations for 2011 and New York Grub Street as the #1 place in Alaska to dine.
That’s another reason why I love Alaska. Daring visionaries like Neil Darish, Gaia Marrs, and Rich Kirkwood make it possible for families with young kids to enjoy a place as rare and remote as McCarthy-Kennecott.