April 9, 2014 Updated: April 9, 2014 at 11:22 am
You might think that someone named Brother Luck would have his way with the world. But that is not the story of this 30-year-old chef who was on a path that could have ended, as he says, "with serious consequences."
When Luck was 10, his father died. His mother went through hard times and spent much of his teen and young adult years in prison. Luck and his younger brother were passed around to relatives in California, and it wasn't long before they were practically living on the streets of Los Angeles.
"A cousin came to visit us and didn't like what he saw," Luck said.
That cousin took the boys to live with him in Phoenix when Luck was 16.
"He put us in a school that had a vocational program," Luck said. "I took culinary basically to get a free lunch."
But he got more than free food. Luck got exposed to C-Cap, a program that "changed my life."
Embracing a culinary career
C-Cap (Careers through Culinary Arts Program) was started in 1990 by Richard Grausman. The organization works with inner-city schools to prepare students for a career in the hospitality industry. Students can earn culinary scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $80,000 through competitions that involve a rigorous cycle of essay writing, cooking and interviewing.
Luck embraced the challenge and changed his lifestyle. He was given the opportunity to compete in the Best Teen Chef contest, a C-Cap event.
"I spent my whole senior year training," Luck said. "I'd come to school in the morning and train. Then in the afternoon, I went to the Art Institute of Phoenix to train with a master chef. Then I'd work the line at the Hyatt all evening."
Luck was named his region's Best Teen Chef in 2000 and earned a $15,000 scholarship to attend the Art Institute of Phoenix as a culinary student. But the culinary program cost $30,000. "Mr. G (Grausman) told me I'd get the other half in Atlanta," Luck said, referring to the national Best Teen Chef competition.
Grausman was right. Luck finished fourth and won the money needed for a full ride at the Art Institute. While enrolled in the two-year culinary program, he kept his job at the Hyatt and, upon graduating at age 19, was named the sous chef at the resort.
Luck stayed with the resort for seven years before he and his wife, whose sister lived in Colorado Springs, began moving around to different job opportunities. Eventually, they faced a crossroad.
"She wanted to be near her family, and I didn't want to move back to Phoenix, so we came here," he said. "We moved here with neither of us having a job. It was a big risk."
It didn't take long for Luck to find a position at Cheyenne Mountain Resort, where he eventually became the executive sous chef. After three years, though, Luck left for Chicago because "all chefs need a big city on their resume." Ultimately, the couple returned to the Springs in 2012 when Luck took the executive chef job at the former Craftwood Inn.
"After a couple of interviews, it became evident that Brother's professionalism and culinary creativity would be a great benefit to the Craftwood Inn," said Dave Symonds, owner of the former Craftwood Inn. "Brother came on board and put a polish on the kitchen that had been missing since Ben Hoffer left the helm. Under Brother's guidance the food quality at the Craftwood Inn returned to its former consistent level of excellence and creativity. I was very excited for Brother when he decided to explore his entrepreneurial spirit and open his own shop."
Doing his own thing
About six months ago, Luck found a location at the back of Triple Nickel Tavern with a commercial kitchen that allowed him to do some catering under the name crEATe719 Kitchen. At the time, he was still the executive chef at Craftwood Inn.
"My goal was to continue building the local food scene with a theatrical way of dining," he said. "I just wanted to do some catering and some pop-up dinners."
His first pop-up dinner, Street Eats, sold out in about an hour after it was posted on his Facebook page.
Long story short, he left Craftwood Inn and opened Brother Luck Street Eats at the back of the tavern.
"It's basically a food truck without the truck," he said.
The place is rustic but, judging by the crowds at his themed dinners, no one seems to mind. His new venture offers the freedom to be creative. And he can bring along young chefs who need coaching and, sometimes, a lifestyle change. That was the case of his sous chef, Jason McCline.
"Brother is awesome," McCline said. "I had had some tough times when I went to talk to him about a job. Brother said, 'I don't care where you came from, I've had stuff happen in my life. I just want to know where you're going.'"
QUICK BITES WITH BROTHER LUCK
Six words to describe your food? Creative, fun, exciting, simple, thoughtful, passionate.
Ten words to describe you? I would use the same words as above — my food is a reflection of my personality — plus proud, driven, loving, respectful.
Proudest moment as a chef? Winning a full-tuition culinary scholarship to college worth 30K.
Favorite ingredient? Vinegar.
Favorite cookbook? Thomas Keller’s “French Laundry.”
What show would you pitch to the Food Network? Life of a prep cook, what it really takes to make it in a kitchen.
You’re making a pizza — what’s on it? Pancetta, morels, truffle-infused ricotta.
You’re making an omelet — what’s in it? Bacon, mushrooms, spinach and cheddar.
After-work hangout? Home.
Favorite restaurant other than your own? Any of the food trucks @Curbside Cuisine.