Food News

An Interview with Lucia's David Uygur, Chef-Owner of Dallas' Toughest Reservation

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How would you classify your food into the food regions of Italy? Is it more northern, southern, or coastal cuisine? I like to think of it as seasonal and regional cuisine. In the summers here in Texas, we have a lot of tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, so that matches more with the flavors of southern Italy, generally speaking. So you'll see things that are from Lazzio, Rome, and farther south in the summer. As it cools off and we start to get more squash and root vegetables, the food here starts to resemble dishes from Northern Italy. If you go to Italy, you probably won't see a lot of these dishes on the menu. I didn't want to do a by-the-book carbonara. The recipes from the canon are awesome, but I wanted to have some of the personality from our kitchen staff to be visible on the plate.

Tomatoes have to be really interesting for you. There's probably no vegetable that's been more fucked with by commercial farmers than the tomato. When you have one at a grocery store, it tastes nothing like a real tomato. Is that difficult to work with? It is a whole lot easier now than when I first moved back to Texas in 2001. Then, it was very difficult. You could get some things in the summer months, but even still you would see asparagus in December and tomatoes in February on most menus across town. We had just moved back from Portland, which is very much the opposite of that. In one place that I worked at, you could get a tomato on your burger as a supplement, but it was an in-season, heirloom tomato that had never seen the inside of a refrigerator.

It kind of blew my mind coming back to Texas. We hadn't caught up yet. Now that more people are after a seasonal aspect to their food, those ingredients became more accessible.

Do you think this local food movement is driven more by chefs or by diners? Honestly, I firmly believe that it was all chefs driving that. Completely. People vote for what they like with their dollars, and when I would ask for puntarelli from a purveyor, it was hard to get them to do that. The more that people learned about food, the more we were able to drive our vendors and farms to grow and find these more unique ingredients. Then, when we're able to show people a delicious way to eat something, it's even more true. Then, they think about what they can do at home.

Do people ask you how to make your recipes at home, or are they happy to leave it up to your staff? The food that we serve is obviously more suited to eat in a restaurant. How many people are going to butcher their own hogs and cure the meat at home? The answer is a few people. They come in, ask a whole bunch of questions, but by and large, most people want to come to Lucia and eat it.

When we talk about the quality of ingredients, local is obviously a huge component of that. Do you think that word even still has meaning? You mean like artisan? There's artisan at Wendy's, and focaccia at Jack In The Box. Local is a marketing term that you can put on the menu, and it might be a little overused. The thing is that if you're a chef or owner of a restaurant, you should be using the best ingredients you can get anyway. With a lot of things, buying local is the best you can get. The tomato that was on the vine yesterday, absolutely. But sometimes, with things like wine or olive oil, it's just better to get it somewhere else. Somewhere where the land is more suited to its growth. I think there's a balance to be had.

Wine is obviously an integral part of Italian cuisine. Can you talk about how you pair the wine and food at Lucia? My wife Jennifer does the wine. I have some knowledge and there are bottles I enjoy, but when it comes to pairing food with wine, that's one of the many things that Jennifer excels at. She's able to talk to the guests, find out what kind of wines they like, and find that balance between what they like, what they're willing to spend, and what they're eating. I like wine, but it isn't really my expertise.

How is running a restaurant with your wife, especially in such a small, intimate space? It gets tense occasionally, but I wouldn't have it any other way. The reason that this restaurant does well is because I have her. She's able to talk with people and help them understand why we do what we do. She makes people feel welcome. I'm focusing more on the food that we serve.

Is Lucia going to exist in the Bishop Arts District for 30 years, if you have it your way? Is it going to be a real neighborhood place? That was the idea from the get-go. I hope we'll be around then. I can't work on the line as many hours in 15 years as I can now, but ideally, sure. Lucia won't work anywhere else. The size of the space, the location that it's in, the walking traffing that we get make it really unique. If we were in New York, we'd have to do breakfast, lunch, and dinner to even pay rent.

What made Bishop Arts the right home for your restaurant? I wanted to have a neighborhood restaurant. As far as neighborhoods in Dallas that have a strong identity go, Bishop Arts was the one that had the best community support. We now live five minutes away from the restaurant, so I think we're going to be here for a while.

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Amy McCarthy

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