Interview: Duke Moscrip

The Gourmet
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Photo by Rachel Coward

Imagine this: You’ve been told by a food-savvy colleague that you have the palate of a 5-year-old as you nosh PB&J at your desk. Now you are having a lunch interview with Duke Moscrip — yeah, the Duke in Duke’s Chowder House.

He’s charismatic, smart, and he knows food. Really knows it — goes to the sources, meets the fishers and processors, always on the hunt to serve his guests the freshest-tasting seafood. And if you think you don’t like something, say in this scenario a scallop, he’s going to make you try it again. Because you obviously haven’t had an Alaskan Weathervane scallop cooked to perfection or you’d love them more than chicken nuggets — even if you were really 5.

Moscrip didn’t know he was a food lover until he was an adult, starting life as a stockbroker. “My mom wasn’t much of a cook … we ate canned salmon and tuna fish as a treat. When my brother married a foodie, I began my journey toward understanding great food, and the adventure was on.

“I fell in love with restaurants when I would take my clients out for lunch or dinner. I became a student of restaurants,” he said. The Puget Sound is lucky he did his homework. Now some 40 years later, he’s the owner of six Duke’s Chowder House locations — at Southcenter, Kent Station, three in Seattle, and Ruston Way’s Tacoma waterfront. He’s eyeing Kirkland or Bellevue next.

Q: Tell us about your journey to creating Duke’s.
A: I couldn’t resist buying one (Ray’s Boathouse). I was fascinated with the whole idea of owning a restaurant. I mistakenly thought that the money would just roll in when I started … I was about to lose everything that I owned. So I pitched in, hosted, waited tables, bartended, cooked, and even ran the kitchen on my way to learning how to own and run a restaurant. We fixed the restaurant, and it took off like a rocket. … (He later sold his part of it.) I wanted to create a new concept, something that hadn’t been done. I invented the Duke’s concept with cork finish wine by the glass (it had not been done up to that time) and free pouring the best liquor in the state … (and) an eclectic menu inspired by visits to great bar and grills around the country.

Q. How do you ensure your seafood is the freshest-tasting? 
A: We have developed “ice chilled, better than fresh.” After many years of trying to buy “fresh” seafood, I learned that there is no such thing as consistently “fresh” seafood. There is “fresh” tasting — which comes about from learning how to screen the fisherpeople and fish processing people. It is important to select people that bleed fish quickly after capture; ice fish every minute after capture, process within 24 hours by vacuum packing, and freezing to 40 below. Being able to control the product all the way to the back door of the restaurant gives the chef the opportunity to control the thawing of the seafood.

Q: Tell us about your new book.
A: It’s our first major cookbook, but it is also a coffee-table book with lots of stories of the fun and zany promotions that I have done over the last 40 years. It contains photos of every recipe so you can see what the item looks like when it is done properly.

Q: What is your favorite menu item and why? 
A: Salmon. If I had one thing to eat in this world, it would be salmon. It may be the healthiest thing one can eat.

Q: When you visit the restaurants and introduce yourself, what do people say? 
A: Most say, “Oh my God, I didn’t know there was a Duke.” Some have said, “I thought you were dead.” Others have said, “I thought you were better looking.”

Q: Why is serving “real food” important to you? 
A: I went to college to be a doctor. I have always been interested in medical science and nutrition. It just makes sense to me that, if you take care with what goes into your body, you will live with more vitality and also live longer.

Q: Tell us when you helped introduce Copper River salmon to the Northwest.
A: The late Jim Kallander, fisherman and mayor of Cordova (Copper River. Alaska), credited me with starting the Copper River movement back in the ’80s. I was buying fish from him then and attempting to spread the word. The label was magical and the story was, too. Also, Copper River has the infrastructure to back up their claim of phenomenal-tasting fish.

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is the editor in chief at South Sound magazine.
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