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At just 29 years old, Chef Ryan Lucas is the executive chef of Lansing’s Capital Prime, an upscale steakhouse and seafood restaurant located in Eastwood Towne Center. And although he’s already done a lot, his goals are far from accomplished.
What got you into cooking? When I was young, I worked at my family’s restaurant. I was working there from when I was a kid and slowly became a dishwasher and then a prep cook. I slowly got into it I guess. That was in Brethren, Michigan. The restaurant closed down now. They all moved to Florida. I did that for a little while, then I started working at Crystal Mountain resort in Traverse City, Leelanau area. Just been in it ever since.
Did you attend culinary school or just work your way through the industry?
I did go to culinary school. I worked at Crystal Mountain resort for about two years or so, then I joined the Marines. I was an infantry radio operator, so I was attached to a weapons company. My plan was to stay in the military and retire, but then things changed, and so I decided for my last deployment I was going to get out and see what my options were. I got to travel a lot with the Marines, I’ve now been to 16 countries. Italy and Spain were probably my favorites.
I had always had a passion for cooking, and I found out that the military pays for the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), so I figured I would go to college and get the best degree I could. I was in the military for a little over four years. So I went there and ended up being the valedictorian out of 450 people, and now I’m in Lansing.
Do you think that traveling influenced your love of cooking at all, or was that separate because you were there for military reasons?
It got me to realize that Italian food isn’t what I thought it would be. I guess the biggest example is pizza. Pizza itself was a lot different than what I expected, meaning they don’t cut it, it’s kind of greasy. I’m health oriented, so that was sort of a big thing for me. I wouldn’t say it was a let-down; Some of the stuff was good. You could tell they put their heart into it and it looked good, but for me, coming from a personal training standpoint and a health standpoint, it wasn’t what I thought.
So what brought you to Lansing then? Kind of schooling again. I was trying to come back and get a Master’s degree in nutrition from Michigan State University, got accepted to MSU, got here, and got a job, but I never ended up going to school, so I never got that Master’s degree.
You’ve mentioned personal training and now a Master’s degree in nutrition. Was that the direction you were going toward at that point?
Yes and no. My whole goal in the long run is to own and run a nutritional restaurant. I’ve always been big into fitness and obviously going into the marines, I got more into it with powerlifting and things. My whole idea is that I wanted to do nutritional sciences, so I had more education going into owning a nutritional education. I study nutrition still; I’m a certified nutritionist through ISSA (International Science Studies Association).
What are your responsibilities as the executive chef of Capital Prime?
I try to get a day off here and there, but, yeah, mainly I work seven days a week. I do the hiring, the terminations, the ordering, the training — you name it, I do it pretty much. I run two different restaurants: We have Capital Prime and Capital Vine, and I am the executive chef of both.
They have two different kitchens and two different restaurants. This here (Capital Prime) is more of a fine dining steakhouse where we have prime steaks and our prices range from around $26 for the cheapest cut up to $75 for the most expensive, so a pretty wide range. We do seafood as well. Next door is a wine bistro where we added entrées to the menu, but they are smaller and it’s more light fare type of stuff. We have a filet over there, different kinds of fish, things like flatbreads, etc. That’s more of a high-end wine bar and this is a high-end steakhouse.
What is your favorite aspect of the position you hold currently?
I think it’s more planning the menu.
We didn’t used to change the menu every season, but I’m very big into seasonality, so now we change the menu every couple months. I try to keep that fresh and new. I have a really good culinary team here in general, so that’s awesome. Most of my cooks have been here for over a year now and I have two sous chefs, and they are awesome as well. We get together and plan it together. I never create the menu alone. It’s kind of a full-staff type thing. I like to incorporate everyone in on this. Using everyone’s background and experience, we come up with certain dishes together. So very rarely am I ever going to put a menu item out that is just mine.
So talking about your interest in nutrition, does that interest play into your menu planning as well?
Obviously, steak is red meat so I’m not going to say that that’s super nutritious but in fair quantities it isn’t bad for you. But I definitely play with the seasonality of it for sure with the healthy fare. So like with the herb seabass we just brought in, it has a sweet corn puree or a squash-zucchini salad with it instead of all of these extra carbs. So I definitely have that carry over when we’re planning the menu for sure. Obviously we have to do what the guests want, not all of our guests want to be eating light fare, but it’s an equal compromise I guess to get the healthy stuff in and keep the guests happy as well.
Do you feel like you have any sort of work life balance right now?
I will when I’m older. You don’t need to when you’re young. I’m not too old yet, I’ll have more of a life when I’m older. Once we get the menus rolled out then I’ll take a few days off, but I have to get the job done as well. I like what I do, and if I didn’t I wouldn’t do it. When the guests are happy and everything goes smoothly, everything pays off. Once you see the outcome of it it’s not too bad.
What is your favorite dish on the menu? The new sous vide ribeye, of course. It’s something that will push the envelope in Lansing for sure. We have a lot of great things though. I don’t know if I have one favorite, but I think that’s us sort of bringing New York to Lansing. I think all of our seafood is great and our steaks are great, everything!
We use everything as local as we can. A lot of our cattle is from Michigan; a lot of our produce is from Michigan; we have a greenhouse in Okemos where we get a lot of our stuff from. We’re doing a lot of stuff as fresh and seasonal as we can. That’s partly why I’m here all the time is to make sure that things get done, and done in house. If I have to lose more money to make sure that it’s the best, then I would rather do that than taking the easy way out.
Capital Prime 2324 Showtime Dr., Lansing Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. (517) 377-7463 www.capitalprimelansing.com