Meet Chef Lucio
Chef Lucio remembers his surprise when he was presented with an elegant bottle of wine in the middle of a shift at Bellamy's Restaurant. The bottle, a vintage red, had been sent in gratitude by two patrons who were so blown away by their meal that they felt compelled to send a gift back to the kitchen. Lucio's illustrious career is filled with special moments like this. They mean more to him than all the accolades and promotions he's received, because at the end of the day his foremost concern is what his guests thought of their meal.
Chef Lucio is a man driven by passion. After thirteen hours of working in a hot kitchen, he goes home and watches the Food Network. His daughter thinks he's crazy for spending his precious few moments of evening down time watching cooking programs, but Lucio doesn't see it that way. He has given his life to his career, and wants to be nothing short of the best.
To be great at something you have to be obsessive. Lucio keeps a pen and notepad on himself at all times so he can quickly jot down fresh ideas when inspiration strikes. After forty years in the industry, he still possesses the vigor and tenacity of a man less than half his age. His eyes light up when he talks about the evening special. He speaks melodically about braising, marinating, and sauteing with the same far away voice others use when they talk about making love. His commitment to his craft is nothing short of astounding.
A Chef is Born
Just as impressive as Lucio's love for cooking is his surprising success. Chef Lucio received virtually no formal education. He has no culinary certificates or fancy degrees. Lucio got most of the way through elementary school, before he needed to find work. He got his degree from the school of hard knocks.
Born in Salamanca, Mexico, Lucio came to San Diego at the age of sixteen and quickly set to find work. He started as a dishwasher at the prestigious Rancho Bernardo Inn. His hard work and positive attitude quickly caught the eye of Chef Robert Blakeslee. Blakeslee asked Lucio, "When do you start working in the kitchen?" Thinking this was a joke, Lucio responded, "next Monday," and was surprised when he showed up to work the next week to find himself no longer washing dishes.
Lucio spent the next year earning his chops as a line cook. He worked every station on the line, learning the ins and outs of how a professional kitchen operated. Chef Blakeslee expected nothing short of perfection. He would often tell Lucio, "you may despise me right now, but one day you will thank me." Looking back, Lucio has nothing but admiration for the old chef. Blakeslee believed in him when others hadn't.
After a year of working on the line, at just eighteen years old, Lucio was promoted to banquet chef at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. He was reluctant to accept the position, but Chef Blakeslee insisted, knowing full well that Lucio was the right man for the job. Lucio was told that he only had to try the new position for a week and could quit afterwards if he still wasn't satisfied. At the end of the week, Lucio came to Blakeslee's office to drop off his apron. Chef Blakeslee implored Lucio to stay on just one more week to give the position another shot. The next week Blakeslee observed Lucio working banquets to see his new chef running around like a chicken without a head, trying to do everything himself. Meanwhile his cooks just stood there. After being told where he'd fallen short, the mistake seemed obvious. Lucio knew how to cook, but now he had to learn how to lead others.
Like everything else he set his mind to, Lucio grew beautifully into his role as banquet chef. Banquets alone pulled in about fifteen million dollars a year for the inn. For their largest event, Lucio plated over 1,100 entrees. The stakes were high, and Lucio rose to the occasion.
A Grand New Era
After decades at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, Lucio left for his next adventure. He spent most the next year on vacation, recuperating from years of overworking himself in a high stakes, high intensity atmosphere. During this time, he didn't search for work, but that doesn't mean he wasn't being constantly harassed with job offers. Lucio had garnered a reputation for his self discipline and high level craftsmanship. Among the milieu of offers to come his way, one in particular piqued his interest. It was from the Grand Restaurant Group.
GRG was looking for a new head chef to man the kitchen at their beautifully designed, French-American bistro. Lucio was being offered the top job at Escondido's iconic Bellamy's Restaurant. Initially, he was hesitant to accept. Lucio had only wanted to work part-time, but realizing that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, he signed on.
Today, Lucio is a cherished member of the GRG family. He feels a strong loyalty to his restaurant and its ownership, and he works tirelessly to do right by them. Lucio loves when Chief Executive Officer Sandy DiCicco and her husband Brian stop in for a meal. "I've never worked for such nice people. Sometimes, it almost feels like we're related.
Lucio's leadership style directly reflects his personal experience as a culinary artist. Beyond just managing kitchen workers, Lucio goes out of his way to mentor his team and provide valuable career advice, the same way chefs like Robert Blakeslee guided him. He freely admits that education was a major hurdle in his career (Lucio remembers being given an office and having to ask how to turn on the computer), and emphasizes its importance to the young cooks he works with.