in the kitchen with...
Chef Wes Masters
Story by Jamey Bradbury
Photography by Photo Arts by Janna
In 2008, when Chef Wes Masters agreed to help a buddy cater an event, he found himself preparing salmon on an outdoor grill on-site, and he thought, “Now, this is the way to cater.”
That initial catering experience inspired Masters to order a custom-made trailer grill; soon, he started Masters Catering and was towing his grill around Alaska, catering weddings and cooking on location. “It took off more than I could even imagine,” Masters says of his business. Today, he has three trailer grills and a huge smoker, and he’s made a name for himself as a barbeque specialist in high demand. “In 2009, we did six weddings with one grill,” he recalls. “Four years later, we’re doing 40 weddings a summer.”
It’s possible Masters was always destined to cook for crowds. “Growing up I had a big family living in California,” he says. “Whenever we got together there was always food as the focal point. Every year on Christmas Eve we’d make homemade tamales. With families, you get together, you’re cooking for 10, 15, even 30 people.”
So Masters wasn’t intimidated when he got his first restaurant job at Moose’s Tooth, where, he says, “I learned high volume cooking, and how to get food out quickly without compromising quality.” While working at Moose’s Tooth, he also attended the culinary arts program at UAA, where he invented his now popular Guinness cheesecake during a “free day” in baking class.
Later jobs at Simon and Seafort’s, Palisades in Seattle and Airline Support, a catering company at Ted Stevens International Airport, equipped Masters with skills he still uses today. “I always tell people in the culinary arts program to get a restaurant job,” Masters says. “You learn the basics at school, but the only way to experience working on the line and having 40 or 50 tickets in front of you and having to push out orders on the fly – you only get that by working in a restaurant and getting your butt kicked.”
Masters emphasizes working efficiently and with a sense of urgency. What sets his “kitchen” apart from others, though, is that it’s in a different place every time he cooks. “We’re basically bringing the restaurant to the site, cooking the food fresh. People like to see their food being prepared right in front of them. They like knowing it wasn’t just put in a hot box and hauled out to some place to be consumed three hours after it was cooked.”
As winter rolls in, business for Masters Catering slows down – but only a little. “We get a nice break until December, when we do holiday parties,” says Masters. Even when the snow flies, though, he won’t be putting his grill away, and he says that even the casual chef can still enjoy great barbeque all winter long. “With the proper training, the proper grill, and a little know-how, you can barbeque year-round.”
And when the snow melts? Masters will be back on the road, his grill in tow. “We’ve already got 16 weddings booked for next summer. I’m just going to keep pushing the company to grow and doing what we’re known for: showing up, cooking on-site, whether it’s beer-battered halibut or fresh salmon, and specializing in barbeque.”