Nakeshia Diop
Sarah Cohen prepares chocolate halva. She carved out a fine-dining niche in Haines, if only for two days each week. Nakeshia Diop photo.

If you’re craving a dark chocolate halva cake with chocolate tahini cream and candied lemons on a Monday night in Haines, there’s only one place to go: Old Field Kitchen.

The restaurant, owned by Sarah Cohen, evolved from a kitchen used for yoga retreat catering to a pop-up space for Four Wind Farms every Saturday during the pandemic. Now it’s a restaurant that serves brunch on Sundays and noodle and donburi bowls Monday evenings.

Cohen never went to culinary school, but said she got into the business because she likes feeding people. She has extensive experience working in the food industry. She worked at Mosey’s, a Mexican cantina, for the nine years that they were in town, and when she was in school in Oakland she worked at a bakery called Bakesale.

She operated her catering business about a decade before buying the building for her restaurant in 2015. She described the food she made as “locally sourced, healthy, and loosely Ayurvedic.”

The building where the restaurant now stands used to be a salmon bake, and it took years of renovations to get to the state it’s in now.

Cohen’s baking skills similarly took years to perfect. When she was just getting started, she said the almond croissant symbolized the pinnacle of baking skill. Now, she churns out the fan favorites every month, along with other specialty pastries like black sesame frangipane with candied ginger and pistachio nigella halva.

“They’re not always so complicated,” said Cohen.

The dinner menu changes every week. That is in part because her menu depends on what seasonal vegetables are available from Four Winds Farm in the months of June through September. “It’s really fresh and it makes good food easy,” said Cohen.

She gets her other ingredients from Costco and US Foods. There’s a particular type of noodle that she is able to source through another restaurant in Juneau. Still, supply chain issues alongside restaurant regulations have made business challenging.

“Unfortunately with US Foods, I’ll have some stuff that I’ve been using for years, and then all of a sudden it’s just discontinued, and you completely rethink where to get a similar product,” said Cohen.

Cohen lived in Japan for about a year, and the food there was a source of inspiration.

“I love everything about Japanese food. It’s always so local and so fresh. They really value all the aesthetics and the sense, and having your food be beautiful and look beautiful on the plate,” said Cohen.

The aesthetics of her own restaurant is an eclectic compilation of Cohen’s personal interests and art from the community. Behind the register is a wall of goblets from the parents of Stephanie Scott, a former teacher and Mayor who recently passed away. There are also rows of sake cups, some from antique stores, and others handmade by former Haines School art teacher Giselle Miller.

“I’ve been sort of slowly accumulating art from local artists. It just becomes part of curating the whole space and helps to feed into my other interests,” said Cohen, who went to art school for sculpting.

Cohen said that her customers are mostly local, with a handful of Canadian visitors and independent travelers that come through on the road system. Even though it slows down in the winter, she still keeps the restaurant open.

“I fundamentally believe in wintertime restaurants here and having that space to come out and then be together. It feels like the correct time to be in a windowless kitchen,” she said.

As Cohen put the chocolate halva cake in the oven, she reflected on her journey to open Old Field Kitchen, from her days working in restaurants, to catering, to remodeling, to finally having her own restaurant:

“I’m not sure I had any specific expectations, other than I feel really grateful that it’s working.”