Philosopher Chef David Uygur Dishes on the Secrets of his Success
If you’ve been lucky enough to score a reservation at Lucia in the Bishop Arts District, you probably already know what a gem this place is. For those who haven’t already experienced it, Lucia is small (only 36 seats) and reservations are booked out months in advance because the food is so simple and lovely that it will transport you to a land far, far away. However, if you don’t have a reservation and you’re dying to check it out, you can try your luck at the four open seats inside at a counter (available on a first come basis) and there are a few non-reservation tables outside on the sidewalk that are used when the weather is nice.
I spoke with David Uygur to discuss his unique approach to Italian cuisine and his recent James Beard nomination. I asked chef Uygur to describe the food at Lucia and what they do that makes it so special. “I want to feel good about the food we prepare and where it comes from. Style wise, I really do like Italian food, it’s what I’m most interested in. But since we’re in North-East Texas, we work with ingredients that are local. The cuisine is completely influenced by what we have around us and what we have to work with. In that way, the food at Lucia is very Italian-American as far as processes and techniques. What we do here is our version of Italian food. It’s influenced by the food of Italy, in that it’s all about the raw product and respect for the ingredients. I get inspired by traveling and the changing of the seasons. I love when it starts getting warm out after a long winter and you get the first peas of the season, ramps and green garlic, it’s a celebration of the ingredients. We make everything from scratch in-house as much as possible. I taught myself how to make charcuterie, we make that in house, too. We make all of our own bread and pastas, we butcher a whole hog every two weeks. I take a lot of pride in doing things like that, it’s neat.”
I asked, now that people are becoming more educated about food, how do you think that has that changed the dining experience? Uygur – “I think it’s making things better, it always drove me nuts to see big restaurants with closed kitchens. It creates a disconnect between the kitchen and the dining room. People would look at the menu and talk to the waiter, order the food, they’d take the menus away and then the food just comes out like auto-mat. Ding! There it is, you know? The disconnect always drove me nuts. Back in the kitchen you could tell diners had no idea what it took to make that food be what it is. Today, I think people appreciate the fact that they can see the people who are preparing and actually tasting the food that’s being served. I stress to all of my cooks, they must taste the food. It’s good for people to see them eating it (not chowing down). But, people need to know that not only are you cooking it, you care about quality control. That’s crucial, it’s the only way it works. I like having that connection and for people to see how we do interesting things in the kitchen.”
David Uygur is no stranger to the James Beard House. He has been invited to cook there in the past, but this year was David’s first nomination for an award. I asked, it must feel really good to be recognized by JBF for your efforts. What a nice reflection of the attention to detail you place on every dish in your restaurant. What would it mean to you to earn such a prestigious award? Uygur was very modest and humble in his response and replied simply, “I don’t know. I mean, I think that all chefs are competitive, you know? It’s great to see new names from Dallas on the list too, I think it is a sign of how the Dallas food scene is evolving. But yeah. I would love to win a James Beard award, that would be a-w-e-s-o-m-e.”
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