In the kitchen with…
Chef Shawna McIntyre of the Seward Brewing Company
By Amy Newman
Photos by Erik Slater
Shawna McIntyre, executive chef of the Seward Brewing Company, found her way up north the way most people do – she was looking for adventure, and Alaska answered the call.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Shawna grew up chopping peppers and onions alongside her grandmother, watching culinary shows and reading cookbooks for fun. So when it was time for college, “there was definitely an answer to what I wanted to do,” she says.
She enrolled in The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, and worked her way through school cooking in a seafood restaurant. After graduation she began applying for seasonal jobs across the country. Erik Slater, then the executive chef at Resurrection Roadhouse at Seward’s Windsong Lodge, invited her to work as his sous chef. Her desire for adventure and her culinary experience made for a perfect pairing.
“The seafood aspect of things is always something I’ve been into,” she says. But the transition from Philadelphia to Alaska, she says, was a bit jarring.
“I went from high heels to X-tra tuffs and flannels overnight,” she says with a laugh.
This summer marked Shawna’s seventh in Seward. During the off-season she travels and cooks her way around the globe. She’s spent time in Maui, Palm Springs and Thailand, and worked as a chef for three seasons at a Texas hunting ranch. Every experience, she says, influences her cooking.
“I just try to take a little piece of everybody’s signature stuff and tie it into mine,” she says.
Even the bad experiences impact her cooking. She ate her way through plenty of barbecue during her time in Texas in an attempt to learn the secret of good barbecue, a goal she’d had since childhood thanks to her father.
“My dad made the worst barbecue on the planet,” she says with a laugh. “I swore to myself that I was going to make it better.”
In 2014, Erik and his wife Hillary opened the Seward Brewing Company, and named Shawna head chef. She describes the menu as elevated pub food, with flavors inspired by her off-season travels – spicy curry wings tossed in a luscious Asian sauce, influenced by her travels to Thailand, or a salmon poke, a favorite from her winter in Maui.
No matter the cuisine, Shawna describes her style of cooking as rustic – “basic and simple, almost back to the roots of cooking.”
But simple doesn’t mean boring. A dish doesn’t need to have a long list of unrecognizable ingredients to be good, Shawna says.
“Some of the best things that I’ve ever eaten were just seared or grilled to perfection, with salt and pepper, garlic, butter and thyme,” she says. “If you know how to cook this one thing properly – a vegetable to the perfect bite, or pasta to the perfect bite – that elevates the flavor of everything,” she says.
Like many chefs, Shawna uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. At the restaurant she adds farm fresh eggs to salads, uses mushrooms from a local forager, and when the gardens are overflowing with rhubarb, you can be sure that “we’re going to make a dessert special out of that,” she says.
Eventually, Shawna would like to end her semi-nomadic existence and set down roots. If the Seward Brewing Company becomes a year-round restaurant, she’d like those roots to be in Seward.
“My roots are at the brewery,” she says. “I enjoy Seward so much. I’m from Philly, but this is what I call home.”