Chef Sara Harvey, A Wild woman of Hood Canal

Sara Harvey is an oyster farmer and the executive chef at Alderbrook Resort & Spa in western Washington. Her passion for high-quality local ingredients fused with a direct connection to Puget Sound’s natural environments is as inspiring as it is delicious.

At the base of the Olympic Mountains, one of the only true fjords in the contiguous United States slices through western Washington. Hood Canal’s wild bounty is home to Orcas, seals, a variety of salmon, bears, and birds.

Some of the best food experiences in the area originate from the Alderbrook Resort & Spa in Union, WA – a small community in the Hood Canal area. Union has roughly 700 residents but quite literally bursts with flavor.

Sara Harvey is the executive chef at Alderbrook Resort & Spa. Her brain and hands are responsible for the amazing food that’s served at the Alderbrook. She also helps oversee culinary delights at nearby Hook & Fork – a small eatery attached to the Union City Market.

A portrait of Alderbrook Resort & Spa's executive chef, Sara Harvey in the cove where she keeps her oyster farm
Executive Chef Sara Harvey standing in the courtyard of the Hook and Fork eatery wearing a black apron
Executive Chef Sara Harvey cooking oysters over an open fire at Hook & Fork eatery in Union, Washington

I met Chef Sara a few years ago when she was cooking at Hook & Fork, which is also owned and operated by Alderbrook. The first thing she did when we met was feed me. I was there to talk about potentially doing a story about her. Unsolicited, she brought me an assortment of her creations to feast on. She explained where the ingredients came from and how she cooked them. It took only a few minutes to understand that food is more than just a job for Sara.

“I think one of the most important things about eating for me, especially in the commercial sense, is so many people have shame about food. They’re afraid to say I don’t like that. Or I’m dairy sensitive. So people will say they’re allergic instead. I wish that conversation was easier. Something I’m working on with our team at the Alderbrook is to make menu items that are a little more approachable without people having to ask the question. And also coaching our staff to be engaging when we talk about dietary preferences and restrictions. Food should be the one thing that we can all feel super good about. Especially when you’re looking at people who cook food commercially. My entire craft and career is making food for other people. And if I can’t do that in a way that makes you feel good when you leave the table, inside and out, then I haven’t done my job right.”

Alderbrook Resort & Spa is a beacon of hospitality in the Hood Canal area. Guests can enjoy 77 guestrooms, 16 private cottages, a full spa, a pool, a newly renovated restaurant, a massive lawn with direct access to Puget Sound water, and five miles of hiking trails. Food is at the center of Alderbrook’s universe.

“We are super fortunate in that we have ownership who love food and love to have fun. And if we can come up with an idea and flesh it out, they’re usually pretty willing to let the team run with it and see if it has legs. We’ve had the opportunity to be playful. And we’ve had an amazing guest response too. Some of the best feedback we get is about our food and beverage program.”

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Chef Sara doesn’t just feed hungry tourists, she supports her community with food. Take in a meal at Alderbrook’s newly renovated restaurant or down the road at Hook & Fork, and you’ll find a delicious and curious assortment of local ingredients from clams and oysters to meat and vegetables. Ask Chef Sara about local ingredients and you’ll get a passionate story about how members of the Hood Canal food community support each other to help put food on your plate.

It’s easy to overlook the work that goes into assembling a plate of food as you’re lapping up every crumb, but Chef Sara and the Alderbrook team happily take on that work for you. As a business, Alderbrook provides local jobs in an area that’s mostly driven by tourism. As a member of the larger Puget Sound food community, they advocate for high-quality local ingredients and support those who can supply them.

A large plate of oysters on a bed of salt with a bowl of shrimp and clams surrounded by plates of corn chowder and oysters
A closeup picture of cooked shrimp, steamed clams, fresh thyme, and broth in a bowl
A closeup picture of charred oysters topped with butter and green onions

“One of the things I’ve tried to do at Alderbrook is to create a stronger community with our other local attractions. We’re all going to see the same guests that weekend. If we can complement that, and share hours and share information to make it a more exciting experience, we tend to get better feedback in our own reviews and from the guests that I chat with. They’re so excited when I tell them how to make a reservation up at the Hama Hama Oyster Company and they come back and say they had so much fun! They tell me they stopped at the distillery along the way that I told them about. We try to tie all of it together, not just to provide that monetized experience, but to write the story.”

Sara and her partner, Christian, live in a towering house in a cove that overlooks their boutique oyster farm – Black Shield Oyster Company.

For this story, we spent a few days wandering Alderbrook’s grounds and stuffing our faces. On the last day, Sara invited us to her home for a tour of the oyster operation and a home-cooked meal with some of her closest friends. She walked us through rows of oyster bags and explained the process of growing and harvesting Puget Sound delicacies.

Oyster farming is wet and dirty work. But it offers Sara a direct connection to an ingredient that so many people come to the Canal looking to enjoy.

Chef Sara Harvey standing in a row of bagged oysters laughing and holding an oyster
Chef Sara Harvey and her partner, Christian, walking along a large oyster bed in the Hood Canal cove in front of their house in western Washington
A person wearing blue rubber gloves holding a shucked raw oyster and a blue shucking knife.

“Farmers don’t have control of when the tides are. If you’re putting in last-minute orders as a restaurant, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get what you need or that it’s going to be the best version that they have. Because they’re usually racing to make it happen at two in the morning, to hit the road by six, to deliver by noon so they can get back. I wanted to make a better product. I wanted to have a cleaner clam, a better oyster. I don’t want to sell things that are covered in barnacles. It’s chef made for chefs. I want to sell products that I would be stoked to have on my menu.”

Towards the end of our last day, we put down our cameras to enjoy a meal with our new friends at Sara’s house. And, we immediately picked up the cameras again to capture the moment. Sara prepared a gourmet meal for the group with ease using ingredients from around Hood Canal, including her oyster farm.

I don’t know Sara well enough to really understand what’s happening in her head when she’s cooking. But in the short amount of time I spent with her, I felt what I can only describe as an energy shift when it was time for her to create in the kitchen. The person who sat down with me for an interview was the same person who cooked all of our meals. But she’s also a little different when she’s wielding knives and commanding fire.

On the first day of shooting for this story, we showed up at Hook & Fork early to get our gear ready and plan our shots. Chef Sara arrived wearing a black chef’s jacket and large-rimmed sunglasses. She smiled as we introduced the members of our crew. We spent only a few moments on pleasantries before Sara found her spot in Hook & Fork’s outdoor kitchen – a kitchen framed against Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. For the next hour, she cooked and delivered what felt like the entire menu. With each plate, she would quickly explain how the meal was prepared. At the end of her run, she sat with us and watched as our crew enjoyed her work. She smiled and understood the meaning of our hungry moans and grunts.

Alderbrook Resort & Spa's executive chef, Sara Harvey, delivering a plate of friend prawns and mixed greens to restaurant table

Later that day, Chef Sara cooked dinner for our crew at Alderbrook. She brought various dishes to our table with an ear-to-ear grin as she again explained what was on the plate.

Throughout our time in Hood Canal for this story, we saw a glimpse of Sara’s world. She’s proud of her work and she’s passionate about food and community. And, she works her ass off. The life of a chef is already tough, and she adds oyster farming into the mix.

I asked Sara what she recommends to travelers who want to experience Hood Canals’ delights. She says to take in lunch at Hook & Fork, then take a drive to the Hama Hama Oyster Company. Next, head to the small town of Chimacum to Finnriver Farm & Cidery. Hit the breweries on the way back and finish the day with dinner at Alderbrook. You’ll drift to sleep with a full belly, a slight buzz, and memories.

In the time I spent with Chef Sara, she kept bringing me back to the power food has in our lives. It’s connected to our mental and physical health. It impacts our money and how we spend it. Cultivating food and farming are directly related to the health of our planet. It’s a component of some big problems we have to face, but it’s also part of the solution.

A closeup image of a chef dropping fresh herbs into a hot pan filled with button and raw shrimp
A plate of raw oysters on a bed of salt
A single egg frying in a pan at Hook & Fork in Union, Washington

Put Hood Canal on your travel list. Let Chef Sara fill your belly. Eat, listen, and learn about how food can heal your soul.

“Eating should be the best thing you can do. It’s fun. It’s great to sit with friends and share a platter of something or to open the top of a pot pie. That moment when it comes out and it’s this thick steamy thing. You can smell the celery and you can hear the carrots growing in your head and the little chickens running through your eyelids. We should all have that feeling whether or not you eat butter and flour or you’re living the Keto lifestyle. Food is there to make you happy.”

Special thanks to the Alderbrook Resort & Spa and Chef Sara Harvey for hosting our crew. Find out more about Alderbrook here. And there’s always something exciting to do in Hood Canal.

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