Homer chef to represent Alaska and “iconic” state dish at national event

Move over kings, sockeyes and pinks — there’s a new iconic Alaska food in town.

Rather than everyone’s favorite omega-3-packed fish, or the time-honored king crab, it’s the unassuming reindeer sausage that will represent the state of Alaska at a new national cooking showcase next month in St. Louis. Homer’s own Mandy Dixon, owner of La Baleine Cafe on the Spit, will be the one to cook it at the three-day event called Flavored Nation.

From Oct. 27-29, up to 12,000 participants will get to placate their palates by tasting a dish chosen to represent each of the 50 states. The event’s organizers determined each state’s most iconic food “through extensive research conducted by a team of culinary experts and food entertainment veterans,” according to a Flavored Nation release.

“It’s really to kind of bring out this iconic food that’s right here in the U.S. to the forefront and to show people what amazing food we have,” Dixon said.

Dixon was approached after Flavored Nation organizers contacted Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, who she has worked with. King crab was originally earmarked to be Alaska’s staple dish, but it was later switched to reindeer sausage, she said. Dixon had thrown salmon pie out as a suggestion, but there are several other states for which salmon is an iconic food, too, she said.

“I actually agree with it, now that I’ve done some research,” she said. “The reindeer story in Alaska’s pretty amazing.”

Reindeer were brought to Alaska from Siberia in the late 1800s in an attempt to make up for the negative impact whaling ships had on marine mammal populations in Alaska, a major food source for many Alaska Natives, according to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research Program. The reindeer were brought over along with Siberian, and later Scandinavian, herders to teach the trade to Alaska Natives in an effort to establish their own sustainable industry. The Reindeer Act of 1937 restricted ownership of reindeer to Alaska Natives to protect that purpose.

The act was later amended to make a distinction between Native Alaska herds and reindeer imported to the state after the year 1937 by non-Native people. Essentially, non-Natives living in Alaska can own non-Native reindeer, but only Alaska Natives can own Native reindeer herds.

While the sausage can often be found in the form of hot dogs in food trucks or stands lining the streets during festivals or fairs, Dixon said there are many ways to prepare the food. Cooks at La Baleine, for example, offer it as a breakfast option and cook it into their chili. The Sourdough Express on Ocean Drive in Homer makes a reindeer sausage pinwheel pastry.

“There’s pizza places in Anchorage that put it on pizza,” Dixon said.

Dixon knew she could participate in Flavored Nation since La Baleine is closed by October, she said. She also helps her family at the Tutka Bay Lodge, which they own in addition to Winterlake Lodge northwest of Anchorage.

“I love representing Alaska in different areas and showcasing different ingredients and cuisine that people, you know, don’t know about,” Dixon said.

Reindeer sausage will appear next to gumbo from Louisiana, chicken fried steak from Texas, pork roll from New Jersey and two kinds of lobster roll, hot with butter from Connecticut and cold with mayonnaise from Maine, according to the Flavored Nation release. Dixon also mentioned that Illinois will bring to the table its famous deep dish pizza, and California its iconic patty melt.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@homernews.com.