In the kitchen with...
Chef Ivan Gyaurski of The Crepery
Ivan Gyaurski has been demoted to dishwasher at The Crepery. And that’s just fine with him.
“A lot of the workers here have been with me from the very beginning, and I’ve taught them how to do everything,” he says of his popular Fairbanks restaurant, which opened its doors just over two years ago. “All I do now is come up with the weekly special and show them how to make it. And I wash the dishes when they need me.”
These days, Ivan spends most of his time at his second restaurant, Eastern Treats, where he’s still developing his menu only five months after opening. Eastern Treats features dishes that evoke memories of his childhood in Bulgaria, where the food reflected the cuisine of neighboring countries.
Smoked salmon salad
“We’ve got shawarma, gyros, stuffed chicken wings, moussaka,” he describes. “In southeast Europe, when you have people from different countries introducing food to each other, eating together, for thousands of years, they naturally influence each other’s cultures.”
As a boy, Ivan taught himself to cook while his parents worked all day. Beginning with typical “kid stuff” like pizzas and sandwiches, he gradually learned how to stir fry and bake – and, along the way, developed a love of cooking.
When he came to the US five years ago on a student visa, he got plenty front-of-house experience working as a server and a bartender for several restaurants. In fact, until he opened The Crepery, he had never worked in a professional kitchen.
As he launched his restaurant – a simple booth at Pioneer Park in its early days – he was confident that Fairbanks would embrace something new.
“I saw there was room for something more than just burgers and steaks in Fairbanks,” Ivan recalls. “In Bulgaria, crepes are very popular – they’re like the fast food of Bulgaria. All over Europe, people love them. It was a sure bet.”
He wasn’t wrong. Barely a year after opening, The Crepery was named Business of the Year by the Fairbanks Downtown Association. The people have spoken, too: The Crepery consistently gets five-star reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor and has been ranked as the No. 1 restaurant in Fairbanks by both sites for two years in a row.
It’s that customer support that kept Ivan going through the early days of running his business. Back then, he opened and closed the restaurant himself each day, and never took a day off for 18 months. “If I didn’t see all those happy people, those satisfied customers, I would have given up,” he says. “When you sleep only four hours a day for a month, you’re worn out. When I saw people coming back again and again, that’s what kept me going.”
Those satisfied, happy customers continue to frequent The Crepery, now located in the Co-Op Plaza, where Ivan has developed sweet and savory crepes that appeal to the Alaskan palate – like the smoked salmon crepe. Ivan also features more traditional crepes on the menu, like the cranberry and feta crepe.
“In Bulgaria, we don’t have cranberries, so we would use raspberry or strawberry jam,” he explains. “But that sweet and salty combination of jam with feta cheese, that’s something very typical from home.”
There’s no secret to making a perfect crepe, he adds. “There’s a million ways to make a good crepe batter. But the batter is just the start. It’s all what you put in it – the combination of ingredients you use is key.”
Crepes came naturally to him, but cooking for his new restaurant required some training. Last November, he finally took some time off to travel back to Bulgaria, where he learned from a fellow restaurateur how to keep shawarma moist and delicious while cooking it on a spit.
With two busy restaurants and a bit of local fame, Ivan has come a long way from the Pioneer Park booth, where he had only two crepe makers and a refrigerator he found on Craigslist. “Now I have a walk-in fridge,” he says, laughing.