Salads at locally owned Turkey Red in Palmer are just one healthy, delicious menu item. Other dishes include grilled polenta, chicken with figs, moussaka, cioppino, soups, hot and cold sandwiches, pizza, and an array of desserts. Photo by Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan.

Alex Papasavas did not set out to become a chef much less the owner of one of the most popular restaurants in Palmer, Alaska. In the early 1990s, she worked for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) as a horse packer at the Three Peaks Ranch in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. When the ranch cook had to leave for a family emergency, Alex agreed to fill in.

“I thought, my gosh, I don’t know anything about cooking,” Alex said. Her saving grace was a 1984 book, Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. “It just opened the door for me.”

Since then, her work as a cook has taken her to Mexico, Antarctica, and Alaska. When she worked for NOLS in Palmer, she became friends with local growers in the Matanuska Valley. She noticed no one seemed to be taking advantage of the abundance of locally grown food. She thought about opening a bakery, but friends told her they wanted a place to eat dinner. So, she did both and opened Turkey Red in 2008.  

“I wanted to serve clean, nourishing food,” she said. “I wanted to cook with local ingredients.”

Her menu includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner with creative recipes made almost entirely from local ingredients. Baked goods are made in-house daily.

“From the get-go, when I planned Turkey Red, I wanted to decrease our carbon footprint,” Alex said. To that end, they’ve installed solar panels on the roof and installed an energy-efficient induction stove.

“Cooking is a science but also an art,” Alex said. “It is a way of giving, of making people happy in the moment. I want people to take that moment, enjoy each other, and share a good meal.”


Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan lives and writes from a small farm in Palmer. She is the author of several books about Alaska. For more information, visit kaylene.us.

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