Some people merely dream of taking a luxury backcountry trip through the state of Alaska. Mother-Daughter team Kirsten and Mandy Dixon live it and make that dream a reality for countless visitors yearly. Within The Wild is family-owned by Kirsten and Carl Dixon and their daughter Carly Potgieter. Kirsten is also a chef on the property, working alongside her daughter Mandy, the executive chef.
Within the Wild operates two luxury adventure lodges—Tutka Bay Lodge on the Kenai Peninsula (near several of the most stunning national park in the United States) and Winterlake Lodge near the Alaska Range entrance and in the middle of the Iditarod Trail.
In addition to Within The Wild, the Dixon family owns La Baleine Café and Cooking School at Tutka Bay. Kirsten is an accomplished author, having penned multiple cookbooks throughout the years (two with daughter, Mandy). Mandy’s background includes culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu and the Culinary Institute of America and experience with the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group and the James Beard House.
As part of our Women’s History Month Celebration (and because today is International Women’s Day), we chatted with the successful mother-daughter team about their challenges, accomplishments and what they hope to see for the future of Within The Wild.
Kirsten and Mandy Dixon, Within The Wild
WT: How did you get your start in the industry?
Kirsten: I was a nurse living in Anchorage working in the ICU at the Alaska Native Medical Center. I was young but felt I was always at the end of the world, being around so many people who were in trauma or facing death. I wanted to be in the middle of life, in the bright and shiny part where people were at the table, talking and sharing stories with each other.
When my husband Carl wanted to move out of Anchorage, I was all for the idea. We quit our jobs, sold our house and most of our possessions, and headed for the backcountry of Alaska. I was always intensely interested in cooking. Both of my grandmothers were professional “cooks” in their day.
As a young girl, I loved to check out cookbooks from the library and read through stories of cooking in far-off foreign lands. I embraced the opportunity to cook in our reinvented new life at a small fishing lodge Carl built alongside a river. I learned to cook from many of our German guests who were restaurateurs or chefs.
I was invited to go to school at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, France, by two of our French guests who sponsored me. From there… it was stages and classes and stolen moments and more cookbooks and lots of cooking for lots of people over the years. I still love to cook.
WT: What has been your favorite personal achievement?
Kirsten: To be able to work with my family and make a living/lifestyle together in a creative and entrepreneurial way, living close to nature and that natural world, and teaching my children the value of preservation and protection of the place where we live.
Mandy: To be able to open and run my own successful cafe, La Baleine Cafe in the seaside town of Homer, Alaska. The cafe partners well with our remote Tutka Bay Lodge as well as the community of Homer.
WT: Can you tell me about any challenges you faced along the way?
Kirsten: One challenge I faced was trying to learn how to be a chef while living in backcountry Alaska with few resources to rely upon. I had to seek knowledge and information as I could and travel when I could to learn, which was hard, particularly with two small daughters.
Mandy: My mother having breast cancer was a big challenge for me.
WT: What do you hope the future holds for you and your career?
Kirsten & Mandy: We both want to give back more than we started with through community engagement, protecting wildlands, and living and working sustainably. We want to mentor those coming along in our profession and be compassionate and regenerative leaders. We want to inspire our guests with our food and tell stories through our cuisine of Alaska's past and present.