In the kitchen with…
Chef Maggie Burns of Land's End Resort
Story by Catherine Bodry • Photos courtesy of Land's End Resort
Maggie Burns has traveled the world in search of culinary inspiration. She continues to travel not because she hasn't found it, but because she finds it everywhere. A visitor to more than 10 countries, one of Burns' aims when she travels is to collect recipes and ideas for Land's End Resort in Homer, where she has been executive chef for six years.
Burns' cosmopolitan leanings belie humble roots — she has no formal culinary training. Burns grew up in a family of ten in Minnesota, and her mother was her earliest motivator. "She cooked everything from scratch," Burns recalls. "She baked bread by hand weekly; nothing came from a package. She encouraged all of us to cook and bake."
Burns continued her grassroots education in a bakery at age 14: "I would go in at 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday mornings to frost doughnuts, fill Bismarcks and cut bread, and then work the counter." Although she later cooked in USDA Forest Service camps, her true restaurant cooking experience came about accidentally, when she was waiting tables at a popular breakfast and lunch joint in Anchorage: "The cook didn't show up one morning, and I was one of only two waitresses. One of us had to go back and cook, so I said I'd try. After that, I was the cook. It was a challenge, but a good one."
Indeed, Burns thrives on challenges and hard work. She's been working at Land's End a cumulative 15 years, and began as a food server before rising to executive chef. One of her hallmarks at the Homer restaurant is "Uncorked," a monthly dinner held from October to May. In this highly regarded series, Burns creates a different five-course meal and presents each course with a wine pairing. The event has become so popular that tickets often sell out far in advance. The Uncorked menu reflects Burns' passion for travel and world cuisine; dishes such as Five Spice Beef Noodle Soup (a creative take on Vietnamese pho) or Macadamia Nut Crab Cakes with Warm Papaya Chile Cream Sauce are direct expressions of her trips to Vietnam and Hawaii. Burns plans to travel to Argentina soon, and hopes to bring back a taste of the country's cuisine and wine for Alaskans to enjoy at a future Uncorked event.
Burns' advice to the at-home chef doesn't involve buying a transatlantic ticket, however. Instead, she encourages amateurs to peruse cookbooks ("there are so many wonderful ones to guide you along!") and to try different ingredients. She enjoys trying new dishes out on friends and family, and suggests that taste-testing with people close to us is fun for everyone. Furthermore, she reminds us that Alaskans have a bounty of fresh seafood right on our shores, and that we should take advantage of this abundance.