Iditarod musher Petit and his dogs chow down in Ruby after arriving first to the Yukon River town

a musher eats a meal inside
Big Lake musher Nicolas Petit digs into the parmesan rosemary fingerling potatoes that came with his ribeye steak with gorgonzola truffle butter and sauteed swiss chard. Petit won a gourmet meal prepared in Ruby on Thursday, March 7, 2024, by the executive chefs of Anchorage restaurants South and Spenard Roadhouse for being the first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race competitor to reach the Yukon River. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

RUBY – Musher Nicolas Petit traded pre-packaged food for a gourmet meal Thursday night, his prize for arriving at this Yukon River town first in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Petit’s decision to take his mandatory 24-hour layover here, about 495 miles into the 1,000-mile race, is rare among Iditarod mushers, though not unheard of. This year, every other musher had taken, or was taking, their 24 by the time Petit arrived for his. A procession of teams was set to leapfrog him Friday.

Taking the long break here had always been the plan, Petit said.

“I’ll be less tired later,” he said. “Me and them.”

Petit spread straw for his dogs and gave them snacks of horse meat, pork belly and water-soaked kibble.

The gourmet meal for Petit had not been part of the plan to stay here: As he mushed into town, he wasn’t sure it was still a prize in the race, he said. But he was eager to eat, as were his dogs, something that Petit was happy to see. It’s a good indicator that the dogs were still feeling well after so many miles, he said.

“They’re eating better than I’ve ever really had a team eat,” Petit said. “The ones that are typically poor eaters, we’re playing tug-o-war with the food. And that’s awesome. Any musher would be like, ‘Wow, I want mine like that.’”

A dog named Blister wasn’t particularly impressed with a dead marten Petit had found along the trail, likely after it had escaped from a trap by chewing its own leg. Petit showed it to the white and weary dog, who didn’t take much interest, even if the frozen weasel looked very much like a dog toy.

a dog sniffs a frozen marten in the dark
A dog named Blister on Nicolas Petit’s team sniffs a dead marten in Ruby on Thursday, March 7, 2024 that Petit found while mushing in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

Unlike the dogs, Petit’s meal came with a bottle of champagne and shiny cutlery, and it was prepared by executive chefs Carlos Walker and Nas Benhalim of Anchorage restaurants South and Spenard Roadhouse, respectively.

As Petit enjoyed the bubbly with his friend Nate Titus, a friend and local with whom Petit shared his meal, the chefs cooked on two portable burners, filling the Ruby community hall with the smell of seared scallops first, then ribeye steak.

Petit had two helpings of salad – vegetables can be hard to come by on the Iditarod Trail – which included arugula, fennel, blood orange, red onion, champagne vinaigrette and goat cheese.

Petit, originally from France, said he couldn’t really compare the food to French cuisine. He had moved to the U.S. when he was 12.

“Grandma’s food? Is that what I’m comparing it to?” he said. “This is better. Sorry, grandma.”

a chef prepares a meal in a pan
Executive Chef Nas Benhalim of Spenard Roadhouse sears wild Alaska scallops to go with a butternut squash puree as the appetizer for a gourmet meal musher Nicolas Petit won in Ruby on Thursday, March 7, 2024, by being the first to reach the Yukon River in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)
a portrait of a man outside

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him Read more about Caseyhere

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