I am staring at a spoonful of carrot foam. Alaska has a way of surprising travellers, stripping them of their comfortable expectations, and I make it my policy when I visit the last frontier to come prepared for anything. But this—carrot foam—I am not prepared for.
The foam is the first shot fired at the start of a 12-course tasting menu at the McCarthy Lodge, a small hotel-and-restaurant combo in tiny McCarthy, Alaska. I’ve come here to visit Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, a vast protected wilderness that sprawls across millions of acres in Alaska’s southeastern corner. McCarthy’s few dozen residents live and work in the heart of the park, connected to the outside world by a handful of bush planes and a narrow gravel road. Executive Chef Joshua Slaughter, the man behind this improbable meal, is one of them.
I inhale the foam and make way for the next course: sashimi made with sockeye salmon from the nearby Copper River. It’s the freshest, most tender piece of fish I have ever put fork to, and it dissolves on my tongue, vanishing nearly as quickly as the foam. It’s followed by a parade of indulgences—brandied apples, drunken leeks, pan-seared halibut with fennel puree, two more rounds of salmon and three different kinds of pork.
As I work my disappearing act on each one I’m adding another item to my Alaskan checklist. Always be prepared for: car breakdowns, sudden snowstorms, grizzly bears, power outages, and unexpected encounters with gourmet cuisine.
Eva Holland recently visited this remote outpost of epicurean delicacies on a trip with the Alaska Tourism Industry Association. Her home base is in Yukon, where she (unfortunately) rarely encounters carrot foam.