NSI to host Smithsonian Exhibit and “Key Ingredients Festival”

Beginning in August, the Northern Susitna Institute will host a traveling Smithsonian exhibition.  N-S-I’s Executive Director and Program Coordinator joined KTNA’s Phillip Manning during this week’s Su-Valley Voice and discussed the upcoming festival.


Smithsonian and Talkeetna aren’t necessarily two words that most people would expect to hear in the same sentence.  Next month, however, a traveling exhibit will be coming to the Upper Valley, hosted by Northern Susitna Institute.  It’s called “Key Ingredients:  America by Food,” and it’s part of a nationwide tour.  The exhibit will be in Talkeetna for six weeks, from August 1st to mid-September.  In addition to the Smithsonian’s contribution, Upper Valley residents will be heavily involved in the event.  Executive Director Joe Page says that NSI has reached out to the community to help fill the calendar.

“We’ve worked with Denali Arts Council, the [Talkeetna] Historical Society, the Susitna River Coalition, lots of local businesses, and individuals to put together a comprehensive program that is spinning off of the exhibition.”

Food is a very broad topic.  Because of that, NSI Program Coordinator Larry Hutton says that the six-week festival will be broken into more…digestible chunks.

“The basic structure of it is that, each week during those six weeks, we’ll have a different theme.  A couple of examples are the art of food, the joy of food, the history of food, et cetera.”

Larry Hutton says each theme will have demonstrations, classes, and a lecture series that plays on the name of a popular series of scientific talks.

“If you’re familiar with the popular speaker series, TED, in the spirit of our festival being about food, the director of the Alaska Folk School, Diane Ziegner, came up with ‘FED Talks.'”

Those talks will cover a range of topics from pre-contact Dena’ina food culture to strengthening Alaska’s food system.  The final week will feature a competition that also borrows from pop culture, as Joe Page explains.

“You may have heard of the Iron Chef Contest.  Well, we’re going to have the Cast Iron Chef Competition.”

Unlike the television show for which it is named, the Cast Iron Chef competition will allow teams up to five hours to prepare a four-course meal.  All of the cooking must be done over a campfire, and, like on Iron Chef, the contestants won’t know beforehand what they’re working with.

Joe Page:  “You will be handed a bucket of secret ingredients that will have to be incorporated into this meal.”

Phillip Manning: “Interesting.  Are these things that people would normally eat, or are we looking at innards and the like?  Are we going to have some Alaskan haggis coming out of this, maybe?”

Larry Hutton: “So, that’s…that’s pending…”

The festival kicks off in just over two weeks, and NSI is still looking for volunteers to help as docents for the Smithsonian exhibit.  More details can be found at northernsusitnainstitute.org.

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