On Saturday mornings at the Sitka Farmers Market, the smell of slightly singed, brown-sugar, soy-sauce blackcod tips fills the air. Wandering Sitkans are lured to 235 Katlian St. in search of the origin of this barbecued aroma. Outside of the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall, visitors to the Sitka Farmers Market can find a bearded man in overalls and a straw hat cooking freshly caught and deliciously marinated black cod tips.
Kerry MacLane is a familiar face in the food community here in Sitka and we’re thrilled to see him cooking up his black cod tips at each farmers market. After blackening the tips, he takes them fresh off the grill and lays them on brown or white rice. He offers shredded kale and soy sauce as condiments for the steaming hot bowl of pure goodness. It’s not uncommon for a line to accumulate at MacLane’s booth, because his blackcod tips are wildly popular.
MacLane is originally from Montana, where he worked as an organic farm inspector. Today his children (and now grandchildren!) still live in Missoula, but after going through a divorce, he decided to venture off to Alaska and fell in love with the state. He saw Alaska as Montana 30 years ago before large investors came in, such as Charles Schwab, who bought out his property there. In Tok, he first worked harvesting mushrooms. Throughout most of his life he has always been getting himself into trouble, being jailed time and again for civil disobedience. (Today on his property stands a sign that reads “WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER.”)
After Tok, he worked in Fairbanks as a teacher, and wrote a curriculum for a sustainable agriculture track. In 2007, he made his way down to Sitka, working as a deck hand. There, he was able to sample a lot of fish and gain knowledge of varying species and cleaning techniques.
“If you live long enough and are poor enough, you learn skills.” He decided to stay in Sitka and “reinvent himself,” as the “The Harbor Handyman” and was just that. Many people called for his help and he came to realize the need for reconstructive handy help on the island.
He lived on John Zarley’s Shamrock boat for the first years after his arrival in Sitka. Both Zarley and MacLane were born the same hour of the same day in the same year, though as MacLane says, “He’s a wealthy doctor and I have more hair.” The boat is a Monk design from 1940. Ed Monk was a famous shipwright and naval architect in the Pacific Northwest, who designed commercial and pleasure vessels, power or sail.
Within a year of his time in Sitka, MacLane became involved in the Sitka Health Summit during the program’s early years. He had worked in and helped build community gardens and grow local farmers markets in the past, but had never built his own community greenhouse. At the time, he was also working at SEARHC as a grant writer, and thanks to the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, he was able to write $10 million in grants in his first year.
After the 2008 Sitka Health Summit, he helped form the Sitka Local Foods Network into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, with the help of Linda Wilson (try her fabulous homemade rhubarb pie at the market) and other local food-interested individuals. MacLane served as the first president of the Sitka Local Foods Network.
He met his girlfriend, Sherie Mayo, a commercial fisherman working on her family’s boat called Coralee, here in Sitka and Kerry is able to operate his blackcod prepared food business with her help. He discovered the tasty benefits of blackcod tips nearly by chance. Mayo had always thrown out the tips under the blackcod gills until she met a few Russian women who taught her the importance of saving the decadent tips. As a result, MacLane’s blackcod recipe was featured on the Cooking Channel television show, “Hook, Line and Dinner,” where they contacted him to share his knowledge of cooking blackcod tips and other Sitkan delicacies. (Note, blackcod is not a true cod, and also is known as sablefish or butterfish for its high oil content.)
Together, Mayo and MacLane are buying a beautiful boat called the Blue Merlin, so named for its exterior blue tinge, and the infamous story of fisherman Ward Eldridge’s boat Merlin from 1999. On July 7 of that year, the Merlin sunk in Whale Bay after a whale poked its head through the hull. Before Mayo and MacLane started dating, MacLane hired Eldridge to take his son, daughter and himself to Goddard Hot Springs. MacLane remembers that trip as “magical,” and says that he himself is “turning into the little old man that Ward is now… [And] it is a pretty good place to age into.” According to MacLane, the Blue Merlin, Ward, Mayo and Kerry are like family now.
Someday, MacLane wants to learn to sail his boat to Hawai’i.
This coming Saturday, Aug. 9, come out to the Sitka Farmers Market and taste Kerry MacLane’s locally harvested and barbecued blackcod tips!