Ricardo Worl, left, congratulates 2022 Celebration traditional food contest winners Mike Allard (seaweed),  Sharon Olsen (seal oil) and Donna James (dried fish) at Centennial Hall on Thursday shortly after a secret judging at the Walter Soboleff Building. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Traditions set the table for Celebration food contest winners

Winners say subsistence traditions feed bodies and souls during pandemic.

Mike Allard’s seaweed is a decades-old recipe and Donna James’ dried fish is a first-time effort. But both of the first-place winners in this year’s Celebration food contest say they’re relying on traditions that have nourished the body and soul for thousands of years — and are proving that time-tested worthiness as today’s society is struggling to obtain their groceries.

Allard, a Pelican resident who’s a member of the city council as well as a full-time fisher and trapper, said about half of his family’s diet is from subsistence and they give away about one-third of what they catch and gather. He said that’s a longtime custom that remains consistent today, unlike many in modern societies who are experiencing disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It really hasn’t changed for me,” he said. “When I was growing up my dad gave away much of the catch to people who needed it.”

Allard said his decision to enter the food competition — where judges determined who prepared the best seaweed, dry fish, and seal oil — was spontaneous, although his preparation process was not.

“It’s just the same recipe I’ve been using for years,” he said. “I was coming to town, so I thought I’d take a chance.”

James, who said she’s long made dry fish from salmon, said her entry into the competition was also spontaneous, along with a decision to try drying halibut for the first time ever.

“Friends and family said that your dried fish is really good and you should submit it,” she said, noting that she prepares it with the help of her partner, Ken Willard Jr.

First prize for seal oil was awarded to Sharon Olsen, who lives in Juneau and Tenakee Springs. In a prepared statement, said the secret is she’s tender, patient and picky about her craft, and is careful to ensure that no blood, hair or fat remain in her prize-winning oil.

“I know I’ve been successful when I can see clearly through the jar,” she said.

The judging was conducted Thursday at the Walter Soboleff Building just before the winners were announced early during the afternoon at Centennial Hall. One of the three judges was ‘Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barbara Blake, a Juneau Assembly member and director of the Alaska Native Policy Center, who offered a decidedly anti-Ramsayesque assessment of the overall quality of entries.

“This was a really tough job,” she said. “The food was so amazing and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be chosen to taste all the gloriousness of all the communities.”

Blake, a Haida, of Tlingit and Ahtna Athabascan descent and belonging to the Káat nay-st/YahkwJáanaas Clan, said her traditional food experiences include her dad generously giving away the salmon she smokes without fully knowing the effort she puts in, but such things are what nourish the soul and serve as lessons to pass on to future generations.

“I prefer to call (subsistence) our way of life because when we’re talking about food it’s more than just food into our bellies,” she said.

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Nov. 27

Steve Lewis, foreground, and Stephen Sorensen from the Alaska State Review Board scan ballots from precincts where they were hand counted at the Division of Elections office Nov. 15. Board officials spent the period between the Nov. 8 election and its certification Wednesday performing about 20 different to verify the results. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Election certified, but challenges pending

Outcome of at least two state House races unknown, which may determine chamber’s leadership

Errol Culbreth and Scotlyn Beck (Polichinelles) rehearse ahead of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker.” The immensely popular ballet is coming to the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé Friday through Sunday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Juneau Dance Theatre is ready to get cracking

“The Nutcracker” is set to run Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

In this photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB investigator Clint Crookshanks, left, and member Jennifer Homendy stand near the site of some of the wreckage of the DHC-2 Beaver, Wednesday, May 15, 2019, that was involved in a midair collision near Ketchikan. The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration should tighten rules about minimum visibility during flights and require more weather training for pilots who fly around Ketchikan.  (Peter Knudson/NTSB via AP)
Safety board recommends new measures for Alaska air tours

The board wants regulations for Ketchikan similar to requirements in Hawaii and the Grand Canyon.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Wednesday, Nov.30

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Harbor seals have a face full of whiskers, which the seals use to follow hydrodynamic wakes left by prey fish; even a blind seal can track a fish this way, discriminating victims by size and shape and direction of movement.  (Courtesy Photo / Jos Bakker)
On the Trails: The sense of touch

Touch is a mechanical sense, detecting physical stimuli such as pressure, texture,… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Tuesday, Nov. 29

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Nov. 26

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Sugar Bear Alaskan Treasures, seen here, was one of many artist vendors featured at the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska Indigenous Artists & Vendors Holiday Market from noon to 5 p.m. on Friday through Sunday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Indigenous Holiday Market features local artists

Market’s first return since 2018.

Most Read