His name is Brother Marcellus Luck IV – and yes, that’s his real name.
On most days, when he’s not competing on the Food Network or speaking to a class or convention, you can find him in his chef whites inside the kitchen of his restaurant, “Four by Brother Luck,” located in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs.
It’s just over 1,300 miles between his now home city and San Francisco, where Luck was born and first soaked up the sounds and the hustle and bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf. But life wise, it’s a lot farther than that, seemingly almost another universe away.
Brother Luck was just ten when his mother broke the news to him and his younger brother that their father had died. The tragedy would send their family into a tail spin punctuated by gangs and the sordid scene of street life. By the time he was a senior in high school, and out of necessity for survival and a daily meal, the boy of Creole descent started applying for jobs in restaurants. Nobody would call him back – but for one.
The head chef from the Hyatt Regency in Phoenix was bemused and intrigued by the applicant’s name. Was it a joke? He had to call and find out. But it wasn’t only his name. For a reference, 17-year-old Luck had listed Tina Turner. Of course, it wasn’t Tina the singer, but Tina his real-life girlfriend and eventual wife. Brother interviewed, got the job, and most importantly, got a chance.
Before long he was winning chef competitions and moving up the ladder. Eventually landing in Colorado Springs to start his own restaurant, he first turned down an invitation to appear on Guy Fieri’s television show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” He felt it was beneath him.
“My ego got in the way,” Luck told me. He eventually came to his senses, seeing television food competitions as a means to not only increase his own visibility and business, but also elevate the city of Colorado Springs.
You might be familiar with Brother Luck beating Bobby Flay, or spending two seasons on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” He’s also appeared with Rachel Ray and cooked on NBC’s Today Show.
Brother Luck’s Christian faith was sparked and set afire thanks to a small group he was in at his local church. When he joined, they were studying John Eldredge’s book, Wild at Heart. He especially resonated with this line from the book: “A man needs a much bigger orbit than a woman. He needs a mission, a life purpose, and he needs to know his name.”
“There’s power in a name,” he reflected. Luck called his name the “front porch to accessibility.” It not only gave him his first start, but it also gave him a natural opportunity to engage with those intrigued by it. That intrigue led to cooking and serving them, and finding great joy in hospitality. It also goes deeper.
“Food for me is a connection to the ghosts of my past,” he confided. “I connect to my grandmother. I connect to my father. I connect to the people who are no longer here through their dishes.”
Most of us will never own a restaurant or compete on Food Network, but Brother Luck’s life holds numerous lessons for us all. Asked about how he handled the defeats on television or the pain of closing an underperforming restaurant, Brother summed up his approach this way:
“I don’t lose anymore,” he said. “I learn.”
“If you’re going to fail, fail fast. We all get the same amount of time in a day. What are you doing with those 24 hours? Embrace the limited time you have.”
Just ahead of Thanksgiving, I asked Brother Luck if he had any tips for our family feasts. Here are a few of his top ones:
- Brine your turkey. 1 LB = 1 HR.
- Don’t worry about all the fancy rubs. Salt & pepper work great.
- Never cook your bird with the stuffing inside.
- Luck is a big fan of sausage, walnut and brioche bread stuffing. Brioche bread is perfect for stuffing because it’s fluffy and egg and butter based. Dice up the brioche bread and dry it out in the oven @ 200 degrees. Soak it in chicken or turkey stock and egg.
- When making mashed potatoes, slowly simmer, don’t boil the potatoes. Boiling forces too much water into them, resulting in lumpy potatoes. After draining, put them back in the empty pot and simmer on low for a few more minutes to get rid of excess water. Then after mashing up, add hot milk, cream, butter. Never add cold to hot. Always hot to hot.
- Sweet potatoes are sweet enough. No marshmallows needed. Taste is all about balance. Add savory to sweet, not sweet to sweet.
- Pumpkin Pie is a must, but he’s also a fan of a Thanksgiving cheesecake due to the many varieties available. Personally, he’s making a Bananas Foster one this year.
- Freshly baked cookies are a great, easy option and a wonderful way to get kids involved.
Brother Luck’s last piece of advice applies to not only our cooking and our kitchens, but also life itself:
“Do your ‘Mise en place’ – a French term for working ahead. “Do the work ahead of time, so you can fire on the day,” he says. “If you try and do it all that morning, you’ll be on the struggle bus.”
We’d all be better off if we prayed, planned, worked – and then worked our plan.
Brother Luck finds joy in seeing people gather around a table and making memories by eating good food and spending time together.
It’s our prayer and hope that you and your family will enjoy just such a blessing this coming Thanksgiving.
Image Credit: Four by Brother Luck.