Business profile: Jan Kunat

Jan Kunat

Title and company: Co-owner, Wild Alaska Mama Bear Kitchen.

Services: Wild Alaska Mama Bear Kitchen, which Kunat founded with his wife, Ela, in 1998, sells spice blends for salmon and halibut, as well as Alaska-made cedar planks for preparing salmon, halibut, poultry and vegetables.

The planks, which have been used in salmon preparation by Natives in the Pacific Northwest for centuries, enhance not only the flavor but the presentation of Alaska seafood, Kunat said. Cooking salmon on cedar is not well known in this area because Southeast Alaska is further north than cedar traditionally grows.

In addition to rectangular planks, the business makes planks carved in the shape of salmon and halibut. He has applied for a patent in the United States and Canada for the fish-shaped planks.

“It makes the planking much more attractive,” Kunat said. “I always say that people eat with their mouth and their nose, but most of the time they eat with their eyes. The presentation of food makes a whole lot of difference.”

The shapes also allow for a bit of creativity in serving food.

“If you cook salmon on a plank in the shape of salmon, you can make an eye out olives, fins out of carrots or peppers. … The sky’s the limit,” Kunat said.

Wild Alaska Mama Bear Kitchen sells its goods to many stores in Alaska and several in the Pacific Northwest. Twisted Fish restaurants in Juneau and Palm Springs, Calif., use the planks to prepare salmon, and Taku Smokeries sells the planks and spices in its gift shop.

Keeping their products Alaska-made is important to the Kunats.

The plank “is a good product,” Kunat said. “It’s 100 percent Alaskan, made from Alaska wood that is not clearcut.”

The company buys, from the U.S. Forest Service, wood that has been blown over in storms or washed up on the shore. Alaska Litho Inc., in Juneau, makes labels for the company’s products.

“We could have printed less expensive somewhere else, but we like to keep it local,” Kunat said.

Biographical information: Jan Kunat and his wife were born in Poland and came to the United States 16 years ago. They’ve lived in Alaska for eight years, and developed the idea for Wild Alaska Mama Bear Kitchen when Jan was running a charter fishing business.

“I cook the fish people catch on board” he said. “I always have to spice it, so I asked my wife to mix some spices together. From that on it’s become our business.”

Jan credits his wife with starting the business. She creates the spices and seasonings and helps manage the business.

“Frankly, she does it all,” Jan Kunat said.

Family: Jan Kunat lives in Gustavus with his wife, Ela, and their four children.

Quotable: “The scientists, they look for why the salmon is coming back each year to the streams. I say they’re coming back to be baked on cedar planks. Salmon on a cedar plank goes together. It’s so good that once you try it, you might never try it the other way. … We guarantee that you will like the taste, and that’s a lot to say. Nobody has ever returned a plank to us.”

Contact information: The Kunats and The Wild Alaska Mama Bear Kitchen can be reached at (907) 697-2704.

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