When it comes to finding ways to support local agriculture, Jessica Aldabe takes the cake, or literally, the bread.
Aldabe, proprietor of the Sourdough Take-Home Chef, proclaims, “My mission with food is to know where your food comes from and to make great tasting products without chemicals.”
Growing up in the Florida Keys and then North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Aldabe was immersed in the restaurant world, starting out as a busgirl at the tender age of 11. “I would watch the guys in the kitchen and I aspired to be like them,” she said. She even created a nacho dish that the chefs added to the late night menu.
As a child in Florida she observed fishermen hauling in fresh fish at the docks and inquired of restaurant chefs how to best prepare the catch of the day. “Being around fresh ingredients and people who really knew how to cook them inspired me,” she said. “Food is the only career I’ve ever known my whole life,” she said. “I completely fell in love with it.”
She earned an associate’s degree in culinary arts at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina. Her first job after that was in Denali National Park, where she spent four years before transferring to Girdwood. She and her husband John have lived in North Pole six years at their Forgotten Acres Farm, where they are raising two little boys and a teenage girl.
“One of the best things is doing the business in front of our children,” Aldabe said. “It’s an excellent example for them and I hope someday to pass this on to the kids.”
Aldabe said she had tried little businesses here and there but nothing ever worked out till she met John, who also had a restaurant background. “With his support and help we’ve been able to do this,” she said. Sourdough Take-Home Chef has been at the Tanana Valley Farmers’ Market for four years and opened Oct. 1 inside Homegrown Market. Homemade breads, soups, sandwiches, salads and desserts are available for customers to take home or back to the office.
“I want to prepare nutritional foods,” Aldabe said. “I want to let the food be the star of the dish.”
Aldabe also offers catering services and is equipped to do camp-style catering without electricity.
Being successful at this type of work takes “a lot of guts and no glory,” Aldabe said. “We wake up every morning and go for it. We love to be together as a family and we love to be entrepreneurs.”
And she believes strongly in supporting the Alaska Grown movement not only with local products but also by hiring local employees. She buys local barley and grinds it to make bread. At the family farm the Aldabes harvest crops to feed the family and use in the business, including potatoes, rhubarb, honey, chickens, eggs, berries. She buys locally-grown meat and is delighted to have her shop located inside a butcher shop where it is easy to get quality meats.
John, who has a degree in forestry, is the family beekeeper. While he used to run 100 hives in California, he is down to four or five. Unlike most Interior beekeepers, he over-winters his bees. The Aldabes sell pure wildflower honey at the farmers’ market at Sourdough Take-Home Chef.
A typical day for Aldabe involves rising at 2:30 a.m. to bake bread and desserts and create soups from scratch in her commercial kitchen at the farm, then she hauls everything to town. In the afternoon John comes on duty and she goes home to be with the children.
The secret to her delicious breads is baking with lots of love, Aldabe said. “It’s good to think outside the box and be creative. I like artisan breads, not regular white bread or wheat bread and I like to use what is available.”
Her goals are to make the business sustainable, to learn to be a better manager and to keep the Alaska Grown motion alive.
“I want to connect the farmer with the consumer,” she said.
The small shop is definitely a keeper for Aldabe, who also plans to keep a presence at the farmers’ market. She enjoys the market so much she serves on its board of directors. “I love free enterprise,” she said.
“I love the fact you can be your own boss and make money off of it. I never knew it could happen. I watched other people’s success and now we figured out ours. It’s nice.”