In the kitchen with…
Chef Eric DuBey of Thirty Six Bistro
Story by Jamey Bradbury
Photography by Photo Arts by Janna
RECIPE: Sage and Brown Sugar Glazed Pork Loin with Apple Jus, Sweet Potato Mashed and Pan Roasted French Beans
“Running a restaurant, you may not be the best at anything, but you have to be good at everything,” muses Eric DuBey, executive chef and owner of Thirty Six Bistro. DuBey’s aptitude for multitasking led him to try a variety of jobs – construction, fishing, snow plowing – before going to culinary school in Seattle, the city where he first developed an interest in food.
Taking culinary classes at Seattle’s Art Institute allowed DuBey to build on a skill set he’d acquired as a teenager. At 14, he was living with his father in Alaska and scored a job working in a family friend’s restaurant as the dishwasher. He quickly moved up to tending the buffet and making salads, until the restaurant closed. “But I was already hooked,” says DuBey, who then found work in a Chinese restaurant. “I was in charge of making the fried rice. You had to season it just right, and we didn’t measure anything; it was just a little of this, a little of that. That’s how I learned to taste things and measure by eye.”
In the years after culinary school, DuBey worked his way around multiple kitchens, steadily learning everything he’d need to know to eventually open his own restaurant. As a sous chef, he helped open a hotel restaurant in the Anchorage Marriott hotel and learned the ins and outs of catering; as the executive chef for Glacier Brewhouse, where he worked for eight years, he began to travel, learned about restaurant design and met pastry chef Jeff LaKomski, his eventual business partner.
“We got along well together, and he has skills I don’t have, and vice-versa. He lived in Hawaii and had a pretty good sense for different cuisines.”
The sweet-savory combination of flavors often found in Hawaiian dishes is a blend DuBey likes to employ in the recipes he creates for the menu at Thirty Six Bistro – dishes like macadamia crusted Alaskan rockfish served with fresh mango salsa, and “fall off the bone” baby back ribs, basted with the restaurant’s signature barbeque sauce. DuBey also makes a point of highlighting products from local suppliers like Mr. Prime Beef, Alaska Pasta Co. and New Sagaya on his menu.
“My niche is sort of Asian or Hawaiian flavors infused with French techniques, and using as much Alaskan produce and products as possible,” he says. “I can do pretty much anything just by looking at a dish, then formulating a game plan for how I want to execute it.”
“French based” cooking may sound fancy, but DuBey says his style is best described as “beer food.” He admires the breweries that have grown up in Anchorage, the Valley and elsewhere, and is inspired by local restaurants that use beer as the basis for the menu. “You can go to Humpy’s or Firetap and feel completely comfortable there. It’s so approachable. People may not know much about wine, but they’ll know ‘I like a dark beer.’ ”
Though Thirty Six Bistro’s catering business is booming, DuBey is already looking into the future, his sights set on a time when he and LaKomski may open another restaurant with a brewery-inspired menu filled with “comfort food.” Nothing elaborate, DuBey insists, emphasizing that – in a world where chefs are considered celebrities, thanks to Food Network and cooking competition television shows – food is food.
“Some people present food like it’s some kind of gift, a work of art you created,” he says, and shakes his head. “In the end, it’s all just food. We’re in a profession where you get an instant reaction, good or bad, to what you’ve made. So it’s got to be all about the food: If you do it well, people will enjoy it.”