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THE DUKE OF SALMON

by Scott Morrison on August 13, 2021
(And a Pioneer of Sustainable Fishing in the Pacific Northwest)
Last week we took a few minutes to tee it up with Duke Moscrip, the grandfather of sustainability in the Pacific Northwest restaurant scene. Life long entrepreneur and sustainability expert and salmon advocate, Duke has helped shape the Seattle food scene with Duke’s Seafood, and helped define sustainable sourcing for the past four decades.  And, he’s a hell of a golfer too…
 

Scott: So Duke, we're here at RADMOR in Pioneer Square, Seattle. We’re going to play six or seven holes, which I randomly selected for you, Bob and I.  Today’s course – one of your favorites – Pebble Beach.

Duke: I can hit a ball in here?

Scott: Yep!  We’ve got a FullSwing simulator in here. You and I are playing from the blue tees. Bob's playing from the tips. So Duke we wanted to talk to you a bit, just get your story about Duke's, how Duke's came to be. You've been a pioneer in sustainability since as long as I can remember, and we wanted to understand a little bit more about your journey. So lets start, where'd you grow up?

Duke: Let’s do it! Where's the tee?

Scott: Duke: Clyde Hill. Bellevue. My dad was in the Navy so we moved around a lot and then settled in Bellevue. That was when we kind of ... We moved, so I had three different high schools and five different colleges.

Scott: So, you finished school. All five of them ….

Duke: And I got into the restaurant business.  Well, I was actaully a stockbroker and I loved taking my clients out to lunch or dinner. I started falling in love with restaurants, and pretty soon I was measuring tables and trying to figure out how you create the atmosphere and ambiance and all that. I thought, "Well, maybe I'll buy one." So then I bought one, and the next thing you know things weren't going so well and I had to actually get in the business, keep it alive.

Scott: Was the original plan just to have the restaurant be a side hustle?

Duke: Yes. I was just a silent investor. Well, it didn't quite work that way. I couldn't be silent. So then I really started to fall in love with the whole business. I loved it, and pretty soon I was building a few more restaurants.

Scott: You've got what, seven now?

Duke: Well, there's really eight installations. One of them is an event center.

Scott: Of course, underneath the Lake Union restaurant!

Bob: That was my idea by the way. (Laughing)

 Scott: So you started Duke's in the '70s?

Duke: I started my first restaurant in '72, and Duke's in '76. So what is that, 50 years?

Scott: 45. And when did the sustainability piece become such an important part of Dukes?

Duke: It was probably 25 years ago.  It became really obvious to me that I had missed the boat. We bought farmed salmon initially. We bought salmon from places where they just didn't handle it properly. And then I kept finding out that we were screwing this up. We didn't understand what the hell was going on. And then finally the light bulb goes off, and we started getting better-tasting fish. I swear to God, I don't know that we've had a complaint about our seafood, unless somebody overcooked it.

Scott: That’s not the fish's fault. (Laughing)

Duke: Guys, if they do it right, it's damn near foolproof

 

Duke:  But what got me started on the sustainability bandwagon is I was going to be a doctor in college, and so I was always interested in medical science. So I just kept studying and reading all kinds of journals and stuff, about medicine, about people. So kind of at one point, my interest in medicine and natural medicines kind of converged with food. All of a sudden I realized, "We're serving stuff that isn't any good. It's not healthy."

So I decided that we would get rid of every chemical, every preservative, do organic whenever we could.

Scott: You were kind of a pioneer. There weren’t a lot of people thinking about food and fish the same way, were there?

Duke: No. I first went to Alaska because I was interested in how they catch fish. How do you make sure that the quality really is good (that your getting what you’re paying for)? I discovered a lot of things, 1) that you've got to leave the fish, you've got to keep it iced from the minute it’s caught, you've got to have it 34 degrees all the way through to the restaurant until you actually cook it. And then 2) you ask yourself, are we sustaining this resource or not? Are we doing it responsibly?

Scott: Was anyone else in the Pacific Northwest really doing it?

Duke: No, nobody. Because when I went up to Alaska, I had to talk them into allowing me to be on the fishing boats. They had every excuse in the world why I should not be on these boats. Coast Guard regulations, insurance and liability, and all this stuff. I worked on it for years. I finally got out with the fishermen to catch our fish, and nobody does that, to this day. There's not a restaurant guy anywhere going out on the boat. And it’s there (on the boat) that you learn what sustainability really is, and how the fishermen treat it. 

Not all of them do it right. Some of them are pretty sloppy. So over the years, I kept going to different fishing grounds to find out who could actually do this the best. For salmon, it wound up being Copper River because the infrastructure there is so good, and the culture, they really are into it. They really do a great job.

Scott: Why is Copper River salmon so loved?

Duke: Well, the Copper River is a long river. The longer the river, the better chance of getting the oil content that helps  enhance the flavor of the salmon. Salmon stop eating when they hit fresh water, so when they get moving they've got to use all the stored energy (fat/oil) in their body, to go up to spawn.

Scott: That's fascinating.So what was the biggest challenge, then? Aside from getting those guys to allow you to be involved in the process of finding a better product … did you have to convince them to think differently?

Duke: It was difficult. We decided we would just find places that were willing to work with us – the way we needed to work.  And Alaska is really known for sustainability. It's the only  state that has sustainability in its constitution.

And here in our own backyard, sustainability is nonexistent. So I actually started working to create a foundation called ‘The Moscrip Family Sustainable Solutions Foundation’, which is really aimed at not just sustainability, but restoration. Because the problem is not sustainability, it's about restoration, because what are we qualifying as sustainable? Sustainable to what? Sustainable to 10 years ago? 10 years ago it wasn't any good either. So are you going to say, "Oh, then it's sustainable versus 100 years ago," because we're losing salmon. Native salmon are just disappearing.

Bob: You’d probably find this interesting Duke… micro-plastics are affecting our food supply like never before. Research just came out that identified 386 fish species –- two-thirds of all species – were found to have ingested plastics. Of those, 210 were species that are commercially fished.

Scott: So you ever give advice to people who want to go into the restaurant business?

Duke: You've got to be a people person, but you really have to have that discipline side of it too, and not that you just love everybody. But you've got to have discipline, because you've got to hold people accountable. Not everybody can do that. That's why there's so much failure in the restaurant business. I believe 90% of the restaurants don't ever make it past three or four years.

Duke: So I have a question for you Scott. (Laughing) What made you hook onto the sustainable aspect of clothing?

Scott: Well, it's been happening for like the last decade or so. In the last five or six years in the denim business, sustainability was front and center, so it was everywhere. The thing  about denim is that traditionally it's caustic to dye.  You use indigo dye your jeans blue, fix the color, and then go thru the process of making them look vintage, where you’re stripping it all off.  Most of that process involves water, chemicals, abrasives (stones, etc.). And most of the lower price point denim products don’t spend as much on cleaning all that indigo discharge, and it basically goes back in the water or ground. It’s pretty horrible.

Duke: Oh, geez.

Scott: Yeah, in some countries - It just goes into the fucking river.

Duke: Wow. So how did you come up with RADMOR?

Scott: Wait – we’re supposed to be interviewing you!  (Laughing)

I think the idea for RADMOR started during the Leo’s Lighthouse Golf Tournament that Bob and John co-hosted. We started talking a little bit about what was happening in the world with sustainability – and we literally couldn't find a non-polyester golf shirt to use for a tee prize. Bobby's like, "I had no idea." The more you kind of dive into it, and the more Bob started doing a research on it as well, we started to see that there was an opportunity to do something in the golf space, because it just doesn't exist.

Bob: No one talks about it. No one's really aware of it. The big companies are totally aware of it, but they make their money selling Polyester, so it’s impossible for them to talk about the negative long term effects.

Scott: Okay, back to you Duke … what's your favorite thing on the menu?

Duke: Well, it's always salmon. We have different recipes for salmon, so we have a salmon sandwich, which has got chipotle aioli with it. It's so good together. We have bourbon salmon. We've got stuffed salmon with crab.

Duke: Oh, they're all so good.

Scott: When did you start making the best chowder in the Pacific Northwest?  And when did you win your first award?

Duke: Well, you know my grandfather made chowder in New England. He was a really great cook. He ran a clothing company and had several clothing stores back in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Duke: So he would make this chowder, and it was kind of brothy and very clammy. He'd float butter on the top, so it was way different than what we do now. So, but he had this trick ... And I didn't really like clams, as a little kid. And so, but he had this trick. He'd put chocolate eclairs in the middle of the table, and if you didn't finish your chowder you’d get an éclair.

Honest to God. And so I absolutely developed a taste, and then we had a chance ... We didn't have chowder on our menu when we first opened Dukes. This chef came and started working for us, named Jack Jones. He was European-trained. He'd run away from home when he was 12 years old, lived on the streets, but they took him under his wing at Western International Hotels. He learned how to do everything. This guy was amazing. I asked him one time. I said, "Do you know how to do a bisque?" He rattled it off just like that. Let me tell you, you have to be really skilled to know all the ingredients.

So he said, "Well, maybe we should do a chowder." I said, "God, that would be great." So we worked together to get the taste the way I thought it should be, and the way that he thought it would be. And so this first contest came up with a chowder cook-off, and so we win the thing by a huge margin. I mean, it wasn't close. But we had everybody who worked for us at the place just really working on the chowder. We had a big kettle there. And so the next year we enter, and we win it again.

Scott: Defending champs?  What year was this?

Duke: '83, I think.

Duke: And then we won a celebrity judged event. We were winning 60, 70% of the votes from everyone. And then after the third straight year we won they said, "You can't do this anymore. We're going to make you an Honorary Judge, and you're going to get a cup that says 'King of Chowders'."

Scott: Over the years I've had a couple products that really worked well for me. But, they almost became like the thing that I didn't really want to promote anymore, because I didn't want to be known just as a guy who made this skinny boot-cut jean or whatever. Did you ever have that sentiment towards chowder? Were you ever tired of being the best chowder guy in Seattle?"

Duke: No, it really meant we had to do more chowders. Initially, we had 10 chowders we served every day. We made each of them in each restaurant, which was not a good idea because it's very inconsistent. The number one guy makes chowder, and he's really good at it. He's not working today. We run out. Number two guy, he makes it every four months. It didn't taste right. It was totally inconsistent, so that's why we have our chowder made through our supplier. He makes our recipe and our ingredients.

Scott: Duke, are you doing ecommerce?

Duke: Our chowder is going to be in Met Market pretty soon, and our seasonings are there now, Duke's Ready Anytime Seasoning and Our Blackening Spice of Life. 

Scott: So Duke, a couple rapid fire, final questions – what’s your lowest golf round and where?

Duke: 63 at Mount Si.

Scott: Really? Holy shit.

Scott: What would be your favorite golf travel destination?

Duke: Pebble Beach.

Scott: You like it better than Bandon?

Duke: Yeah.

Bob: What city outside of Seattle has the best seafood in the U.S.?

Duke: Maybe Portland, Oregon. What do you think Scotty?

Scott: Depends on what kind of seafood … if it's sushi, I'd say L.A.

Bob: Duke, that was a much better putt.

Scott: Yeah, there you go. You're getting warmed up now. Just in time – it’s our last hole!

Duke: How'd that happen?

Scott: What's your favorite food city outside of the States?

Duke: Hmm ... Favorite food city. Florence, Tuscany. Without a doubt.

Scott: And on that note … lets have a little toast … to Tuscany, Dukes, Radmor, and a much more sustainable future for us all.

Duke: So how’d I do?  Six over?

Bob: Duke, you owe me $20.  (Laughs)