In the kitchen with…

Chef Alex Perez of Haute Quarter Grill and Table 6

Story By Sarah Gonzales • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna

Recipe: Filet Mignon with Green Peppercorn Sauce

For Chef Alex Perez, each of his two restaurants represent a distinct side of his personality: The longtime local favorite Haute Quarter Grill in Eagle River is more intimate and serious, serving sophisticated dishes; while the midtown Anchorage newcomer, Table 6, dishes up casual fare in a fun atmosphere. It's no wonder, then, that behind these very different restaurants is a chef who cites very different culinary (and lifestyle) influences.

Perez credits a wide gamut of inspirational sources – from the father of French cooking, Paul Bocuse ("He was doing it so much better than anyone for so long," says Perez), to hole-in-the-wall restaurants selling plate lunches in Hawaii ("That's just good home cooking!") – his openness to learning from a wide variety of people and places has made this self-made man into a two-restaurant chef.

Perez grew up in Texas eating beans and rice and learning to appreciate the "many layers of flavor in Latin food" that his family served. Then there were the Cajun flavors to the east and the devotion to barbecue on all geographic sides that also made indelible culinary impressions on young Alex. But it was one incident in particular that set him on a non-stop course to becoming a chef. When Perez was about 12 years old he witnessed his uncle making a cake from scratch and it blew his mind. "It was a turning point, seeing something being prepared versus 'here's a box – make it,' " he remembers.

Learning how single ingredients work and studying why okra thickens a soup or the difference between long grain and jasmine rice, for instance, Perez learned the basics of good ingredients and built from there. It was George ("Giorgio") Chrimat, owner of Villa Nova in Anchorage, who taught him the value in letting single ingredients shine. "He's my second father; he's my greatest mentor," says Perez. "He truly taught me to be passionate about food and to let the food do what it was created to do – let the shrimp taste like shrimp and you will have a great dish."

After spending many summers in Alaska while his father worked on the pipeline, Perez came back independently as a teenager, first working with family friend, Chrimat. At 19, he got a job working in the kitchens on the North Slope before eventually working for 11 years at Simon & Seafort's. "I started serving there. I wanted to get as much experience at every level," he recalls. It wasn't long before he moved into the kitchen and worked his way up to executive chef.

"Simon's was the culinary college I was never going to go to," he says. "They gave me the education of how to run a restaurant as a business."

Opening and operating the Haute Quarter Grill over a decade ago was then, and still is, a family affair. He and his wife were visiting her parents in Eagle River when they noticed a restaurant for sale. Knowing they didn't want to open in more touristy areas of Southcentral Alaska, they figured they'd serve the locals and keep it close to home. Perez and his family now live in Eagle River not far from the Grill. "My daughter works the front desk, my mother-in-law helps with the accounting, my wife is essentially our general manager – we're big on family – my brother–in-law does maintenance," he says, smiling. "It's a big part of what we do; we could not be successful without our family."

For Perez, the communities he serves are also close to his heart. "I think one of the reasons that I feel so strongly about being in midtown here, or being in Eagle River, is that I think it's important to take care of the people who live in the city and in the state. The people there feel as though we're their restaurant and I'm okay with that," he explains. "I come from a small community and I like that feeling – that small community feeling of everyone trying to help everyone else."

Visit Chef Perez at the Haute Quarter Grill in Eagle River, 907-622-4745, and at Table 6 in Midtown Anchorage, 907-562-6000.