In the kitchen with…
Chef Guy Conley ofGinger
Story by Sarah Gonzales
Photography by Danny Daniels Photography
Executive chef at Ginger, Guy Conley grew up in Alaska cooking with his dad, an avid hunter and fisherman, and still thinks that Alaskan fish is "the best in the whole world." A passion for good food, local ingredients and years of experimenting with flavors now inform Conley's Asian-fusion creations at this chic downtown eatery.
Before Conley could enjoy what he calls the "exciting challenge of preparing fusion cuisine" as the top chef at Ginger, he had to work his way up the culinary ladder. Upon graduating from East High School he started as a dishwasher. He remembers "working at the Alyeska Pipeline building two days out of high school at 7:30 am." Eventually he headed to Portland, Ore., to attend the Western Culinary Institute. He gained valuable experience there, but Conley couldn't stay away from his home state and returned to Anchorage in 2001.
His homecoming to Alaska saw him working at some of Anchorage's favorite establishments like Orso and Corsair until two and a half years ago, when he found his current home at Ginger. Just at a point in his life when he was considering leaving Alaska once again, "opportunities arose," he says, landing him in his current position. Now he relishes creating new things for the menu like an Asian-style ribeye steak and a strawberry chili salad that has become an instant hit with diners. Conley originally became interested in Asian cooking while working at The Bridge. "It's always something that I wanted to do because it was something a little more foreign to me. The challenge of it attracted me, and now it's in my comfort zone."
In the kitchen, whether at work or at home, Conley abides by the KISS method, or "Keep It Simple, Stupid." He says, "I want the food to speak for itself; you don't need to hide it under sauces or with over seasoning." He lists a wealth of favorite seasonal Alaskan ingredients that he lets do the speaking (bison, elk, boar in the fall and winter). Anticipating the appetites of these chillier months, he plans to change the menu, adding more comfort food. "It gets cold up here and I want people to feel like they've had a good meal and now they're ready to go back out and face the cold."
Someday soon Conley plans to please his own taste buds with a trip to Italy and Spain. "It's in my plans to spend at least six weeks there, eating my way through each little town. I want to come back weighing 290 pounds," he says with a laugh.
His advice for the home cook is along these same lines, advocating that they explore new tastes and "play with food!" He recommends trying "things you've never tried before. Research on the Internet, go online and look up 14 different recipes for the same thing and play with it."
For those home cooks requiring a little more guidance in the kitchen, Conley reveals his favorite source of kitchen wisdom: a book called Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. His copy is well-worn and food-stained, inside are indispensable guides to choosing seasonal ingredients and a section listing complementary flavor profiles. "Flavor profiles," or how to pair meats or vegetables with complementary seasonings, are an important element of cooking, and something that Conley says are "best learned through experimentation." He counts tamarind among his favorite flavors. "It brings out the sourness," he states, and balances the sweet and savory tastes in a dish like Ginger's signature pad Thai.
When asked what he would love to see if he walked into the kitchen of an ALASKA HOME reader, he immediately answers in all seriousness, "I would love to walk into someone's kitchen and find them making moose ribs – something you definitely can't get in the store." And how does he recommend preparing this uniquely Alaskan feast? "Boil them first, rub them (with seasonings), and then slow cook on the grill until they fall off the bone. They're not as gamey as you'd think and there is no comparison with beef or pork ribs." Chef Conley would know – after all, he's been cooking Alaskan since he was a boy.