Fish broth project, Enoki Eatery win $1,500 prizes in fifth Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

One group of winners is using parts of fish that normally are wasted to create fish broth, while the other winner has a Japanese-Hawaiian pop-up restaurant with an Alaska twist. Congratulations to Lexi Fish-Hackett and Edith Johnson of the as-yet unnamed fish broth business and to Gretchen Stelzenmuller of Enoki Eatery. They are the winners of $1,500 each in the fifth annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest.

“We are happy to encourage more businesses to get into the local food system with our contest,” said Charles Bingham, board president of the Sitka Local Foods Network, which sponsors the contest. “Even though we had other entries, our judges were unanimous in picking these two standouts. We really liked the fish broth business, since it is reducing wasted parts of the fish. Enoki Eatery is offering new tastes in Sitka, and the smoked salmon musubi is really tasty. The Sitka Local Foods Network’s mission is to increase the amount of locally harvested and produced foods into the diets of Southeast Alaskans, so we hope our prizes continue to encourage local food entrepreneurs here in Sitka.”

The fish broth business is still getting off the ground, but the two women behind it have deep roots in Sitka’s food system. Edith Johnson owns Our Town Catering and was head chef at a couple of Sitka hotels before opening her own catering business, while Lexi Fish-Hackett is co-owner of Fish and Family Seafoods and studied nutrition in college.

“Our food business idea is to create a fish broth product and bring it to market. Broth is such a kitchen staple and can be used in so many types of cuisines. Plus we both love soup. Who doesn’t?” Edith and Lexi said. “There’s so much goodness in the bones of fish, which don’t get fully utilized on a commercial level, and we want to tap into that.”

In their entry form, Edith wrote, “Lexi approached me with an idea that she has had for years, the thought of using fish ‘waste’ — heads, bones and the meat left on the bones — to make a product that is very sustainable but also helps use fish parts that are thrown away. Every year in Sitka alone, thousands of fish carcasses are tossed into the ocean or disposed of. We would use these to make a fish bone broth.”

Edith and Lexi plan to make three types of fish broth. The first type is a bone broth that is clear and versatile using salmon bones and meat. The second type is a smoked salmon broth, which uses fish heads smoked by Catch Sitka Seafoods, and produces a concentrated broth that is richer and flavorful, meant for soups with heavy creams or milk. The third type is a Sitka-style fumet, which is a rich, high-end French broth with leeks, garlic, white wine, and gently poached halibut. A fumet is targeted to fish sauces on a high-end scale for delicate broths.

“We are really excited to work on creating a pantry essential that is sourced from our local Southeast Alaska waters,” Lexi and Edith said. “Another goal is to help to improve food security in Alaska by focusing sales within our region and state, at least to start. We want to create a product that is convenient, nutritious, and that people love!”

Gretchen Stelzenmuller grew up in Sitka, but spent time living in Hawai’i before coming back to Sitka. She worked in kitchens along the way. She started Enoki Eatery a few months ago, and had pop-up restaurants at Harbor Mountain Brewing and the Backdoor Cafe. She was using the Sitka Fine Arts Camp kitchen for her pop-up cooking, but will be looking for another kitchen to use this summer. She hopes to have a bicycle food cart for special events, such as the Sitka Farmers Market, and to use pop-up locations at other times. Eventually she hopes to find a more permanent location.

“Enoki Eatery was born from my love of making food as beautiful as it is delicious, sustainable as it is convenient,” Gretchen wrote on her entry form. “Enoki Eatery combines unique Southeast Alaskan flavors and ingredients with the style and inspiration of Japanese street food.  We specialize in musubi, a Hawaiian/japanese snack food of sticky rice, togarashi seasoning (mainly sesames and seaweed) topped with protein, such as smoked salmon, chicken, or mushroom wrapped in sheets of nori seaweed, for easy eating and extra nutrients. 

“It is most commonly served with spam, and though I do serve it this way, I am trying to use healthier and more sustainable ingredients that reflect Alaskan culture. Our other menu items include a pork katsu sandwich, soba noodles with black garlic sauce, kimchi rice bowls, mochi cupcakes and much more. It changes with the seasons. I focus on high-quality ingredients, simple menus, and artful presentations.”

Sustainability is a concern of Gretchen’s, and she knows it can make for a costly business model in Sitka. She wants to use local ingredients, since that supports local growers and harvesters. “This not only helps our economy, but cuts down on my environmental impact through barge and air freight use,” she said.

“The Sitka Local Food Network winnings will allow me to stay sustainable by financing biodegradable packaging for my take-out only food cart,” Gretchen said. “Staying dedicated to creating less waste is expensive and this is a step in the right direction. Sitka already faces mounting issues with shipping waste off the island. As a new business we aim to be part of the solution by being conscientious of our impact. I am sourcing biodegradable packaging specifically so that I know, no matter where it ends up in the waste stream, it will not negatively impact our environment.” 

Last year’s winners were Joanne “Chef Jo” Michalski of Muddy Mermaid Mudd Pies (frozen yogurt pies) and Nalani James of Eggstravgant (eggs from her chickens). The 2020 winners were Andrew Jylkka of Southeast Dough Company (fresh sourdough bread and fermented foods) and Levi Adams of Forage and Farm (mushroom growing and foraging). In 2019, our winners were Brittany Dumag of Castaway (food cart with Cuban pork sandwiches using Alaska pork) and Tamara Kyle of Sitka Sauers (fermented foods), with a special youth winner award for Abigail Ward of Sitka Spices (meat and fish rubs). In 2018, the winner was Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals (beach greens and local teas).