New book captures some of Homer’s favorite flavors

  • Michelle Wilson, left, Sean Hogan, center, and Leah Tufares, far right, stand in front of Cosmic Kitchen, the popular Homer eatery on Pioneer Avenue. (Photos provided)
  • Sean Hogan, left, and Michelle Wilson, right, hold their new book, “Cosmic Kitchen: Breakfast, Lunch and Friends.” (Photos provided)
  • Michelle Wilson, left, Leah Tufares, center, and Sean Hogan, far right, stand in front of Cosmic Kitchen, the popular Homer eatery on Pioneer Avenue. (Photos provided)

The lunch rush is over, but there’s still a steady stream of customers through the door of Cosmic Kitchen on a recent Friday afternoon. Over the banter of diners and clatter in the kitchen and interruptions that include buying some fresh halibut, owners Sean Hogan and Michelle Wilson take a break to talk about their newest endeavor.

Their book “Cosmic Kitchen” was released just as the busy summer season was beginning.

While the tagline of the restaurant is “Breakfast, Lunch, Mexican,” the subtitle of the book is “Breakfast, Lunch and Friends,” a tribute to those who have contributed to the success of the popular Pioneer Avenue eatery and made it an icon of Homer’s food scene.

The book is part cookbook, part souvenir, part snapshot of Homer and part memoir — mixing Hogan and Wilson’s work experience with their personal history.

It’s also part gratitude journal and philosophical reflection.

“We wanted to share how happy we’ve been in Homer,” says Wilson.

The book mirrors the restaurant when it comes to variety — at least 75 recipes for such different dishes as chili, brownies, chicken enchiladas in chocolate mole sauce and eggs Benedict are included. Many of the recipe pages also contain vignettes that not only give insight into the featured dishes but also share a glimpse of life and work at Cosmic Kitchen. Then, there are the stories that tell Hogan and Wilson’s story.

And the photos, well, you might find yourself in one of them. While there are lots of pictures of Cosmic food there are far more of people, all of whom have been a part in the restaurant’s success, say Hogan and Wilson.

Many are employees, who have become like family, and loyal customers, who also have become like family, they say. In fact, a chapter in the book is titled “Cosmic Family” and highlights the importance of interactions not only with customers, but “suppliers, employees, and anyone we do business with.”

While running the restaurant has been a lot of hard work, Hogan and Wilson still seem a little amazed that Cosmic Kitchen has been open now for 14 years and they have a book to celebrate their accomplishments.

The Cosmic story is especially impressive when statistics show that 60 percent of restaurants fail in the first year, and 80 percent are finished in five years.

The recipe for their success includes these ingredients: consistency, quality, speed, pricing, the loyalty of their customers and talented, hard-working employees, say Hogan and Wilson.

“All of our staff are stars and none more so than Leah Tufares,” writes Hogan in the book. “Very often Leah takes your order, cooks your food and serves it to you as well, while it seems the rest of us struggle to keep up.”

Tufares, who has worked at Cosmic Kitchen for most of the 14 years it’s been open, in turn praises Hogan and Wilson for the way they treat their staff.

Just as they divide the restaurant duties — Hogan runs the kitchen, while Wilson takes care of the business details like payroll and taxes, as well as fills in wherever she’s needed at the restaurant — they took on different roles in producing the book. Hogan did the writing; most of the photography is Wilson’s. She also did much the editing.

The two have been together for 30-plus years — ever since their paths crossed in Phoenix in 1985, writes Hogan. It was Wilson’s parents — Aileen and Hambone — who were the catalyst for the couple to first come to Alaska and Homer in 1990.

Before opening Cosmic Kitchen in 2003, Hogan had worked in more than 40 restaurants, hotels and catering companies. While much of his experience was in fine-dining establishments, he prefers the more egalitarian, family-style of Cosmic Kitchen.

Repeat customers are one way Hogan and Wilson know they’re doing something right. A recent email from a satisfied customer drives home the point:

“My husband and I come to Homer from Anchorage every Spring to salmon fish and always try to get to the Cosmic Kitchen at least once. This year we were lucky and had the opportunity to come three times. We purchased your cookbook and just wanted to thank you so much for sharing some of our favorite dishes. We have made and enjoyed several of them so far and looking forward too many more.

“It’s an easy cookbook to use and the pictures are beautiful. We love you and Michelle’s story. Your waitress Leah is our favorite!

“Thanks again. Happy cooking and see you next Spring.”

••••

“Cosmic Kitchen,” the book, is available at Cosmic Kitchen, the restaurant, as well as at The Homer Bookstore, Coal Point Trading Company, Ulmer’s and Salty Girls. It’s also available on Amazon and as an e-book on Kindle.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

(Cosmic Kitchen’s most popular soup)

• ¼ pound butter

• ½ cup oinions, diced

• 1 ½ pounds mushrooms, sliced

• 1 tablespoon dill

• 2 tablespoons paprika

• 2 tablespoons tomato pose

• ½ cup flour

• 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

• ½ cup sour cream

1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the onions and mushrooms, stirring continuously, then add the spices and tomato paste.

2. Add the flour gradually, stirring until the mixture is coated and sticky.

3. Add the broth, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the sour cream.

Serve with a nice crusty garlic bread.

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