Myles Lucero Tells His Story
By Michael Dax · Photos by Sergio Salvador
Chef Myles Lucero of Prairie Star at the Santa Ana Pueblo.
“What drove me to move spaces,” Myles Lucero says, “is [that] I’ve come to a point where I want to give back to some people and teach some young guys something about food.” After twelve years of cooking at Seasons Rotisserie and Grill in Albuquerque’s Old Town, head chef Myles Lucero moved on to Prairie Star at the Santa Ana Pueblo in September. “It’s basically where I grew up and found myself as a chef,” says Lucero about his time at Seasons. Lucero has only positive things to say about the years he spent at Seasons, but as he has progressed in his career, he is now looking forward to new challenges.
Growing up on Isleta Pueblo in an agricultural family, Lucero had planned to go to college to study biology, but after working in a kitchen to help pay the bills, he became hooked on the fast-paced environment. A few years later, he went to culinary school, but eventually dropped out. “It got to the point where I thought I was going to learn more from the people I worked with,” he says. And now, at Santa Ana, he’s in a unique position to provide the kind of guidance he wished he had received when he first started out—not only on the technical side of things, but also with his focus on local ingredients and culture as a part of storytelling through food.
While he probably didn’t know it at the time, the philosophy guiding Lucero’s approach toward food was shaped at an early age. On his family farm, Lucero’s father regularly planted new and different vegetables each year, from okra to different varieties of heirloom beans to sugar cane and melons. In addition to the garden, Lucero’s family also had fruit trees, raised cows and chickens, and hunted everything from deer and elk to pheasant and rabbit. “Now, looking back, I’m really glad I was exposed to that,” Lucero says.
Left: Bacon-wrapped airline pheasant with house-made potato gnocchi, piquillo peppers, organic mushrooms, and sherry pan sauce. Right: Bison tenderloin from Madrid, New Mexico, with seared potato tart, fried Brussels sprouts, pepper demi glace, and smoked port wine butter.
A vegan off and on for a number of years, he makes an exception for wild game. “It’s definitely a little more rewarding than going to the store,” he says, a sentiment that perfectly encapsulates what Lucero loves about food. More than anything else, it’s about the meal having a sense of place and culture and telling a story for the diner.
And for Lucero, one of the benefits of moving to Prairie Star is getting to tell a whole new story. While supporting local farmers and ranchers who are operating in the area, Lucero is especially interested in employing native and traditional ingredients in his cooking, which includes teaching and being a resource for his line cooks, most of whom are from the Santa Ana Pueblo. “It would be nice not only to know it myself, but to pass it on to as many people as possible,” he says about relearning these traditions. “Whether they’re foraged, grown, or hunted, that’s my bigger picture. What can we bring back as far as what the local area has to offer?”
For the moment, his focus is the restaurant, but Lucero hopes that in the near future, he can also do some outreach to the local community so that his efforts to reemphasize Native cuisine can be accessible to a broader public. He admits that he has plenty more to learn—something he is eager to do—but so far, he has been able to forage ingredients that he has employed in spices and teas. His favorite traditional ingredient is the cattail root, a kind of tuber that he includes in purees. Lucero’s dishes tend to be simple. “Anything that has the fewest amount of ingredients is always the best for me,” he says. “If you have really good ingredients, you shouldn’t have to do much to them at all. It’s about finding those moments when you put several ingredients together and they just match. It’s not just flavors; it’s colors, it’s textures and visualization, it’s everything.”
According to Lucero, this minimalist philosophy is a relatively new development for Albuquerque’s food scene. Compared to twenty years ago when he first started working as a cook, Lucero says many more people are staying away from processed foods and are choosing to eat healthy. “Everyone’s getting back to the basics and letting a lot of these ingredients tell their own story,” he says.
For Lucero, this concept of telling a story ranges from letting the flavors of an ingredient shine on their own to ensuring that a dish is tied to a place and reflects its heritage. For instance, he uses locally grown heirloom corn that is milled at Santa Ana Pueblo, and will seek the simplest way to let the corn show off its natural flavor. If it’s a cut of bison, Lucero will rarely flavor it with anything more than salt and pepper.
Although the main impetus driving this philosophy is taste, health is also a big part of what Lucero values about food. With its long hours that often go late into the night, the restaurant industry can easily produce unhealthy habits, but over the years, he has been able to adapt. Lucero references “mise en place,” a French culinary term that means “everything in its place,” as his inspiration for balancing the high stress of kitchen life with his desire to be healthy. Each weekend, Lucero preps all of his personal meals for the week to ensure that he’ll eat healthy. “It’s all organization,” he says. “If anybody works in a restaurant, they’ll learn some really good work habits and, hopefully, that’ll cross over to their lifestyle.”
For all his expertise, Lucero has remained a student. As a young chef, he admits to having been cocky and eager to prove his skill, but with nearly twenty years under his belt, he has a much different outlook. “A lot of those things don’t matter anymore. I just want to learn.”
288 Prairie Star Road, Santa Ana Pueblo