Chef Job Yacubian has come a long way from flipping burgers in college to earn beer money. Just thirty-three years old, with tousled light brown hair and a slightly ironic but puckish smile, he is the man in white behind the kitchen door – and the owner, with his wife Stacey Trevino – of the North Tisbury restaurant now called Bittersweet.
Formerly the Ice House and before that the Red Cat and the Road House, Bittersweet is a single-story shack on State Road, encircled by a dirt driveway and some old bushes in need of pruning. The funky sculptures dotting its lawns suggest a hippie joint – maybe a vegetarian lunch spot, or a diner offering homey dinners like meatloaf and scalloped potatoes. But don’t be fooled by its unassuming exterior: inside, it’s haute 
cuisine all the way, whether you’re eating on the porch with screens on three sides and white shingles on the other, or within the cream-colored walls of its main dining room, surrounded by soothing landscapes by Allen Whiting, Kara Taylor, and Barbara Kassel.
Much has been murmured about the restaurant’s name, which is new this season, although Job is not new as its chef. Three years ago, Job was sous chef at the Ice House under Keith Korn, who founded that restaurant with his partner and girlfriend, Suzanne Provost. Named for the Vineyard pond where Keith and Suzanne had a romantic swim early in their relationship, the Ice House was an instant success, becoming one of those Island places you can’t get into on a Saturday night in summer unless you call weeks in advance. But then, early into the restaurant’s second season, Keith Korn was killed in a car accident.
His death hit the Island hard. The community grieved the loss of a young man with many friends and tremendous talent. “We were devastated,” says Job. “The restaurant was closed for three weeks. We didn’t know what would happen to it, and we were all in limbo 
People came from all over to attend Korn’s service, and several Island restaurants donated food to feed 
some two hundred guests at the reception at the Ice House afterward. Eventually Suzanne, Job, Stacey, and others in the restaurant’s family decided to reopen, with Job taking over as chef.
“We were proud to reopen,” says Job, “to not let all of Keith’s work be in vain. We were all bound by our grief, and working to reopen let us heal together as a group. It was therapeutic, and it helped keep his memory alive.”
Before working with Korn at the Ice House, Job had cooked under Ben deForest at the Red Cat, moved with deForest to Balance in Oak Bluffs, and helped Joe DaSilva open Zephrus in Vineyard Haven. All that time, Job was a man of twin passions: cooking and music. A guitarist, he played with Drawn Butter and several other popular Vineyard groups.
“It’s ironic,” says Stacey, whose black hair and olive skin suit her Italian surname. “Keith was always telling me that Job needed to choose one thing or the other, and he wanted him to go for cooking. His death forced Job to follow the cooking path. It was as though, in a weird way, Keith was still pushing Job, encouraging him, even after his death.”
“Keith was one of my major mentors,” says Job. “He was the first person I think really believed in me as a cook. He nudged me along, encouraged me to go further, made me believe I had an instinct and could do something 
with it.”
Certainly, the name Bittersweet could describe Job’s ascension to head chef. Even taking over the restaurant’s lease this spring – an event that transpired amidst some confusion about whether or not Suzanne was interested in renewing it herself, resulting in some strains on that old friendship – was bittersweet. But in fact, the primary reason that Job and Stacey selected the name has to do with the food Job cooks.
“I like to mix the sweet and the savory,” he says. “It’s really about food flavors.” On a recent evening, there were grapes in an entrée of roasted chicken. And the foie gras appetizer was complemented not only by lentils and peppercorns, but also by apricots and Asian pear purée.
Patrons of Bittersweet will find the style and quality of food at the restaurant similar to what the Ice House offered, and some Ice House dishes – such as Korn’s signature fried yellow tomato topped with lobster salad, avocado purée, and basil oil – are still on the menu.
Working for Suzanne after the accident, Job felt he was still in Keith’s shadow, trying to do things as Keith would have done them. “I still ask myself,” he says, “ ‘How would Keith have done this?’ But now I’m not bound by it.” Being fully in charge of the menu for the first time, Job wants to make his dishes interesting and modern, but with a definite respect for classic cooking and flavors. He avoids what he considers over-creativity and faddishness, aiming instead for a menu that “will still make sense in ten years.” This season, he’s trying to “lighten the food a bit” – to use a little less sauce and have his plates look cleaner. “You’re not trying to sell the sauce,” he says, “but the fish. You should cook that 
perfectly, and let it sell itself.”
But don’t get the wrong idea: what you get at 
Bittersweet is not spa fare, or anything close to it. Stacey can’t help guffawing when Job talks about lightening up the food. “You have to understand,” she says, “that when Job says ‘light’ it’s not what normal people mean. His food is not exactly weight-conscious.” Butter and olive oil are two of the six food items (the others are pork, salt, pepper, and lemons) that Job considers indispensable to his cuisine.
Nevertheless, Job’s goal is to send diners home satiated, but not gorged, and in this he succeeds fabulously. Even after sampling a recent chef’s tasting menu, two friends and I went home full but not stuffed, and we all slept well and wanted breakfast in the morning. Our favorite dish was the braised spring rabbit and potato gnocchi with English peas, doubloon mushrooms, and wild ramps. The gnocchi were homemade and pillow-soft, and the ramps – slender wild leeks – were flavorful and exotic. Happily, the doubloon mushrooms, which looked and tasted exactly like morels, were abundant. Having once had a run-in with an Island chef who complained about the cost of Parmesan cheese when I asked for some extra on the side, I found it refreshing to encounter one who didn’t scrimp on the expensive ingredients.
But fine ingredients are expensive, and Job and Stacey don’t expect to make a killing at Bittersweet. Having obtained a few personal loans from friends to finance the acquisition of the restaurant’s three-year lease, plus start-up costs such as the purchase of new pots and pans, their hope is simply to break even in their first year.
“We joke that we’re just a money exchange point,” says Job. “It comes in, and we just hand it right back out.” But if all goes well this year – and judging from attendance during the restaurant’s first months, it will – they might actually make a little money over the next two years. Ultimately, Job’s hope is to expand beyond just one restaurant. “You need to aspire to be the best,” he says, “and Daniel” – of the eponymous New York restaurant – “is a role model for me: he’s got several things going on, but he’s in at least one of his kitchens every day.”
Job met Daniel, and other great New York chefs, by going to the city for the past four winters to “stage” (rhymes with “Raj”) at Daniel and other bastions of fine dining, including Bouley and Le Bernardin. Staging is an unpaid apprenticeship in which the staging chef performs whatever tasks may be required. Once, Job filled in for the fish chef at Union Pacific for three days. And once he laboriously peeled Muscat grapes, dredged them in bread crumbs, and deep-fried them for serving with foie gras.
“You’re always learning,” says Job, “even if you’re balancing it with performing a task that humbles you. When you’re not under so much pressure to get your stuff done, it allows you to have your eyes and ears open, to observe what others are doing, to learn new techniques.”
Job and his crew – as many as six people in the height of summer – arrive at the restaurant at 11:00 a.m. to prep. When the meats and fish arrive, they must be broken down into portions. Fruits and vegetables must be cleaned, hulled, trimmed, and pitted. Sauces and garnishes need preparing. It doesn’t stop even after dinner is over and everyone has gone home: at two or three in the morning, Job (who says he’s an insomniac), may come back to the restaurant after a couple of hours enjoying the night life in Oak Bluffs to tend to a veal stock that takes four days to cook.
On a typical busy summer night, Bittersweet serves 100 to 120 meals, filling each of its forty-four seats at least twice. Every dinner at Bittersweet is made to order, since fine food is, in Job’s words “about freshness.” The Cuisinart and the blender, he says, each go through the dish station a dozen times a night.
The Vita-Prep blender, by the way, is normal-sized, but, says Job lovingly, “it’s a turbo-charged, super-duper blender. They call it the chef’s power tool. It makes incredible, silky purées.” He considers it one of the two most essential devices in his kitchen, the other being the ultra low-tech chinois, a fine-meshed conical sieve used for passing – chef language for straining – sauces. Rather than use a spoon, Job explains, you swirl the sauce around in the chinois until it’s removed all the bits of food whose flavor has been cooked out.
But in Job’s view, the restaurant’s greatest asset is not its machinery, its ingredients, or even his own skills in the kitchen; it’s his wife, Stacey, who manages the restaurant and serves as hostess. “Stacey cares about people,” he says, “about individual needs, about all our diners having a good time. She remembers people’s names, birthdays, anniversaries, and food issues.”
“We want this to be a gourmet food experience with a nice, relaxed, neighborhood restaurant feeling,” Stacey says. One often sees diners at Bittersweet stopping at tables to greet friends, and patrons generally dress casually. Recently an Edgartown customer, after looking over other diners, took off his tie and put it in his pocket.
Stacey’s skills as a maitre d’ have been honed by years of waiting tables at places such as Linda Jean’s and the Oyster Bar, both in Oak Bluffs. “Waitressing,” she says, “you learn more about the customers than the owners usually know. I want to try and keep that up – I don’t want to just stand behind the podium and say hello and good night and ‘How was everything?’ ”
While Job and Stacey hope to keep Bittersweet open this year through the end of December, the bulk of their business is done in the summer. During last season’s peak, Job worked eighty days straight, and he doesn’t expect that to change this year. Job says that the work enables the couple to spend a lot of 
time together, but Stacey arches an eyebrow at him. “Our personal lives are minimal,” she says. “My sister tried to christen her baby for a year, and she finally had to come up here to do it because it was more convenient for us.” They’ve been known to forget appointments, and going to the dry cleaners sometimes seems impossible.
Restaurants have played a big role in other aspects of the couple’s personal lives. They met at Lola’s in Oak Bluffs. And when they do find a little free time, they go out to eat. “In summer, we never want to cook or do dishes,” Stacey says. The couple’s dog, Lola, also dictates what they do in their free time; they take her to the dog park in Oak Bluffs, or to the beach for a walk. Music is still a part of Job’s life, but now as a hobby. “For me,” he says, “it’s like golf is for other people – I’m obsessed with it, but I have to keep it in check because I have other things that need to get done.”
Even those few free moments are now a thing of the past, since the couple has a new baby boy named Jesse, born July 1. “People are panicked for me,” says Stacey, but she believes she will be able to have an infant and continue doing much of what she does now. “I’m having the phone forwarded to my house,” she says, “because doing the book is the most important part of the business after the food.” (“Doing the book” is restaurant-speak for taking reservations.)
New baby, new menu, new restaurant: most people would be daunted by such a slew of changes and challenges. But not Stacey and Job. “We were already putting 140 percent into the Ice House,” says Stacey, “so this year we thought, why not put in another 10 percent and make it our own?”