AZ/CA: LURE FISH HOUSE
Chef Roberto Ucan has 20 years of cooking experience and he's only 34. Growing up on the Yucatan Peninsula, the young Corporate Chef for Lure Fish House has his mom to thank for his love of food aromas and flavors and the joy a great meal brings others. He's no stranger to fresh seafood dishes and has an innate ability to create uniquely prepared dishes that reflect the local flair.
Ucan honed his talents through hard work, by seeking growth opportunities and maximizing the input of mentors guiding his way. He gained ample restaurant experience before heading to Oxnard for his formal education and was quickly swept up by Lure Fish House at age 23.
During his 10-year tenure at Lure, Ucan has overseen the original four Lure locations, freshened up the menus, cleaned up inventory, perfected dish presentation and implemented ideas that embody his “prep less, serve fresh” mentality. He was also instrumental in helping owner David Cortina open Lure’s top-tier seafood experience featuring fresh and sustainable fish selections in the most unlikely of places – the Arizona desert. Lure Fish House Scottsdale is quickly becoming known for providing a fun and exciting seafood experience.
We caught up with Chef Ucan to learn more about his journey to success as well as tips and tricks for restaurant professionals.
What do you mean by a “prep less, serve fresh” mentality?
I believe it’s best not to prep food until you need it in order to keep it as fresh as possible. To do this and save time too, I’ve implemented the kit method at Lure. We prep as much as we can in advance and prepare ingredient kits for easy mixing. But, we don’t actually blend the ingredients until needed in order to make the meal as fresh as possible.
Have you had to shift any strategies due to the pandemic?
Definitely. In spring we had to adjust our lunch and dinner menus, and we also introduced a takeout menu by carefully selecting items that travel well. It was important to give our guests the same food experience they’d enjoy in restaurant.
One unexpected menu change was adding a burger. Fast food burger places were packed every time I drove by, so I created a Lure burger. It’s so good - 100% Grass fed beef, caramelized onions, white cheddar and heirloom tomatoes.
The most difficult thing we had to do is reduce staff. We’re on a rotating schedule and have worked hard to make sure our strongest employees are getting the hours they need.
I’m really proud of how we’ve given back to the community during this challenging time.
We partnered with World Central Kitchen, founded by Chef Andres, to provide 4,000 individually packaged, fresh meals in communities that need support. I also created Lure’s “The Great Plates” program, which provides healthy pre-packed meals to a largely elderly population. My boss David Cortina and the management team really supported this and worked hard to make it happen.
"Work hard. Do what you love. Learn from the best."Chef Roberto Ucan, Lure Fish House
How are you ensuring a high level of hospitality with so much business being takeout?
Good service doesn’t cost you anything, but can only be attained by committing time to training and taking care of employees. They are like a second family. Owners and managers should spend a great deal of time in the restaurant, and be among employees helping out. The most important thing is to lead by example. Everyone at every level should smile, make eye contact, welcome and thank guests. It’s not just about the food being great. The whole experience must be great.
Lure Fish House is known for its fresh, high-quality sustainable seafood. How do you maintain this standard in Arizona?
In Arizona, we're getting fish from Pier 22 Seafood CO.® and I have no complaints whatsoever. I recently took a tour of the Shamrock Foods facility and it was so beautiful! We get Branzino, Ahi, Halibut, Rock Fish and more and it’s amazing. It’s very fresh and has been great for our expansion out of California.
“In Arizona, we're getting fish from Pier 22 Seafood CO. and I have no complaints whatsoever. I recently took a tour of the Shamrock Foods facility and it was so beautiful! We get Branzino, Ahi, Halibut, Rock Fish and more and it’s amazing. It’s very fresh and has been great for our expansion out of California.”Chef Roberto Ucan, Lure Fish House
In what other ways has Shamrock helped with your Scottsdale expansion?
Our Shamrock Foods Sales Representative, Matt Balzar, has helped me every step of the way. When I first got here, he just kept visiting the restaurant. He was very persistent, and I like that. I want to grow with someone who wants to grow with me. He helps me with everything. I call him and he will always answer. Shamrock Foods did an amazing job helping me open the restaurant.
What advice do you have for our readers to help them succeed both now and into the future?
Work hard. Do what you love. Learn from the best. Lure’s owner Dave Cortina taught me to be a hard worker and to care about every aspect of my job. Also, make sure you have passion. Being a chef is my life and I love it. I share that passion with my team. If you are hands-on and show others you like what you’re doing, they will get more into it and your employee retention will be better.
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