Rising Homegrown Talent: An Interview with Chef Alex Lucarino


With restaurants, bars and cafés popping up on almost every street corner, it comes to no surprise that Montreal's vibrant culinary scene has been booming lately. Over the past few months, I've had the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes in some of Montreal's busiest kitchens. In a city that seamlessly brings together top chefs and rising stars--combining a vast array of cultures, textures and tastes--I can certainly vouch for the fact that Montreal chefs go beyond ingredients and recipes and give life to some of the most inventive dishes imaginable.

Up-and-coming chef Alex Lucarino has made no secret of his love for anything food-related. Lucarino, 24, graduated from a cooking institute less than a year ago and he's quickly moving up the city's culinary ladder. He is currently working on the line alongside renowned chef Marie-Fleur St-Pierre at Montreal hotspot Tapeo Bar à Tapas.

On a snowy Thursday evening in Montreal, we caught up with Alex at the Jean-Talon Market to shop for some fresh veggies and discuss life, career plans and some of his experiences in Montreal's profoundly competitive food scene.

Montréalités: What sparked your passion for cooking?

Lucarino: My Italian heritage has a lot to do with it. I was always in the kitchen as a child. I loved to watch my mother cook... and my grandparents too! I loved it when they would cook up those large Italian feasts. The fact that my mother was diagnosed with cancer also played a large role in my decision. She hated her job for the longest time and I felt like I could relate. I was in engineering before I began attending culinary school and I didn't like it at all; I wanted to do something that I'd love. Also, one thing my uncle said stuck with me: "Choose the right career or you'll wake up miserable every morning." So I looked at my mom's situation in a positive light and took my uncle's advice, and now I'm here. I can also happily say that my mother is now cancer-free.

Montréalités: How would you describe your style of cooking?

Lucarino: I'm definitely a perfectionist, especially when plating. Presentation is very important to me. I like to create new things.

Montréalités: What are your favorite ingredients?

Lucarino: Kale, garlic, mangos and Pablano peppers are my favorite ingredients at the moment. It also depends on the season.

Montréalités: I'm going to put you on the spot a little bit, Alex. Unexpected guests are arriving in 30 minutes and you need to whip up something delicious as fast as possible, but you only have the ingredients you just mentioned. What dish would you put together?

Lucarino: Good question! I'd make a three-layer dish. I'd start it off with a lemon roasted chickpea puree, topped with sautéed kale, chicken and Piri-Piri sauce. I'd then use the Pablano peppers to make a spicy mango chutney.

Montréalités: What is your current specialty?

Lucarino: If I had to pick one, I'd have to say that pasta alla carbonara is the one dish that I've completely mastered. I enjoy making purees and I also make this special BBQ sauce using applesauce, ketchup, brown sugar, lemon juice and paprika. I like to put it on steaks.

Montréalités: When and where did you complete your culinary training?

Lucarino: I graduated from St. Pius Culinary and Business Centre back in January 2014. Pius gave me a lot of opportunities. I recently went to Toronto on behalf of the school in order to participate in the Canadian Student Chef Competition.

Montréalités: What was that experience like and what did you learn from it?

Lucarino: It was sort of like Top Chef, except for recent culinary graduates. I finished second in all of Canada. It definitely opened my eyes to a different aspect of cooking. I began to look at it from a more artistic point of view. I also got to meet some really talented chefs. In this industry, the more people you know, the better.

Montréalités: Do you plan on participating in more cooking competitions in the near future? If so, which ones?

Lucarino: I would love to eventually go on Chopped. I always watch it and wonder what I would do with their baskets. Top Chef Canada would also be a great accomplishment for me.

Montréalités: You currently work at one of Montreal's hotspots, Tapeo. What is your position there?

Lucarino: I'm on the line with the sous-chef and the chef. I usually work lunches. I also work at the restaurant in the Marriott Hotel near the airport, as well as at Bombardier occasionally.

Montréalités: The job interview process can vary depending on the position you are applying for. When applying for a chef position, what does a job interview involve? You can describe your experience applying at Tapeo.

Lucarino: I went in during a regular service and they gave me a few things to do. I had my own dishes to prepare. It's all about speed, if you're not quick in this industry, you get killed. You're given one shot to prove yourself. If they like you, they hire you on the spot. In my case, I was given the job right after the service.

Montréalités: Tapeo has been drawing crowds since it first opened. How would you describe a busy night in your shoes?

Lucarino: It's an extremely fast-paced environment, especially since we serve tapas. A table of two can have up to 11 different dishes, you know. It's definitely stressful for at least two hours, generally between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The kitchen is also small, so we help each other out. We're like a little family.

Montréalités: What are your top 3 chef suggestions on Tapeo's menu?

Lucarino: I definitely suggest the Albacore tuna. We also have bacon-wrapped scallops with applesauce, which are delicious, and fideos, a sort of chopped spaghetti dish with mushrooms, shrimp and chorizo.

Montréalités: Who is your biggest inspiration when it comes to cooking?

Lucarino: I had the pleasure of working with Chef Raphaël Podlasiewicz, the private chef for the CEO of Bombardier. His plating skills are outstanding. I also look up to Chef Chuck Hughes; he's charismatic and successful. Those are key skills within this profession.

Dish prepared by chefs Raphaël Podlasiewicz & Alex Lucarino. Photo taken from Alex Lucarino's personal Instagram account.

Montréalités: What future adventures do you have planned in order to further your culinary knowledge?

Lucarino: I would definitely like to go into food styling. I'd love it if other chefs could take me under their wing so that I could learn from them, sort of like what Raphaël did for me at Bombardier. Also, working alongside Marie-Fleur at Tapeo is already a great learning experience.

Montréalités: What are your future plans as a chef? Would you like to eventually open your own restaurant? If so, what type of cuisine would you specialize in?

Lucarino: I met a food stylist when I went to Toronto and he really inspired me. We spoke about what he does and I think I would love it. I would also love to become a private chef, similarly to what Raphaël does. If I had to open a restaurant somewhere other than Montreal, it would definitely be Florida. I've always dreamt of having a place near Ocean Drive. I'd specialize in tapas.

A young Montreal chef simmering with talent and ambition, I definitely expect a bright future for Alex. Remember his name, you'll be hearing a lot more about him. Get a glimpse of what he's been stirring up via Instagram @alexlucarino.


511 Rue Villeray, Montréal, QC H2R 1H5


Photos by: LIKĀ Photography

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