May 02 2014

Lucas Price and La Cocina de Luz

lucas price la cocina de luz

Lucas Price, owner and founder of La Cocina de Luz restaurant in Telluride, has a philosophy about food: it should be prepared with quality and awareness.

Committed to serving organic, local and sustainable ingredients, Price cares more about the consciousness of the food made in his restaurant than he does the bottom line.

“We do things pretty differently here,” he said. “I have a good life, I live and work in a beautiful place, but I am not a great business man. This job is more about creating a space and providing a service, creating jobs, promoting sustainable agriculture and having fun … and it’s a good place I like to eat at.”

An Oklahoma native, Price feels a strong connection to the Mexican and Southwestern foods.

“I don’t know if it’s a past life thing or not, but I feel a deep connection with this cuisine,” he said. “And in childhood I watched my family appreciate food so much. They were enchanted with food.”

Price came to the Telluride area for the first time in the 1970s with his family and moved to town in ’77 for mountaineering school.

When a relative bought a mill in Ophir, he decided to stay.

“Coming here I was introduced to foods of the Southwest and the whole food movement. I also learned about the politics of food,” he said.

The mother of his daughter played a leading role in shaping Price’s future, and he credits her for the knowledge he gained on nature-based spirituality and differing views on lifestyle that shaped his view of food.

“I was then able to consolidate my wants and talents and had the understanding that I wanted to be involved in the food service industry,” Price said.

He attended culinary school in Portland in 1990, an experience which he said was full of mixed emotions.

“Some of that served me well; some of it was too much, and I didn’t really relate to it. There are lots of things within the food industry that are contrary to my feelings about fairness and sustainability,” he said.

Price also traveled extensively in Mexico, Central America and New Mexico.

In Santa Fe, he briefly studied with Chef Mark Miller of Coyote Café.

There, Price said, he appreciated Miller’s honesty, Alice-Waters’-style-background and philosophy about food.

“Rather than just Tex-Mex and cheese and fried food, and things that were indistinguishable, I was introduced to a style of food that combined my whole food approach with Miller’s,” he said.

When Price returned to Telluride in the early 80s, he did some catering, and since Sofio’s — the local Mexican restaurant of the time — wasn’t serving lunch, he decided to open a taco stand.

“My emphasis was on fresh. The word ‘natural’ is vague, but my natural foods approached incorporated organic food and brown rice,” he said, “more of what like or ancestors ate.”

With the mobility of his taco stand, Price began vending at many Telluride festivals, and taking his talents on the road, cooking on the Grateful Dead tours.

“I learned the socio-economics of food, and it stuck with me. It was a very colorful scene,” he said.

In 1997, with the desire to create something more permanent, Price started small, in the old cigar shop on the main street of Telluride. There, La Cocina de Luz was born.

“All of this developed slowly,” he said. “And when Back Porch Flowers moved out, we took over that space, almost overnight.”

Now in his current location for several years, the menu has evolved.

“We’ve had introductions of different things since. The breakfast menus came, then on with tostados and the new salad. Our green sauce gets better and better. The pico has evolved. We had bean controversy forever, and now we use local Anasazi beans from Adobe Mills,” he said.

Price enjoys traveling to Cortez and meeting with his bean source personally.

Five years ago, he added the juicing component of La Cocina.

“I think eating raw fruits and vegetables is what we should be eating mainly,” he said, “And we just bought Nutrifaster N450 because I wanted to have fresh juice available and to orient people with what fruits and vegetables do for you.”

If you ask Price about his favorite thing on the menu, he will likely say “the vegan plate.” According to him, it’s affordable, healthy and filling.

But, he knows his customers love the chicken enchiladas and the combination plate, where for $21 diners can enjoy 3 entrees and even share with another person.

Additionally, Price is proud of the Caravan Middle Eastern food cart he opened three years ago next door also.

“I like to that that food because it’s intriguing; it’s ancient cuisine thousands of years old, “ he said.

Price humbly said he feels fairly confident in his quality of Mexican food, but enjoys experimenting with all ethnic foods.

As controversy continues with GMO ingredients, pesticides and the labeling of food, Price remains committed to doing the “right” thing — creating quality food that uses responsible ingredients.

“I just got three emails about Monsanto … and one from the National Restaurant Association, who are fighting for more relaxed laws on food safety and the minimum wage, and I don’t agree with that,” he said.

“If we put our money into food costs in our country, our healthcare costs would come down. The food industry is not about that; it’s short term monetary gain,” he said.

Price’s goal is and will continue to be the quality of food. It’s always first priority … Affordability is a bonus.



Eleanor Bookstaff Author

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