Arts & Entertainment

Chef Lukis Cooking Wtih ‘Wildfire’

There was a time when Falls Church resident Steven Lukis spent his nights scraping plates and washing dishes. Today, however, he's filling them with some of the finest cuisine the area has to offer as the Executive Chef of Wildfire Steak, Chop and Seafood restaurant in Tysons Corner.

At the ripe age of 14, Steven secured a work permit and was hired as a dishwasher at the renowned Louis Bon Appetit in Crown Point, Ind. Chef Louis Retailleau recognized Steven’s passion for food and started formally training his protégé via a 3,000 hour French Apprenticeship. No need to hop across the Atlantic for a stint at Le Cordon Bleu; the budding chef learned his impeccable French skills working after school. Those skills range from making a buerre blanc to taking a goose from pen to plate (yes, a pen in the backyard of the restaurant).

In four years he completed his apprenticeship pulling in around $110 a week but received an education that would have cost close to $100,000. His hard work paid off and, at 18, was made head chef.

Thus began the rapid rise that brought Lukis and his family to Falls Church last August, when Lettuce Entertain You Enterprise (LEYE) asked him be the executive chef at their second East Coast Wildfire restaurant at the Tysons Corner Galleria. The 400 seat restaurant opened this past December.

The Lukis family, which includes wife Stacey and eight-year-old son Spencer, enjoys living in Falls Church but hasn’t had much time to explore since dad has been busy the last eight months getting the restaurant up and running. They hope to start exploring local sights and hear that Argia's is the place for pizza. The biggest attraction to Falls Church was the reputation of the schools, safe neighborhoods, bike paths and the 10 minute commute to work. Stacey also has a long time friend that lives just down the street. The mild winters don’t hurt either. These hardy Chicago folk donned nothing more than fleece jackets all through the winter months.

The move to Virginia and the opportunity to run the newest Wildfire was also a quality of life choice. Even though the chef works long hours (5 am to 5 pm and more on Fri and Sat), he’s home five nights a week to have dinner with his family. Spencer, a student at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, is partial to Dad’s skirt steak (this kid knows his cuts of beef), macaroni and cheese and broccoli, which he likes to dip in the drippings. Mom gets kudos for her matzo ball soup, which according to the boys in the family, takes Stacey all day to make. Spencer helps mom by shaping the matzo balls.

Patrons can sample Chef Lukis's fare for themselves at Wildfire, a 1940’s Chicago style steak, chop and seafood house with both an executive and family feel. The latter is easily observed by the presence of a kids’ menu, a rarity at most steakhouses.

Chef Lukis has something to please every member of your dining party, with diversity and freshness throughout the menu. The chopped salad boasts big-time flavor with roast chicken, blue cheese, avocado and citrus vinaigrette. So, if you’re dining with a herd of carnivores and you’re more the flexatarian type, this restaurant is for you. Roasting fresh fish in a 600 degree wood-burning oven gives the macadamia/panko crusted halibut an audible crunch. The fish cooks a mere five minutes and comes out lusciously moist.

Chef Lukis gets to stretch his creative culinary muscle developing menus for Wildfire wine dinners. The wines are sent directly from the vineyard, tasted and assigned their placement in the progressive dinner. The May 18 Simi Winery menu includes a sauvignon blanc to go with a trio of seafood appetizers and a zinfandel to complement braised short ribs with truffled mashed potatoes. The two-and-a-half hour tasting experience includes five courses and pours. Priced at $95, think of it as a dinner and a show without having to change venues.

Chef Lukis learned a bit about vino when he took a temporary hiatus from the kitchen at the age of 22, hanging up his toque to seek adventure, food and Spanish wines. Only knowing how to say “hola,” he moved to Spain and landed a job teaching English at a local television station. He now speaks fluent Spanish and his wife Stacey says, “Steven thinks he’s Spanish.”

Lukis returned to the states after exploring Portugal and the Caribbean, relocating to Miami where he met Stacey in South Beach. The two both worked at the posh Art Deco Astor Hotel. Steven received a degree in Culinary Arts (it only took him one year to complete due to all his experience) at Johnson and Wales University. When it was time to get married they moved back to Steven’s hometown of Chicago, where they wanted to raise their family.

Lukis applied for and was offered a job at Brasserie T, a French/Italian restaurant run by Rick Tramonto and Gayle Gand. Food Network fans know Gand as the pastry chef host of “Sweet Dreams.”

In 1999, Tramonto and Gand opened the upscale, jacket-required Tru. Chef Lukis took over the kitchen at Brasserie T until its close in 2001. Lukis was then recruited by LEYE to work at Wildfire in Chicago before heading east to Falls Church.

So what does this Chef do in his off time? He cooks at home, spends quality time grocery shopping, cooking and eating with family and friends. Chef Lukis believes that “good food is the best way to bring people together.” Now we have the opportunity to dine on his good food with our family and friends.