Meet Executive Sous Chef Mike Lutz!September 19, 2017 8:00 am
Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at Spats Restaurant & Lounge? Sous Chef Mike Lutz lifts the veil.
An American success story
Work hard, and you’ll make it. That’s been our country’s selling point for centuries. And for anyone bold enough, the Land of Opportunity still opens doors. Just ask Executive Sous Chef Mike Lutz.
“I actually got started right here as a dishwasher in 2005,” he says, referring to The Blennerhassett. It was a humble beginning. Industrial kitchens like the one at Spats use hundreds of implements— and they all need to be cleaned and sterilized. But as any professional chef can attest, those long hours are essential for training.
“I would hang out back and observe how things work,” Lutz recalls. The large kitchen provided insights that no classroom could match. For someone as determined as Lutz, it was an invaluable opportunity. Then, there were The Blennerhassett’s executive chefs.
“They seemed like untouchable gods,” Lutz laughs.
Still, the aspiring chef wasn’t daunted. He had ambition. With his eyes on Mount Olympus, he enrolled the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute’s Le Cordon Bleu program. As its name suggests, the course emphasized French technique and styling.
Lutz thrived. After graduating with top grades, he started another chapter of his American success story.
A day in the life of a Blennerhassett chef
Sous chef. Most of us associate the title with restaurants, but what does it really entail? In a nutshell, these culinary artists are top assistants. They collaborate with the executive chef and ensure his or her vision is accurately represented.
It wasn’t long before Lutz broke into the upper ranks himself. In 2010, he became a junior sous chef for The Blennerhassett. Another promotion 2 years later made him an executive sous chef.
Lutz wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“I like the collaboration and the hustle and bustle; no day is the same, and it’s never boring,” he affirms.
With Executive Chef Rick Argoso, Lutz shapes the personality of Spats Restaurant.
Menu planning, inventory and management are daily responsibilities they share. Same thing goes with cooking. Lutz likes spicy infusions, while Argoso likes to experiment with global cuisine. The two styles blend in harmony, creating dishes that are bold and imaginative.
Lutz isn’t slow to sing the executive chef’s praises. He especially likes the scallops, which Argoso spikes with a tomato-based gastrique, a type of sweet-and-sour sauce.
“It’s got this sugary-vinegar hit,” Lutz marvels. “I’m in love with them right now.”
The sous chef also has some leeway. One of his greatest joys is developing The Blennerhassett’s beer dinners. Every dish— from the first course through dessert— complements a specific brew. He also assists with occasional wine dinners.
A culinary problem solver
“I’m all over the place,” the executive sous chef professes. His active imagination refuses to lock into one genre. He’s currently wrapped up in vegan cooking.
“I’m pretty fascinated with [it],” Lutz explains. “I like looking at a traditional meat entree and flipping it to a meatless version.”
It’s like a puzzle. How can a timeless classic like pot roast become satisfying for vegans? What combination of plant-based textures and flavors will sway the most committed carnivores? Lutz relishes the challenge.
Plus, vegan cooking is eco friendly and sustainable. Those are values he respects. More guests want them, too. But when push comes to shove, bold flavors are key. One of Lutz’s signature touches is apples and ginger; it’s a punchy combination that “dials up the flavor.”
When the sous chef isn’t cooking, he’s feeding his imagination. Like any artist, Lutz does extensive research.
“I like reading up on food blogs and checking out restaurants for inspiration,” he says.
Argoso also gives him time to innovate.
“Some days, I’ll approach Chef and say, ‘Hey, do you mind if I try to pull out these ingredients?’”
Such freedom results in a menu that’s never stale. It’s one of the things that Lutz appreciates about The Blennerhassett. Entrees also change with the seasons; a fall menu is already in the works. But even locals aren’t stuck with the same dishes for months on end. Argoso, Lutz, and the culinary team are always creating a special or two.
“The menu is for the day-to-day guest,” he stresses. “There’s always something new.”
Visit us for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and see what’s cooking! (And maybe you’ll spot Lutz behind the scenes, living the dream.)