Skagway chef cooks the Big Apple big time

Memories will flavor the dishes

By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS

They were treated like royalty: a Lincoln Continental at their disposal, reserved tables at the finest restaurants, entrance to the hippest clubs in New York City. But what a journey to get there.
Local chef Christophe “Duppy” Ticarro was invited by his brother, Christian, to create a dinner to serve at the world renown James Beard House this spring. A chef is invited based on his/her reputation and after presenting a sample menu for approval. A support staff is selected and Ticarro’s brother picked him.
“I puked three times before that dinner,” Ticarro said. “I was overwhelmed. I was in the culinary Utopia and James Beard’s home and his kitchen.”
It is a far cry from the small cabin with no running water and a recalled scene of Ticarro with four friends, watching “Iron Chefs” and eating frozen burritos.
It is even further from his childhood home in Viet Nam and the influence of that cuisine. Ticarro returned several years ago at the urging of his father, a Cordon Bleu chef in his own right: “Before I die I want you to go back to Viet Nam.”
Who could refuse? “I’m glad I did. I developed a strong connection with my cuisine on that trip. In Viet Nam, the men retired to the front room, the women did the cooking and there I was chasing a duck across the back yard,” he said sitting in the living room of his new cabin home with much appreciated running water and a functioning toilet.
The women found it strange that he cooked with them but he was able to re-create the food his mother cooked after leaving Viet Nam. Well off in that country, Ticarro grew up with servants and a cook in the kitchen.
His mother had to learn to cook when they moved to Minnesota.
“We never went out to eat, going out to eat meant bringing back a bucket of chicken from KFC or a mound of Big Macs,” he said. “There was always rice.”
Ticarro has used that traditional taste in his cooking at The Red Onion Saloon, which he believes is the smallest kitchen in Alaska putting out the most food from an ambitious menu with over 20 items. “It amazes me what we put out,” he said, now in his fourth season as RO chef.
Like Minnesota, Alaska has a wide variety of native foods to develop into a regional cuisine. “Alaska is a culinary dream,” he said. “You have this fjord that’s home to four different species of shrimp, there’s crabs, salmon, native and wild plants, blueberries, currants, spruce tip, yarrow, and those are the plants that are just in my yard. And the mushrooms...”
Ticarro returns to New York this November after being invited back on his own merits. He will take his brother with him as well as four other celebrated local chefs: Tim Schaeffer from the Stowaway – “My mentor,” said Ticarro; Starfire’s Jud Davis – “Hands down the best grill chef and a solid worker bee.”; Shawn Mattiuz, who last year ruled the kitchen and grill in Liarsville – “Like a brother to me.”: and, Michael Curtin, who now dishes up the much-anticipated specials at Haven Cafe – “I’ve grown really close to him as a friend.”
Together they’ll have the logistical nightmare of getting all the ingredients for the meal to New York in good shape. Ticarro wants to be able to say the salmon was swimming just 24 hours before the meal.
Tickets to the dinners at the James Beard House run around $100, with the money going to a scholarship fund. Ticarro said they raised $10,000 at the dinner last year.
“You’re all invited,” Ticarro said, to come and taste what’s in your own backyards, given the gourmet treatment. “I want to put Skagway on the culinary map.”

Below is the menu Ticarro develoed for the James Beard House

Passed Tapas
Wasabi Sockeye Salmon, panko crusted with a warm tamarind glaze

Alaskan Ceviche, rock shrimp, scallops and halibut

Alaskan King and Dungeness Crab
spring roll

Elk spears in a ginger and scallion marinade with sweet grape tomatoes

Wild mushroom rilettes, crowned on sourdough croutes

King Crab “Shooters”: butter poached crab in a citrus-lemongrass broth

Roederer Anderson Valley Brut


Course 1
Asian Coconut snow pea soup with fresh Petersburg Spot prawns and Bristol Bay King Crab

Genesis Riesling

Course 2
Copper River Smoked Salmon Lox atop Alaskan field greens, with a citrus yogurt dressing surrounded by sliced mango and grapefruit

Barnard Griffin Fume Blanc

Course 3
Alaskan King Salmon and Alaskan Halibut cheeks in a Poisson de glace, tomato coulis and Alaskan Rainbow Chard gratin
Domain Drouhin Pinot Noir

Course 4
Caribou tenderloin with a spruce tip bordelaise topped with fois gras, served with a Yukon Gold, spring carrot and goat cheese puree

Columbia Winery Otis Vineyards Cabernet

Course 5
Gratin of Southeast Alaskan berries with a Suzette macadamian butter and Chantilly crËme and fresh mint oil

King Estate Pinot Gris Vin de Glace