The kitchen at Create Cooking School
in Stanley Marketplace has been all stirred up lately, and not just because of classes. The team is preparing to open a restaurant: Lucina
, which will be located at 2245 Kearney Street, just two doors down from Tables, and could open by Christmas week.
During the pandemic, wine dinners became a way for Create to further connect with students. "We had a couple of guests approach us afterward and say, 'Why are we just now having the best meal?' ... 'We want to be able to access this all the time,'" recalls chef/owner Erasmo "Ras" Casiano.
Casiano and fellow chef/owner Diego Coconati are both longtime industry professionals, each with over twenty years of experience. Create was a way for them to stay connected with hospitality while avoiding the often long, demanding hours of restaurant work. "But obviously we had the itch," Casiano admits.
"When you're teaching, everyone is cooking, so you're watching them and you're like, 'I want to cook,'" Coconati adds.
At first, Casiano and Coconati considered an Italian Mediterranean continental concept, but with encouragement from friends, they decided to focus on the food on which they were raised. "We kind of made a realization that our cultures have a lot to offer that's not really been brought to the forefront," Casiano says. "So let's just tap into our heritages. I'm Mexican by blood. I was raised Mexican Bolivian. I've got family in Argentina and Peru." Meanwhile, Coconati "is like the Latin American chameleon," he notes, born in Argentina but also having spent time in Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Miami.
The partners and the rest of the Lucina team — operations manager Michelle Nguyen, beverage director Henry Ottrix and general manager Alexander Moon — have been using the kitchen at Create to develop the menu while the restaurant was under construction. "We've been blessed by the fact that we have this space," Casiano says.
"To play around and perfect the dishes," Coconati adds.
Whole roasted fish is one of three large, shareable dishes on the menu.
Lucina Eatery & Bar/Instagram
Their restaurant's moniker honors Casiano's mother, whose name is Santa Lucina (or St. Lucy), and the menu will highlight the flavors and ingredients the two grew up eating. "It's a lot more than cilantro and lime juice," Casiano notes.
"Latin America is huge, with so many different flavors, products, ingredients that, here in Denver, are not represented much or at all," Coconati says.
And so Lucina's will be serving dishes like provoleta, an Argentinian-inspired griddled cheese with white anchovies and pepper relish served with crusty bread. "If you're used to queso fundido with jalapeños and chorizo, you're going to love this one," notes Casiano.
A signature dish will be the arroz congri, rice and black beans with maduros, sweet fried plantains. "It's one of those bites that you're like, 'Yes. This feels like home. I've never had it in my life, but it makes me feel very comfortable,'" Casiano says. It also happens to be vegan.
Along with a selection of smaller plates, there will be three large dishes meant to be shared by two to three people: a whole roasted snapper, double bone-in mojo pork and pollo a la brassa (a half roasted Peruvian-style chicken).
On Fridays and Saturdays after 5 p.m., Lucina will also serve paella de moment, made with seasonal ingredients. "When you think paella, you think seafood," Casiano notes. "But if you go back to where it originated from — central Spain — it was a hunter's meal. ... it wasn't until later that it reached the coast. So we're going to have a lot of fun creating new paella flavors and dishes."
Heading up the dessert menu — which will include a chocolate flight — is Gonzo Jimenez, co-owner of Miette et Chocolat
and a contestant on Netflix's Bake Squad
. Neighboring business Cake Crumbs
will provide coffee and espresso for a vegan take on an espresso martini made with lactic acid. "It's a whole collaborative effort," Casiano explains. "And I think that's something the industry needs to go back to. It's boosting each other up. That's hospitality."
Lucina will also offer brunch on Saturdays and will be closed Sundays and Mondays, a decision motivated by the team's commitment to maintaining a healthy work/life balance, since Create Cooking School will also continue. "Everyone deserves two days of rest back to back," says Casiano, who adds that it's important for the team to create a comfortable environment for both staff and diners.
"Let's take care of employees. Let's take care of each other," he concludes. "Let's open up a great spot that'll take care of our guests, where they'll come back and feel that energy from front to back and from back to front. That's all we want."