In the kitchen with…
Chef Lawrence Roberts of Club Paris
Story by Sarah Gonzales • Photography by Aaron Weaver Photography
Chef Lawrence Roberts is the man responsible for those delicious filet mignon burgers and steak sandwiches that downtown Anchorage has been enjoying at lunch for years. But you've probably never heard of him because, for Roberts, being a chef is not about notoriety. Instead, it's all about two simple American classics: good food and family togetherness, both of which he practices daily as the Day Chef at Club Paris and at his summer catering business, 4 Jays Southern Style.
After living and working in Texas, where he also attended culinary school, Roberts came to Alaska in 1998 and helped to open Sullivan's as the lead broiler. One year later he was hired at Club Paris. "They're real good to you. It's a real family environment around here," he says of the 52-year old Anchorage establishment. "They look out for us, they appreciate us. It's hard to get in here and I don't know how I lucked out. Many of the staff members have been there for upwards of 20 years."
Roberts and owner Scott Selman regularly brainstorm lunch specials together, bouncing ideas off one another until they come up with such favorites as the Grilled Steak Bruschetta (see recipe on facing page), topped with marinated loin tips and tomato relish, or any of their variations on the steak sandwich. Roberts also has a reputation for creating inventive and delicious soups that keep the lunch crowd returning, especially on wintry Alaska days.
"You gotta change it up, have something different," he says, explaining how they keep it fresh with rotating specials. "The soups are all me, I do that from scratch. We see what we have" and then create rib-sticking soups like Wisconsin beer and cheese, beef vegetable made with prime rib, or the beef and barley that he donated to Bean's Café, a soup kitchen downtown, where it won first place in a benefit competition.
For the last seven years Roberts has operated a summer catering business, 4 Jays Southern Style, where he serves comfort classics like ribs, brisket and catfish. He mostly caters to outdoor events, including the Mount Marathon in Seward, but says he'd "jump right in" to catering any off-season events if hired.
The business is named for his four daughters: Justice, Jasmine, Joanna and Jada, 4 to 13, who help out by taking orders and serving the food dad creates; while his mother, Joann Roberts, is his business partner. Being a single father to his four girls has helped to determine his culinary career – hence the role of day chef, which allows him time to spend the evenings with his family.
Family has always been hugely important to Roberts, so it is fitting that his business partner and mother was the original inspiration for his cooking. "On Sundays she would hook it up!" he grins, recalling childhood family dinners when his mom, dad and his two sisters would sit down to "ribs, cornbread, collard greens, ham – soul food kinda-like, real down home."
Roberts also speaks highly of his "family" at Club Paris, which he considers his second home: "They took me in completely, the Selmans treat me like family," he says of the owners. They fully support his catering efforts, allowing him use of the kitchen during off hours where he preps his brisket, a 15-16 hour process that leaves the meat "just falling apart."
Speaking of delectable meat, the Anchorage media have consistently awarded "Best Steak" to Club Paris. So what is the secret to their always flavorful steaks? All Roberts will confide is that it has to do with their secret seasoning. "The owners make it and no one else knows," he says. "We use choice meats but it's really the seasoning. I have an idea what's in it, but not everything."
What he does know is this: "I like going out in the dining area and seeing everyone eating, licking their fingers and happy. For me, it's the pleasure of seeing people enjoy their food." Does that mean he could imagine opening his own place someday?
"Maybe when my girls get older," he muses, "if I could find me a little hole in the wall with a kitchen… I don't want to run a restaurant, I just want to cook the food."