Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 3:30 PM on Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New chef, menu take resort step beyond land's end

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Land's End Resort's new executive chef, Billy Roberson, creates the sauce used in a new menu offering in the resort's dining room: shrimp fettucinne alla puttanesca.

You can't get much closer to the water than Land's End Resort. A Kachemak Bay high tide coupled with a wind leave little more than a few feet between the resort's deck and the salty brine. The arrival of Executive Chef Billy Roberson and a revised dinner menu have closed that gap, with tasty new offerings straight from Alaska's pristine water.

For starters, there's gravlax made from cured salmon and halibut and there's shellfish "misto fristo," a combination of scallops, oysters and shrimp. Smoked salmon has found its way into croquettes. There's fresh Kachemak Bay mussels to which a bit of spice, sweetness and acidity have been added thanks to a honey-sambal broth and gorgonzola.

And, of course, there are oysters fresh from the bay, as well.

Diners who want to begin their meal with salad can enjoy seafood offerings such as the fried oyster chipotle Caesar or the smoked salmon salad tossed with a horseradish vinaigrette.

Then there's dinner. Local favorites like Halibut Iliamna are still on the menu, but new mouth-watering choices include the shrimp fettucinne alla puttanesca that Roberson describes as "simple and freakin' delicious," and for those who can't decide which seafood to try, there's an Alaska bouillabaisse with rockfish, clams, shrimp, scallops and mussels.

A butternut squash ravioli with a walnut-gorgonzola cream sauce is available for vegetarians. Comfort-food lovers can snuggle up to a meal of meat loaf, but Roberson has even given it a "welcome to the wilds" flavor by making it from elk rather than beef.

There are still standard favorites like prime rib, steak, chicken and pork, but Land's End has clearly charted a course to anchor the restaurant's bow solidly toward the sea.

"The goal that we set last year was to become the top seafood restaurant in the state of Alaska," said Mike Dye, Land's End general manager.

When long-time executive chef Maggie Burns announced she was giving in to her wanderlust and devoting her winters to traveling, the resort cast a nationwide net, hoping to find someone who could help meet its goal.

"We had probably 50 resumes of people interested in coming this direction," said Dye. "Roberson was a very clear front-runner."

What caught the resort management's eye was Roberson's description of himself as a "food nerd."

"It became very clear in our initial discussion and several following discussions that he has a love for food and a lot of experience and success in creating new menus," said Dye. "All of his experience has been in areas where he's on the coast and seafood has been a key, an integral part of the community and menu."

Originally from south Mississippi, about an hour out of New Orleans, La., Roberson grew up in a multi-generational family environment where gardening, hunting, fishing and cooking were a way of life.

"I started hunting with my family when I was 10 years old and probably started fishing when I was 6 or 7, and all that ties into the cooking aspect," said Roberson.

During his high school years, he began working in restaurants as a job, but as his experience and exposure broadened, especially after moving to New Orleans, so did his love of preparing food.

"The science of food is always the same — water freezes at a certain temperature, it boils at a certain temperature — but I really fell into love with the art of it," said Roberson.

Working with a variety of chefs, such as Jason Smith, currently the executive chef at Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, Ore., offered Roberson opportunities to deepen his connection with food, as well as develop his ability to manage people.

Roberson's background also includes working with a chef that owned a restaurant in the countryside of northwest Italy. He owned and operated his own restaurant in Olympia, Wash., for six years, and, after selling it, returned to Italy for a short time.

"When I came back to the United States, it was to New York," said Roberson. "There I worked as an executive chef for a little while and consulted people getting start-up restaurants off the ground."

When he and his partner, artist Christina Fenner, began searching for other opportunities, Roberson spotted the posting for an executive chef at Land's End.

"I'm passionate about seafood and I'm really adamant about sustainable fish and using local products whenever available. That was a huge draw to Homer," said Roberson. "We have oysters on the half shell and I can point out the window and say, 'They came from right over there.' Or I can tell you the name of the boats the halibut or rockfish came from."

The new menu, which was introduced July 10, reflects the combined creativity of Roberson, Burns, who has agreed to stay through the summer and help with the transition of the new chef and new menu, and Lea Miller, the resort's assistant general manager. It is one of several changes planned for Land's End.

"We have made some small modifications to our physical space and décor and have more coming as we move into fall and winter," said Dye. "We're very proud of our food and beverage department. There's just an impressive array of talent throughout the restaurant and kitchen operations. I'd like to take my hat off to them and all their efforts."

For more about Land's End Resort, visit www.lands-end-resort.com/.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.