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Bellingham is no stranger to community work and bringing small businesses to the forefront. Beloved boutique hotel and seaside restaurant the Chrysalis Inn & Spa and Keenan’s at the Pier are regular purveyors of bounty from local artisans and vendors. Keenan’s Executive Chef Ashley Kovacevich and local fish vendor Michael Jackson sat down with WhatcomTalk to discuss their partnership and the importance of supporting small business.

Why Local?

“Mike Keenan, the owner of the Chrysalis, has always had a mantra that he wants everything to be as local as possible,” says Chef Ashley Kovacevich. “When I took the job, I started as a line cook and fell in love with the business because of that mantra — because I love supporting all local vendors and businesses.”

When Kovacevich took over as executive chef, she was free to explore those local relationships and establish connections with vendors across Whatcom County.

Partnering with local businesses helps the community thrive and keeps the menu fresh. Photo credit: Sarah Hardy Photography

“It’s fun to hear everybody’s stories and about everybody’s businesses,” she says. “It’s amazing to get fresh, awesome products; a lot of the local produce farmers grow such interesting and cool stuff that I maybe haven’t even heard of. We get to play and have a lot of creative freedom with the local produce.”

Commercial fisherman Michael Jackson’s perspective is unique to producing product and serving as a vendor.

“Since COVID, [sourcing locally] is a big thing,” he says. “I’m the chairman of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s salmon committee, and a lot of studies have come out [showing] one of the highest priorities for consumers is they want to ask where it’s from, they want to source their food.”

Unwavering dedication to support and care for the community is a crucial factor in keeping commerce local. “It’s not a trend, that’s just the way it’s happening, how it’s evolving,” Jackson says. “It’s becoming more and more important to have local people like myself and others to be able to feed that pipeline.”

What’s on the Menu

Fall Line Fisheries LLC, Jackson’s company and vendor to Keenan’s at the Pier, serves as a local source of salmon for the restaurant, and Chef Kovacevich loves having his fish on the menu.

“I fish in Bristol Bay and 99% of the fish caught [there] are sockeye salmon,” says Jackson. “So my products are all sockeye salmon. I have filets that are pin bone removed, I have portions like the five to seven ounces that you’ll see in the store, and I also do three different types of smoked sockeye salmon. I do the traditional Alder smoked, candied strips, and double cold smoked lochs — which, if you haven’t had, you’ll need a 12-step program after trying them because you won’t quit.”

All of Michael Jackson’s fish products are Bristol Bay Wild Sockeye Salmon. Photo credit: Sarah Hardy Photography

Currently, Keenan’s menu features Jackson’s sockeye salmon as well as halibut from a different source. “Since we partnered with Michael Jackson, specifically, I’ve always created a dish that has his salmon on it,” Kovacevich says. “We always have a salmon dish on and right now we have it with roasted new potatoes, a truffle pea purée, and sautéed mushrooms. His salmon just shines on that one. Those are such great flavors all together. It’s really, really tasty.”

Each new season brings with it an opportunity for Kovacevich to highlight local tastes and artisanal vendors. “We very much plan our menus around what’s going to be in season, what’s going to be fresh, and what we can get from farms,” she says. “With our spring/summer menu, you’ll see a lot of halibut that we get from Pete and Chelsea of Sea to Shore Seafood Co. We also offer Oostema Farm’s wagyu beef in our sliders with a black garlic truffle aioli, bacon jam, arugula, and Whatcom Blue Cheese served on Avenue Bakery slider buns.”

Whatever the ingredient may be, Kovacevich finds great joy in sourcing as much of her menu locally as possible.

“That’s how Bellingham thrives,” she says. “The people here thrive by supporting each other. Everybody’s got their craft, and they’ve dialed it in and made it wonderful and delicious and it is really fun to work with that. It just makes my heart warm. It shines through — all the care and attention for food, fish, animals, and products we buy.”

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