In the kitchen with…
Chef Mike Dodge of Hott Stixx
Story By Sarah Gonzales • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna
Talk about your dedicated locavore: He was born and raised here, serves the food grown here, and plans on expanding his vision of "getting as much Alaskan food on the menu as possible to support other Alaskan businesses." He's executive chef and owner of Hott Stixx, Mike Dodge.
A third generation Alaskan, Dodge has been learning the secrets of good cooking from the previous two generations since he was a boy. He says that both of his parents were great cooks who taught him how to create meals from scratch. "I grew up with all that cooking Alaska-style – lots of halibut and salmon" – fish that his grandpa, a pilot, would take him out to catch, flying his helicopter to remote sweet spots.
"My grandma is also a good cook," he adds. "She'd pay attention to little details, like she'd peel all the mushrooms for the salad."
These days his family members are regular customers at Hott Stixx, along with the nightly line-up of diners waiting to try Dodge's globally influenced, but locally procured food. Dodge sources as many ingredients as he can from Alaska, serving fresh, local produce and seafood whenever possible. He's established a relationship with Alex Davis of A.D. Farms in Palmer who supplies much of his produce. "He pulls vegetables right out of the ground and brings them directly to me at the restaurant," says Dodge. "And if I want a specific vegetable, he'll start growing it for me."
Whether a specific vegetable or unique meat like alligator or ostrich, Dodge knows exactly what he wants and he goes after it with the determination of someone used to taking risks. Dodge was a competitive snowboarder once upon a time, but "had to put the extreme sports aside and focus on the business," he says. "This was the hugest risk of my life – deciding to give up a great-paying job at the Roadhouse" to open Hott Stixx. He insists he wouldn't be happy any other way, though. "Being a chef is what I love to do. When I'm not cooking, I just don't feel like I'm in the right mindset," he says. "I have to be on the line cooking. I like to be sweating with the team and that's what makes me a good boss."
Having worked his way up from teenaged dishwasher to chef/owner of one of Anchorage's more innovative restaurants, Dodge's appetite for cooking was discovered while working the pizza station at the Glacier Brewhouse about 10 years ago. "I started noticing that I was good at what I did. It came naturally and it started to become really fun playing with the food," he recalls. "They put one of my pizzas on the menu – the Dodger – a chicken ranch with bacon," he says with a smile. Getting that pizza on the menu was the moment Dodge knew that cooking was his future and so he decided to seek professional training.
At age 20, Dodge set off for culinary school in Texas, but quickly found it too slow-paced compared to the 600-700 plates he'd been putting out each night at the Brewhouse. So he came back to Anchorage, bought some books to study and eventually got hired at Sacks Cafe. "That's where I would say my cooking really took off," he remembers. He credits Sacks with rounding out his culinary education by teaching him about using local ingredients, being creative and "fine dining and presentation details," he says.
This attention to detail, a stomach for risks and a large, local support base are perhaps some of the reasons that Dodge has achieved so much at a relatively young age. It's unknown what the next 10 years will bring for Dodge, but it's fairly certain he'll still be cooking in Anchorage. "I think in other cities it'd be harder for me to get as far as I did as fast as I did," he considers. "I was raised here and I know what people like here, so I think this is where I'd like to start my empire," he says with a laugh, referring to his dream of growing his restaurant business in the place where he grew up.