One of the most wonderful aspects of dining in a particular town is knowing that the chefs are local. The fact that they have ties to the community makes them more real, authentic, and even endearing. Chef Lionel Uddipa is one of these chefs. He moved to Juneau from the Philippines when he was two years old and has made a career out of creating culinary delights.
Chef Lionel is the Chef de Cuisine at SALT, which is Juneau’s high-end, fine dining restaurant. It is owned by Tracy LaBarge, who is well known for her other Juneau eateries, Tracy’s King Crab Shack, McGivney’s and Saffron. She recently added a fish/meat processing company, Hooked, to her list of food-related businesses.
Chef Lionel spent much of his childhood working in his aunt and uncle’s restaurant. His parents own the popular Fusion Café which is well known for authentic Pho. (My daughter Alex assures me it has significant healing properties.) After graduating high school, Lionel set out to learn more about the culinary arts and landed at Cordon Bleu in Atlanta. From there he honed his craft interning (“stodging,” as it’s known in the restaurant world) in James Beard award winning restaurants such as Tru and Next in Chicago, and the three-star Michelin rated Alinea, also in Chicago.
In 2014, Chef Lionel returned to Juneau. It was his good timing and our good fortune that Tracy was opening a much anticipated sophisticated restaurant. Lionel’s unassuming and approachable personality lend to an impressive dining experience. He is well known for preparing luxurious meals paired with perfect wines and completed with uniquely decadent desserts. His team is made of like-minded professionals whose goal is to entice the taste buds through an elegant dining experience.
As a part of the LaBarge culinary empire, Chef Lionel works closely with Hooked to procure the best in Alaska’s seafood. Offerings have included sea snails, rock fish, octopus, and the beautiful king salmon. He enjoys working in an avant garde manner, using ingredients in an unusual fashion. A must for any occasion is his chef’s tasting, at which he and his team will prepare four to six courses based on your preferences. Kristopher Schwartz, the restaurant manager, will choose a wine pairing for each course if you desire.
I contacted Chef Lionel to get some background for this column. While I was there, he presented me with an Alaskan scallop dish, again keeping it local. The shellfish was seared perfectly and the spring pea puree accompaniment was light and flavorful. The beautiful plating made me want to dive in. We eat with our eyes first, and I was devouring it visually.
What I find so wonderful about the Juneau dining scene is the caliber of chefs and cooks. To have a Michelin star trained chef in a town our size is quite rare. We are very fortunate to have such a skilled and create culinary talent in our midst. The fact that he is local and so young, a mere 31 years old, is encouraging, too — we’ll have his succulent cuisine for many years to come.
This week, I present a simple dish prepared by a culinary artist: Chef Lionel’s Alaskan Scallops. If scallops aren’t your thing, try shrimp or even some halibut.
Until next time…
Eat and enjoy,
Chef Lionel’s Alaskan Scallops
4 to 6 Alaskan scallops
¼ cup fresh English peas. Frozen peas can be substituted
1 cup (frozen works just as well) spring peas
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon reduced black balsamic glaze (I wouldn’t use a flavored balsamic vinegar; a regular one works best)
3 grapefruit segments, cut in half
¼ cup pea puree
1 cup of cooked fresh or frozen peas
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup water
Blend all items until smooth
Pat the scallops dry until most of the moisture is gone. Season lightly with sea salt. With a non-stick pan on medium high heat, sear the scallops with a neutral oil. I would recommend a nice grapeseed oil. Once the scallops are nice and golden brown on one side, flip over and sear the other side for no longer than 15 seconds. The scallop should be a nice medium temperature. Take the scallop off the pan and add your peas. Season with salt and fresh lemon juice.
You can get creative with the plating. What I do is I take a dollop of the pea puree and just smear it across the plate, then I place the scallops on top of the pea puree and the peas right next to it. The grapefruit segments go on top of the scallops, with a light drizzle of black balsamic vinegar to finish it off.