Chatting With Dallas Chef Brian Luscher At Desert To Dish In Scottsdale, Arizona

Desert to Dish, an innovative and interactive event held in Scottsdale, Arizona, shared its inaugural showing at the luxurious Omni Scottsdale at Montelucia. With the backdrop of Camelback Mountain and the perfect fall weather, the event had the best of all worlds, including the inspiration of Arizona's finest food purveyors and six renowned chefs who came together for a three-day culinary extravaganza to benefit the James Beard Foundation.

Each day built upon the other as we explored the Arizona farms, dairies, and ranchers, that helped bring the best ingredients to the plate. As we sipped and satiated ourselves with the offerings of Arizona landscape, we were amazed at the diversity and abundance that the Sonoran desert yields to the farmers' skillful hands.  The interchange between the farmer, chef, and the paying guests proved both educational and entertaining. Each event held had the rapt attention of everyone attending from the agricultural tours in the field, cooking demonstrations and the final table where chefs competed for the coveted Desert to Dish culinary award for the best dish of the event.

Among all the stellar chefs who came to showcase their talents, we had the opportunity to sit down and talk to one chef who found his way to Arizona to learn more about the agriculture and in turn we learned more about his work in Dallas. Chef Brian Luscher of The Grape Restaurant in Dallas is no stranger to the kitchen from an early age. Starting as a young child Brian helped family members with their culinary venues, he continued his education at the Culinary Institute of America and then went on to purchase the popular bistro in 2007 where he had stood at the helm as executive chef. The restaurant has now been in business for 43 years, and continues to shine in the Lone Star State as an outstanding dining destination.  

The Daily Meal: Tell us more about your restaurant, The Grape. Why would this be the go-to place to visit while in Dallas?
Chef Brian Luscher: We are ranked as one of the top ten restaurants in Dallas, and it has been open since 1972. I have owned the restaurant for seven years, and was the executive chef for five years prior to that. We are known for our ever changing chalk board menu. We do all our own charcuterie and have a great bistro menu.  We have great steak frites, roasted chicken, pasta, and our menu changes monthly and seasonal. Some of it is very chef-y, some it is very playful, or kind of what we are into; it is a fun Bistro. Sometimes restaurants can feel like you are in church, like you need to sit quietly with your hands in your lap and whisper. I want people to enjoy themselves, to laugh, to have a half glass of wine more than they should, to really enjoying themselves.  It is great place for a first date or an anniversary. We have a lot of marriage proposals. It is fun, quaint, neat place — a great bistro.

Can you share some details about other venture that you have going on in the Dallas area?
We have Luscher Red Hots. I am from Chicago originally and I could not find a great hot dog or Italian sausage that I grew up with, so I decided to start making my own. All of our sausages are handmade, natural casing, local purveyors', antibiotic hormone free meat, and we use local produce, and we make all the condiments, pickles, mustard etc. and our bread is  from a local father and son bakery.  We make a great hot dog, a tribute to the Chicago hot dog. We specialize in these blue collar classics, for our burger for example is a bacon double cheese burger, but with all the great ingredients that we put on it, D Magazine, Dallas's premier glossy magazine, named it the best burger in Dallas. Bon Appetit also named it one of the top 50 restaurants in the United States. I am very proud.

Just going back a few years, what was your inspiration, or culinary connection, that pushed you to want to be a chef?
If you asked my mother she would say it started when I was four years old when I set up a restaurant in my bedroom.  My uncle and grandfather owned a couple generations old hamburger joint and I remember my uncle holding me up so I could help flip the burgers. I have always been drawn to it.

After you spend many hours in your own restaurant, what are some of the dishes you choose to cook while at home just unwinding with family?
It's very simple. We like to get good-quality protein, such as a local chicken, or a nice cut of beef or a pork chop and sauté or roast it, make a little sauce in the pan. I love boiled potatoes, or a little rice and a fresh veggie. This is something that my daughter can be a part of since she is nine, but she really enjoys. Something not very complicated since we eat our restaurant food all the time, we keep it very simple.

What is your go to kitchen gadget that you cannot live without?
I am not one for whimsical gadgetry, but for me a sharp knife is a must. It doesn't have to be a $500 dollar Japanese brand but a good quality chef knife. Learn how to sharpen your knife. By having a good quality steel to sharpen you knife frequently and learning how to sharpen your knife with a stone, will make cooking at home for civilians, if you will, more enjoyable. With a dull knife it is difficult but it is almost inspiring to have a good knife.

What attracted you to participating in Desert to Dish?
I became interested while talking to Chef Michael Cairns about the agriculture, both large and small scale here in Arizona. It is very fascinating, the amount of producers in Arizona from artisanal, certified organic, to the ranchers and the cheese makers.  It is really fascinating to get an up close view of this, well worth the price of admission.

Given the name of The Grape, you must have a favorite bottle or grape varietal.
I am super huge fan of red Burgundies. Also, my two favorites that I enjoy drinking are the New Zealand sauvignon blanc and Schaumburg, and blanc de noir for a sparkling wine. I also like the cabernet blends from the Pacific Northwest, especially Oregon and Washington — absolutely delicious.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?
A big bacon cheeseburger. I want the grease dripping down my arms and lots of cheese.  That is my comfort food, I absolutely enjoy it.