In the kitchen with...

Chef Jeremy Fike of
Glacier Brewhouse

Story by Amy Newman

Pull up a chair at Jeremy Fike’s dinner table, and you’re guaranteed a home-cooked meal like grandma used to make. That is, if grandma regularly served harissa-spiced mashed potatoes, Moroccan-style grilled lamb chops, or Cuban-style baked chicken stuffed with orange and cilantro.

“My favorite thing is taking an old, homey meal and just twisting it,” Jeremy, executive chef at Glacier Brewhouse since 2017, says of his cooking style. “How can I take my mom’s Mexican food and change her tamale recipe, or making my dad’s chicken fried steak with pan gravy with a veal or pork cutlet and adding andouille sausage, just changing it a little bit.”

Cooking has been part of Jeremy’s life since childhood. Inspired by 1980s PBS staple Chef Martin Yan, he would add meat and vegetables to his instant Top Ramen. But it’s also in his blood; his grandfather was the first executive chef for hotel magnate Conrad Hilton’s Hilton Hotels.

“Cooking’s always something that came to me, and something I always loved,” he says. “It’s the only thing that calms me down.”

Jeremy enrolled in the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco right out of high school, then cooked his way up the culinary ladder, working at high-end restaurants throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and training with famous chefs, including Berkeley chef Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse and mother of the farm-to-table movement. He’s one of only roughly 2,300 Certified Executive Chefs in the country, a title bestowed only after a rigorous evaluation that includes a Top Chef-style critique by a panel of five chefs.
By age 30 Jeremy had opened two restaurants and a catering business in his hometown of Bakersfield before heading to Alaska in 2006. He worked first as a restaurant fixer for a hotel chain before becoming a corporate chef for LSG Sky Chefs. The job gave him the opportunity to menu plan for airlines, travel the world to train the kitchens, and cook for presidents and foreign dignitaries, including one memorable event where the coffee pot exploded right before the Canadian Prime Minister made his entrance.

But life as an airline chef began to take its toll, personally and professionally. The constant travel meant less time with his three children, and preparing meals to be eaten at 30,000 feet left him unable to make the connections with diners chefs crave, he says.

“In the airline business, the only feedback you get is negative,” he says. “Here (at the Brewhouse), you can walk through the restaurant, and the guest is smiling or thanking you. As a chef, you like to get patted on the back or get the ‘Atta boy’s’.”

Jeremy’s not drawn to any specific cuisine; instead, he says his mood, a food-specific memory, or what’s available, fresh and, whenever possible, local, at the store inspire his meals. He often creates mini-challenges at home, he says, imposing a $25 limit one night, or making a one-pot meal the next. For the home cook, he says the key to getting out of a rut is to be open to new things.

“Look for different things and try many different styles,” he says. “You’re going to broaden your horizons a little bit, and you’re going to change things.”

Instead of automatically reaching for that beautiful piece of steak, he suggests, go for the discounted steak – the aging will make it taste better. Rather than grilling, try braising less tender cuts of beef, or lamb or pork shanks, he says.

Jeremy’s unsure what the future holds. His kids start college in a few years, and he’s not sure he wants to “stay in the state any longer and stay cold,” he says with a laugh. He’s considered opening another restaurant, “something fun and funky,” he says, but building something from the ground up is tiring and, at 41, age is catching up with him. Ultimately, he says, he leaves the planning to faith.

“I put it in God’s hands to see where I’m going to go next,” he says. “You never know what God’s going to bring you tomorrow morning.”