Residents of the Providence Chiniak Bay Elder House long-term care facility recently enjoyed the first dishes under a program designed to introduce local flavors, according to dietician Kelsey Fentress.
Fentress, who works for Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, launched her program earlier this year with a goal of eventually establishing local or Native dishes on the menus for the hospital-run facility.
Already, Elder House has received 500 pounds of halibut gifted by SeaShare, a Bainbridge Island, Washington, nonprofit that works with fishermen and processors to donate seafood to food banks and other nonprofits.
Fentress’ kitchen staff prepares three meals and two snacks a day for Elder House’s 22 residents.
“Right now we are serving halibut at least once a week and it is now a part of our regular menu. And residents can request it at any time,” Fentress said. “We have one resident who has a lot of food allergies and preferences, so she’s taken to requesting the halibut a lot.”
Halibut dishes include tacos and nachos, among other dishes. Fentress said another Elder House resident who has enjoyed it is Army and Merchant Marine veteran Kenneth “Doc” Doctor.
Doctor came to Kodiak on a Boston whaler in 1946 and permanently relocated his family in the 1950s before he joined the Army in 1950s and then the Merchant Marines.
“The things I like about Kodiak are the people, the lifestyle and the wild country,” Doctor said in a statement provided by Fentress. “I fished for many boats out in the Bering Sea and caught all kinds of fish. If it wiggled we caught it. Halibut is my favorite of all the fish to eat.”
According to a statement Fentress provided on behalf of Jim Harmon, executive director of SeaShare, processors including Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, Silver Bay Seafoods and North Pacific Seafoods Inc., donate fish to the nonprofit.
“They do the hard work,” Harmon said.
Fentress said the donation isn’t a one-time deal.
“You would think that we might not fall into that category because we are a federally-funded program and these residents aren’t starving,” Fentress said. “But because we aren’t able to meet the psych-social needs our residents need for a certain type of nutrition specific to the local and traditional foods, we fell in SeaShare’s category.”
“The coolest thing about this relationship (is) that we will have ongoing, consistent deliveries into the future,” Fentress said. “That is amazing because in the past we just relied on pretty random community donations, which is great but not consistent as it’s hard to build a menu around.”
Normal food dishes prepared for Elder House are normally made from farmed cod from Chile, she said.
“People are really liking the fresh halibut more than the cod,” Fentress said.
Dungeness crab will eventually be included in the donations, though Fentress will have to coordinate logistics on cracking their shells.
According to Harmon, the fish doesn’t cost Elder House a dime.
“SeaShare uses grant dollars from Alaska funders to pay for all associated costs, so everything we distribute in Alaska is at zero cost to the receiving agencies,” Harmon said.
Providence, Fentress said, pays for the preparation of the halibut in partnership with Kodiak Island Smokehouse to filet and process the food into serving-size portions. The smokehouse has also been storing halibut for Elder House because of space constraints.
“So far they’ve been storing it and processing it in small batches, but the next batch I ordered will be smoked, which will be a great snack for our residents, especially those who are Alutiiq or Native residents that really miss that flavor of the food,” Fentress said.
Fentress said other donations have come in as well, including 83 pounds of salmon from Kodiak resident Gary Wilson. Fentress said the salmon will go on September’s menu.
More residents and organizations can continue to make fish donations either to Island Seafood or Kodiak Island Smokehouse. Fish need to be gilled and gutted, with or without the head.
Donations of wild Kodiak blueberries also have been made and used for blueberry cobblers.
Former midwife Kathie Short, a Kodiak-born resident who spent most of her life living remotely on Raspberry, Afognak, and Bare Island, particularly liked the blueberry cobbler, Fentress said.
“We got feedback that the flavor of the blueberry cobbler was better than just the frozen blueberries,” Fentress said.
Fentress said she’s looking for more berries to be donated.
“There are still berries that can be picked, such as cranberries, blueberries and other berries that are local that would be great,” Fentress said. Berries would have to be whole — either fresh or frozen — to be able to be accepted.
And with deer season open on Kodiak Island through Oct. 31, Fentress said donations of deer meat would be great as well. They can be donated through Kodiak Island Smokehouse.
Donations must follow specific guidelines, such as being whole, quartered or roasts. The animal must not have been diseased, must have been properly butchered, dressed and stored to prevent contamination, and the meats must not cause a significant health risk.
When Fentress launched the program in June, she had three phases: raising awareness and securing ongoing donations, putting local foods on the menu and eventually introducing more safely prepared traditional, Navite dishes.
The first two phases have been established. The third — more Native and traditional dishes — requires assistance from the local Alutiiq community.
“We’re already in a partnership with the Alutiiq Museum and have had a dialogue on this mission,” Fentress said. “But we need recicipies and proper training of the kitchen staff.”
Training is essential, she said, to ensure that foods don’t pose a risk to Elder House residents.
Should the Elder House begin incorporating other things into its menu, such as edible wild mushrooms or fiddlehead ferns and sourdock, they require specific preparation.
In addition, there are restrictions under state law about what meats and seafood can be donated. Most wild game, such as caribou, whale, beaver, goat, muskrat, hare, sheep, geese and seal meat can be donated. But molluscan shellfish, meat from fox, bear and walrus, and seal or whale oil can’t be accepted. Neither can anything that was canned or vacuum-sealed at home.
“If there are members of the Alutiiq community who want to share their knowledge or recipes, that is the next phase,” Fentress said. “We have Alutiiq residents who are regularly asking to be served these foods, but I just lack that knowledge.”