Chef and restaurateur Brian Luscher’s first service industry job was washing dishes at a supper club in Wisconsin. He was 12. His first “jobby-job,” as he puts it, was at Pizza Hut, where he worked for “a million years.” In his late 20s, Luscher studied at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He then took a position working as sous chef for Two Sisters Catering in Dallas.
Now, the chef and owner of The Grape Restaurant is taking the kitchen and industry knowledge he’s accumulated over the years, and passing it along to the students of El Centro College. That’s right, he’s teaching American Regional Cuisine. He’s also hoping to help with the current staffing issue that’s plaguing Dallas’ service industry. Talk to anybody who owns a restaurant and they will be fast to tell you how difficult it is to find, and keep, reliable employees.
Restaurateur Kyle Noonan, who is also the president of the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association, says that in the last two years, Dallas County has seen a net increase of over 200 restaurants per year. That’s a lot of kitchens to fill. He says they’re struggling to find the talent to staff them. Luscher hopes to, at the very least, inspire a few wide-eyed, aspiring chefs to grab a knife, slide into a pair non-slip shoes, and get to work.
Way to pay it forward.
Hi, it’s Catherine.
Hello. What’s going on?
Did you get your air conditioning fixed?
Yeah, thank God. It was so hot.
Was it at your house?
Oh my God. Every single air conditioner that I come into contact with just breaks. I’ve spent so much money. This year and last year, too, have been awful for me for air conditioners. There was one at The Grape last week and then two weeks before that something happened. That’s $800 out the window.
Of course there’s always somebody that says: “Well we need to replace the whole thing, and it’s gonna be $8,500 but we offer financing.” I’m gonna need a second opinion.
Yeah. Obviously when there’s that much money involved you should get a second opinion, for sure. Do you have a friend that knows somebody who could do it for a bit cheaper?
Here’s the thing, finding quality employees, it’s just—and it goes the same for everything else—I mean as far as all the tradesmen and everything, and air conditioning mechanics, you can’t find it. All the good ones are busy! You’re picking over the guys that will come out this week, let alone today or tomorrow.
Okay, so, the reason we’re chatting: you’re teaching at El Centro. Does this have anything to do with what we were just discussing, as far as the employment stuff that’s going on in the restaurant industry, and people being super understaffed?
There’s definitely a huge motivational factor for me, because I think it’s real easy for a lot of people to just voice their opinions about how everybody sucks and there’s no good people out there. I’ve even gone out as far as on social media to say: name your price! You tell me how much you wanna make. Crickets. I think it’s real easy to complain about any problem. It’s real easy to say why things are wrong but I’m gonna try. And it’s a great opportunity for me to make an impact on the next generation of cooks. It may not help me in my business immediately, but I definitely want to be able to help train and impact vocational skills.
Have you ever taught before?
Not in a classroom-classroom. I’ve taught cooking classes, but not an official [class], like with a syllabus.
How did you get this position?
There is definitely a lot of value in industry experience. I think that’s where the majority of my qualifications are coming from. Steve DeShazo is the director of the Food and Hospitality Institute at El Centro College. He and the college have a vision for bringing in some of what he’s calling the ‘best and the brightest’ in our industry to come in and teach a class or some classes. I’m going to teach American Regional Cuisine. And that’s kinda exactly what The Grape has been doing for as long as it’s been around. It has been part of the curriculum for a very long time.
Did they reach out to you?
I mean, the short answer is yes. I’ve known Steve DeShazo for a long time. Our paths had crossed. I also know some of the other faculty members, past and present, from the school. Steve’s son worked with us at Luscher’s for like a hot minute.
Oh, for real? What did he do there?
He was a cook. That’s how I really got some opportunities to chat with Steve. He never pitched me or anything like that, we just kind of talked. I think we were just chit-chatting. This guy is a sharp guy. His wheels are turning, and he’s like, ‘What do you think about teaching?’ Even when I was in culinary school, I thought I would enjoy teaching. Taking the couple of marbles that are rattling around in my noggin and sharing them to try to impart some wisdom, to make this kind of vocational foundation so that others can be successful. To lift up others.
What will you be teaching the students?
The syllabus is based on American regional cuisine. And there’s basically 12 regions that it kind of gets broken into. That’s like the big shell of the syllabus, but this is also their restaurant class. They serve lunch to the public. It could be anywhere between 75 and 100 people. This is their hot food restaurant course. An individual student or a group of one or two students will draw a region. They will have to research the region. Be able to describe and talk about it, and what it offers. Research a menu. Present a menu. Design a menu. Cost it out. Requisition. And then they have to manage their classmates to produce and serve that menu in two days. Over 12 hours, broken into a couple days. In either a pre-fixe, a la carte, or buffet format. It’s in a dining room with the live public being guests.
Okay. So it’s a lot of pressure.
This is kind of like their senior grade. This is their last big class. This isn’t intro to hot foods, where you kind of piddle around. This is their, I wouldn’t go so far as to say thesis, but is like live-action grading. They have to be able to realistically write menus. How are they gonna be able to prep and cook and hold and serve 100 people in 20 minutes? It’s lunch, it’s not dinner. It’s not people coming in throughout a whole night. It’s like one-shot deal. They’re gonna have to coach their team according to what people can and can’t do, in order for them to be successful. They can’t complain about it. Can’t say, “Well, they didn’t do this.” Well you’re the coach. You’re the chef. What could you have done differently to been successful?
That’s, I think, why Steve DeShazo, director of the Food and Hospitality Institute, wants to bring in successful professionals from our industry to come in and influence and coach and teach these great students, setting them up for the best level of success they can have in the restaurant industry in Dallas.
Yeah. I mean, this sounds exciting. It sounds like a lot of fun and it also seems like you’re super passionate about teaching, and are truly hoping to encourage these students and pique their interest in cooking, and show them that it’s possible to be successful, if they do it the right way.
Oh, my gosh yeah! You’re nailing it on the head! Holy cow, what a great opportunity!
Yeah, lickety split.