mens card wallet Alaskan to be featured on ‘Top Chef’
FAIRBANKS A local Alaskan chef will be featured as a contestant on the upcoming season of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef.” This will be the first time an Alaskanhas beenon the show.
Laura Cole is the owner and executive chef at 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern, a lodge based in Denali. She was selected last year to be featured on the upcoming season of “Top Chef”in part due to her unique setting in rural Alaska.
“After 14 seasons of doing Top Chef, we know chefs all over the country and it’s a big community but also a small one,” said Dan Cutforth, executive producer of “Top Chef.” “So we reach out in a lot of ways, but we also look for chefs who are making a name for themselves in kind of a unique way and off the beaten path.”
With her restaurant located near the entrance of Denali National Park, Alaska’s natural ingredients are an important part of Cole’s culinary creations.
“Alaska’s bounty is large, from our waters and our land,” Cole’s website reads. “Although our growing season is short, we do have 24 hours of photosynthesis. I strive to highlight Alaska in all my creations and menus. I love world cuisines and am constantly adapting flavor profiles and dishes to reflect what Alaska has to offer.”
Cutforth said this played a huge part of Cole’s selection.
“She’s running a really popular restaurant and we had never had a chef from Alaska before and we really loved her story, a chef who is trying to create really great food in an interesting part of the country,” Cutforth said. “We look at it very simply, it’s a mixture of culinary experience and an interesting story and it just seemed like a really interesting perspective.”
Samantha Hanks, senior vice president of casting at Magical Elves, a production company responsible for casting “Top Chef,” said Cole was also selected because of her culinary achievements and national recognition.
“She was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award and we mine that list extensively and reached out directly to her,” Hanks said.
While filming for the upcoming season has been concluded, Cole said she had the experience of a lifetime.
“It was such a fantastic opportunity to get to know and collaborate with an incredibly talented and diverse group of chefs that I would never have had to opportunity to get to know and work with otherwise,” Cole said. “It’s just been amazing.”
Cole said being on the show was a valuable learning experience.
“It’s already pushed me and driven me,”she said. “It’s given me a clearer point of view with regard to direction for my restaurant and it’s just reinforced my love for the entire state of Alaska and all the opportunities we have there.”
Cole was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and found her love of cooking after moving to Alaska after college. She opened 229 Parks in 2005.
Incorporating fresh, local, Alaska ingredients into her dishes is Cole’s specialty. Cole’s sample menu featured on the 229 Parks website includes dishes like wine poached, pan seared Alaska octopus and Alaska reindeer ragu with locally sourced vegetables. The menu at the restaurant changes daily to reflect fresh ingredientsbased on availability and seasons.
“It’s pushed what I want to achieve with all that Alaska has to give as far as foraged and farmed and natural ingredients,” Cole said. “It’s been really fantastic to take some of these concepts that I was able to glean for some other chefs on the show and figure out how to apply it to my own work.”
Along with learning new techniques and ideas for her own work, Cole said she has made incredible connections through the show.
“We all got incredibly close. We all kind of referred to it as culinary summer camp where you just make really great friends really fast,” Cole said. “And we were able to work together and collaborate on a bunch of family dinners and ideas.”
While the contestants competed against one another on the show, Cole said they thrived as a group as well.
“It was such a diverse group as far as ages, cultures, cooking techniques. There was so much collaboration and learning for all of us,” Cole said. “Alaska can be pretty isolating sometimes, and this is such an ego driven job at times but we were all able to get together and just get rid of our egos and learn from each other and it was amazing.”
Cole said she has made lifelong friends on the show.
229 Parks is closed after a successful summer season and will be opening again for a limited winter season in February, Cole said.
The upcoming Season 15 will begin airing on Dec. 7.
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