Crafting culinary magic and embracing nature on Hood Canal

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Chef Sara Harvey is the culinary genius at the helm of Alderbrook Resort & Spa, a resort destination with cottages and cabins on the shores of Hood Canal.

While the dining experience is a true (and very delicious!) ode to the region, Harvey’s expertise extends far beyond the kitchen walls. When not wielding her chef’s knife with finesse, she’s out foraging in the woods, managing a boutique shellfish company, or exploring the picturesque tidelands of Hood Canal with her partner.

As we transition from Women’s History Month in March to Earth Month in April, this pioneering female chef’s passion for sustainability and community shines through. For Harvey, food isn’t just about sustenance; it is a way to connect with nature.

Born and raised in southern California, Harvey’s culinary journey began in her grandmother’s kitchen, soaking in the flavors and aromas of home-cooked meals infused with love. Summers spent with her grandmother, whom she affectionately calls “Yiayia,” exposed her to a world of culinary delights, from midwestern barbecues to French cooking obsessions of the 1950s. But her mother’s unconventional approach to food, rooted in the Hare Krishna movement, instilled in young Sara a deep appreciation for communal dining and the joy of sharing meals with others.

Reflecting on her upbringing, Harvey shares, “My mother raised me, with summers and holiday support from her mother, and both of these wonderful women shared a deep love for cooking. Those summers with Yiayia were a midwestern delight for a wild child raised in southern California apartment buildings. That dichotomy of upper-middle-class etiquette on the grandparent’s watch, and the pure freedom and joy that I experienced during my regular days with my mother gave a wide swath of appreciation for the various types of community that food can bring together.”

“I have had the pleasure of working with tweezers and the kinds of expectations that cause heart attacks, as well as the nature-driven pace of farmers and picnic tables on a beach,” she muses. “And I take great pleasure in mixing these two worlds wherever possible.”

After traversing the country during college, Harvey found herself drawn to the Pacific Northwest in 2007. Over the next decade, she honed her culinary skills in some of Seattle’s most renowned kitchens, including Luc, Toulouse Petite, and Rockcreek. However, it was her role as the food and beverage director for Capitol Cider that ignited her passion for allergen-friendly cooking methods and championing food and beverage pairings featuring female producers.

Harvey’s move to the Olympic Peninsula in 2017 to start an oyster farm with her partner marked a pivotal moment in her culinary journey. “We were young and ambitious, thought we would be back in our old haunts on the other side of the invoice within a year,” she recalls with a chuckle. However, what began as an oyster farming venture evolved into a deeper exploration of community and sustainability. “Being able to fish, forage, and farm for yourself is a guiding principle,” she explains. “It’s about more than just selling oysters; it’s about creating a resilient infrastructure and fostering community engagement.”

Navigating the challenges of remote living and the intricacies of farm life, Harvey found herself embracing a newfound sense of creativity and adaptability.

“I was working with Hama Hama at the time as their Restaurant Manager – focused on full circle utilization in a way that would have made the French fathers of modern cuisine proud, if somewhat confused. Nothing on an oyster farm goes to waste and the cross-over between traditional culinary methods was not lost on me, despite the leanness of the menu and the time I spent doing everything but cooking.”

By spring of 2020, she had taken an intentional step back from traditional restaurant management.

“The pandemic hit like a tsunami, and after the initial waves settled – the flotsam and jetsam of opportunity began pulling me in the most unlikely of directions, back into restaurants when so many of my friends were finding their way out of them,” she said. “It felt in many ways, however, like I had trained for this my entire life, continuing to pivot styles at an almost obsessive pace – from the 10-course tasting menus of posh dining rooms downtown, to the raw cedar planks of an outdoor saloon on the Hood Canal, there wasn’t much I wasn’t willing to stick my neck into – particularly on the edge of pandemic, if it meant I could feed people and keep my community and my family moving forward.”

When it comes to creativity, Harvey is a chameleon of sorts, immersing herself deeply in moments and places. At Alderbrook Resort & Spa, she draws inspiration from the resort’s breathtaking surroundings. Nestled on the western shore of Hood Canal, Alderbrook has the dreamiest setting, surrounded by lush forests, shimmering waters, and snow-capped peaks.

READ MORE | My culinary and calming cottage stay at Alderbrook Resort & Spa

“I’m forever inspired by the natural beauty of the Olympic Peninsula,” Harvey shares. “Pulling ingredients and ideas from the rocky shores of our local fjord to the dense, woody riches of our mountain valley farms and pasture lands, I aim to celebrate the seasonal bounty of the region.”

Harvey’s commitment to allergen-friendly cooking stems from personal experiences and a broader ethos of inclusivity. “I was raised a vegetarian, and I spent a lot of time ordering side dishes and asking for service staff to double-check ingredients,” she shares.

Determined to make a difference, Harvey became an advocate for allergen-friendly cooking, ensuring that guests at Alderbrook Resort & Spa have options that cater to their dietary needs without compromising on flavor. It reflects her deep-seated belief in the power of food to unite and nourish. “Food is one of the few universals. We all need to eat to survive,” she asserts passionately. “And finding sustenance has defined our history and continues to define our story as a species.”

Beyond the kitchen, Harvey’s passion for the outdoors infuses her culinary creations with a sense of adventure. From hosting farm dinners under the stars to incorporating foraged ingredients into her dishes, she embraces the richness of the natural landscape surrounding Hood Canal.

“We’re blessed to have access to a bounty of ingredients year-round, from wild mushrooms to fresh shellfish,” Harvey says. “Bringing elements of the tidelands and forests into our dining experiences allows us to connect with nature and showcase the unique flavors of our region.”

As a female chef in a traditionally male-dominated industry, Harvey is acutely aware of the challenges and disparities that exist. “I wonder sometimes how the world forgot that women, and women of color at that, cooked more meals before the chef’s toque was invented than we will ever have names for,” she reflects. “We talk about mother sauces and ask how we’re going to get more women into upper management – but ignore the fact that the original sauce is mother’s milk.”

Despite the obstacles, Chef Sara Harvey remains steadfast in her commitment to fostering a more inclusive and diverse culinary landscape. “My sincere hope is that one day soon, we can stop talking about female chefs and just talk about food,” she says optimistically.

“Let girls be loud and aggressive and let boys be pretty – let kids cry when they want to, let adults cry, too. The human experience is messy – beautiful and genderless. Just like dinner.”

Learn more about the culinary offerings at Alderbrook Resort & Spa here.

Aakanksha Agarwal is a freelance writer for Seattle Refined. Follow more of her adventures here.


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