No sooner had Sheila Lucero returned to Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar from a meeting of the Blue Ribbon Task Force in Portland, Oregon — a group initially organized by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to help shape the institution’s Seafood Watch program that has since expanded its scope — than she took the plunge into another project: She's become the executive chef at Lola Coastal Mexican.
Like Jamey Fader, who's held that position since he opened Lola more than sixteen years ago, Lucero got her start working at Jax more than two decades ago, working her way up to become executive chef there in 2009, overseeing the culinary efforts at what's grown to be five Jax locations (there will soon be a sixth, at Denver International Airport). While she's keeping that spot, she's also taking on a new role in the Big Red F family.
“I feel immediately at home in our kitchen at Lola,” says Lucero. “Our team is excited for a new direction, inspiration, and to hone their skills and offer our Denver diners and friends something unforgettable. The past five years of my culinary journey have been the most inspired, innovative and rewarding of my career, and it’s the perfect time to put my passion for cooking into Lola. My years of cooking seafood at Jax and my love of the beaches of Mexico excite me, because I now have a new challenge ahead where I can blend that deep experience with new flavors and methods. Jamey leaves some big shoes to fill, and I will always consider him a mentor.”
Fader's last day at Lola, and as culinary director of Big Red F, is today; he's moving on to Marczyk Fine Foods, where he'll be director of culinary operations at the two markets as well as explore other projects. At Lola, Lucero will collaborate with chef de cocina Jonathan Mathews, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who worked for chef Jean Joho at Everest in Chicago before moving to Denver and working with Sage Hospitality in several kitchens over the past five years.
“Sheila has been with Jax Fish House since 1998, and during that time, we have all watched her cook, grow and become the amazingly talented and fiercely competent chef that she now is, all the while walking through the world with the highest integrity and humility of anyone we all could ever work with,” says Dave Query, head of Big Red F. "Jamey had a big influence on Sheila. He hired her, and she stepped into his job at Jax LoDo when he left and we opened Lola. It’s the natural progression of things — circle of life."
Not only has Lucero been the driving force behind sustainabiilty efforts at Jax, showing how landlocked restaurants can help rebuild and protect damaged coastal ecosystems, but she's become a strong national voice for sustainability, as well.
"It’s a wonderful feeling working with so many passionate people on these global issues,” says Lucero. “I always come home feeling energized and inspired, with new ideas that we can put to work in the kitchen — whether that’s sourcing, or what kind of materials we use, or how we handle our products. One of the biggest takeaways from this last conference was the immense amount of plastic being dumped into the ocean and how it affects marine life. There are literally giant islands of our trash just floating around the ocean. At Jax and Lola, we’ve eliminated the use of all plastic straws and are seeking out new methods of sourcing and storing our fish that don’t require so much excess packaging. It’s a small step, but when you see chefs all over the country acting with the same focused intent, you can see tangible, positive results.”
Which you can always see in Lucero's kitchens, too.
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