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Chef brings unique flavors to the First City
A quesadilla accented with freshly picked fruit is prepared by Chef Bev Lazo. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

Bev Lazo was shuffling around her kitchen at her home in Saxman on Thursday morning. In her hand, a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. On her head, a maroon bandana. The rest of her outfit consisted of a white chef’s jacket that had embroidered on it in black “Chef Bev Lazo,” complemented by a black apron with blue and white stripes.

And on the counter in front of her was a spread of random food — from locally foraged salmonberries to fried chicken, tortillas, waffles, caramelized onions and blueberry barbeque sauce. You read that right: Blueberry barbeque sauce. That wasn’t the only blueberry-themed item on her kitchen bar.

Lazo has been preparing a dish for the Blueberry Arts Festival all week, and when the Daily News stopped by on Thursday morning, she was putting the final touches on her cuisine for the festival: Quesadillas with caramelized onions, monterey jack cheese and blueberry chutney.

“I’m a food nerd,” Lazo said. “Get me excited for anything food — challenge me, too, and I’m ready.”

Lazo partnered with AJ’s Gourmet Burgers to serve the quesadillas at its food booth on Saturday. Additionally, the food booth will have pulled pork with the blueberry barbeque sauce.

Lazo, a chef from Los Angeles who has appeared on television shows such as “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Cutthroat Kitchen,” and “Man vs. Child,” moved to Ketchikan in November and has been networking her way through town to provide a unique food experience for residents of the First City.

For a while, she cooked for a special program at the Alaska Fish House. Lazo has also cooked on “A Taste of Southeast” with Ketchikan Public Utilities and has cheffed up with several businesses and organizations around town, such as Fish with Trish. She taught a class to young people at Ketchikan Youth Initiatives, where she taught them about making masa, a corn dough, for tacos.

At present, Lazo has been using the kitchen at AJ’s Burgers — a company that she said has allowed her to be the creative chef that she is. Matt Englebrecht, owner of the gourmet burger joint, said that Lazo will just show up and want to have a random taco party.

“She’s a lot of fun to work with actually; she’s always got these ideas going through her head,” Englebrecht said. “She’ll just say, ‘What do you think if we do this? What do you think if we do this?’ (I’m like), Bev, you’re the chef, you do whatever you think — and everything she’s done has been really good. We have a good time with her.”

She has also started a Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. Englebrecht said that Lazo will create a menu every week with a different theme for the brunch. On Aug. 19, Lazo plans on having a ‘90s fair-food brunch, where each dish is named after a ‘90s song.

“Those have been really successful,” Englebrecht said. “Every time she does it, more and more people have been showing up. She’s got quite the following so far and she’s only been here a short time.”

At the most recent brunch, the restaurant owner said that Lazo had Hawaiian-themed food — what someone could find if they went to a local restaurant in Hawaii.

Lazo is also known for mixing Mexican sand Asian food together.

“You’ll get a taco, but instead of it being a traditional taco, it’ll have like Korean barbeque and pork inside the taco instead of regular carnitas,” Englebrecht said. “She’s always changing stuff up; it’s really interesting with what she does.”

Lazo has had enough practice with spicing up the flavors and textures of her cuisines, as she has been cooking since childhood. She said it runs in her family, as “Filipinos have parties every weekend” and she became used to cooking large meals for her family.

Lazo’s family migrated to Boston from the Philippines when she was younger, and when she was 8-years-old they moved to Los Angeles.

As a child she collected cookbooks and watched the Food Network often. Her mom would feed her passion by supplying her with cookbooks, and she would practice crafting the recipes for her friends.

Lazo said when she discovered how to make pizza, she literally rode her bike to her friends’ houses to give them a taste of what she created. It’s safe to say her friends were well-fed.

“On my 14th birthday, I literally threw my own party,” Lazo said. “We had a backyard barbeque and it was like an international feast so I did ribs, I did siomai. I cook for everybody, so I invited all my friends I went to school with and neighborhood friends and they all came over.”

When she was 16 years old, she got her first job at a Mexican restaurant as a cashier. She moved up through the ranks there to become a cook.

“That was a great learning experience as well,” Lazo said. “When you’re a teenager, you know, you just want a part-time job, but I loved it because I got to learn about Mexican food and I grew up in a Hispanic neighborhood — again, surrounded by different cultures. We just love to eat.”

She polished her cooking skills throughout her life, and when she was older, Lazo began working for Border Grill in L.A. It was at that time that she had the opportunity to audition for “Hell’s Kitchen” with the infamous Gordon Ramsay.

The professional chef had always been a fan of Ramsay. She loved his strong personality and the excitement of the show when it first aired. After watching it, she thought it was something she could do.

“Being a fan and being a chef, I said, ‘Well, let me try out.’ They were doing tryouts in Los Angeles,” Lazo explained.

After a few auditions, Lazo was cast. She was in it — but not necessarily to win it. She said she just wanted to make it as far as she could on the show. Lazo ended up in the top 12 of season 12.

On the show, she cooked Southeast Asian-style fish tacos and a lobster ravioli, which Ramsay instructed them how to make — possibly with a few rapid fire outbursts along the way.

Someone might be wondering — is Ramsay as aggressive in real life as he appears on the show?

“When you upset him, yes,” Lazo noted. “At work before I moved up here, I was a consultant so I would have to train staff. You get to the point when you train them — except for the show, you’re put on the spot — when you train someone you expect them to know. It aggravates you — dude, you’ve been making this for like 20 days. What’s going on?”

That’s a part of the kitchen culture, Lazo said. Chefs are hard on their cooks, but Lazo said they push you to be a better person. She said being on the show made her a better person, even though it was stressful and very difficult to be on at times because everyone wanted to win. However, she said some were more concerned with creating good TV with a lot of drama.

Not Lazo. She just wanted to expand her palate, like she tells her children to do. Lazo, who moved to Ketchikan after her husband was offered a job in town, has her children try all kinds of food because they never know when they might end up in that country.

It helps that she doesn’t have a favorite dish to cook — she enjoys it all, so they are constantly eating something new and flavorful.

She said she enjoys a good challenge in her cooking.

“I think living here in Alaska is one of them, because now I’m challenged with not being able to go to a farmer’s market,” Lazo said. “I have to wait for fresh produce once a week, and we’re lucky to get it fresh; it’s not wilting or it’s not almost dying on us. That’s a challenge for me. I’m excited as a chef being here, because now I get to go fishing.”

The professional chef has a lot of plans for her future in Ketchikan. She wants to host wine-pairing dinner parties, cook at private events and start a podcast where someone hangs out at her house with her and drinks some wine while they gossip about the latest trends in food.

Lazo also wants to start a supper club.

“(I would) find a location and a kitchen that will allow me to be that chef and you guys come to the dinner — you don’t know what you’re getting,” she explained. “It’s unexpected. It’s a chef’s table kind of thing.”

Lazo said she is collaborating with AJ’s Gourmet Burgers to start an eclectic catering company in the fall. She brought her food truck with her from L.A., and hopes to make authentic tacos out of it.

For fancier events, she said she could prepare “old school prime rib” and more.

“The way I look at it — what do you want? What are you hungry for? And then I’ll make you a menu and you let me know what you like,” Lazo said.

For the time being, Ketchikan residents can have some of Lazo’s brunch on Sundays at AJ’s Gourmet Burgers, where someone might find themselves tasting chicken and waffles with blueberry barbeque sauce instead of syrup.

“I like to break the rules,” Lazo said.