At 10 a.m. on any given day, Steven Lujan is the first one in the kitchen at Electric Playhouse.
With a good 30 minutes before his staff comes in, Lujan uses the time to prepare his plan for the day.
Of course, there’s always room for the plan to be uprooted. But he’s able to pivot and still create some amazing entrees.
“I’ve been cooking for, like, almost 23 years,” Lujan says quietly.
Though the 40-year-old chef is shy in his demeanor, his creations speak volumes.
He’s the mastermind behind Electric Playhouse’s current interactive dinners – Frightening Fall Feast and Burque Brunch.
The dinners are his chance to create fine dining entrees with the festive Electric Playhouse feel.
The Frightening Fall Feast features items such as Spooky Soup, which is a poached local mushroom and leek soup with cauliflower, parsnips and white truffle.
Or there’s the Witches Delight, which is torched salmon with pumpkin puree, black rice and kale.
“The inspiration for me comes from just loving food,” he says. “Being able to see what goes good together.”
His position as executive chef at Electric Playhouse is quite far from his humble beginnings in Santa Fe.
“I started off working at Pizza Hut,” he says with a smile. “I fell in love with just making the pizzas. Then I went to a little cafe and learned to prepare dishes. I pretty much moved up to Bishop’s Lodge as a sous chef and worked my way up to La Casa Sena for awhile as a prep cook.”
During each one of those jobs, Lujan learned and paid attention to every small detail.
“Each chef that I worked with, they taught me something,” he says. “I pretty much fell in love with the art of cooking.”
Lujan’s love for creating dishes comes from his grandma and mother.
His mom used to run Rachel’s Bakery inside Villa Linda Mall, which is Santa Fe Place.
“I saw how the food that they both prepared would bring us together,” he says. “That’s what I want to do with my creations. I want to create a community, even if it’s for an hour.”
Lujan’s life changed when he began to work with Chef Julian Griego.
Griego took Lujan under his wing and brought him to Electric Playhouse as a sous chef.
“He’s a mentor to me, like a really big mentor and I appreciate him a lot,” Lujan says. “When Julian decided to leave Electric Playhouse, he told me I should take over. Those were heartfelt words.”
Brandon Garrett, Electric Playhouse co-founder and vice president, says when Griego left the position, the company felt that Lujan wouldn’t skip a beat.
“Steven has drive and wants to make an impression,” Garrett says. “He’s developed our immersive dinners and they’ve been really successful. It was his time to step into the spotlight.”
Lujan is the first to come in and the last to leave the kitchen work days.
He says the biggest obstacle since Electric Playhouse reopened in the spring is the lack of staff in the kitchen.
Because he’s had many great mentors, he takes the time to be there for his staff.
“I feel for me as a chef coming from line cooking, that it’s not just bossing people around,” he says. “I’m on my hands and knees scrubbing and cleaning with them. I like being there to guide them. If the line gets backed up, I’m jumping in to make sure it’s getting done.”
Lujan also enjoys having his hand in fine dining for the immersive dinners. And he enjoys being able to create the lunch menu at the cafe.
“It’s a challenge sometimes,” he says. “If you’ve been doing it for awhile, everything clicks. I find myself sitting and jotting things down in my head. I’m my biggest critic and I try to push myself in everything I do. I want everybody to enjoy what I’m doing and create a community that loves the food.”
While cooking, he often remembers the love for cooking that was instilled by his family.
“My grandma used to make fresh tortillas and have beans, potatoes and great chile,” he says. “My mom is an excellent baker. The passion that I saw when they were in the kitchen, I felt that. Now that I’m doing this for a living, I’m the happiest I could be. I see that food brings people together and that warms my heart.”
6 ounce sirloin steak
Salt and pepper
Season both sides of steak with salt and pepper. Let rest for 15 minutes. Preheat grill to medium heat. Grill directly over heat for 5 minutes. Turn steak and grill an additional 5 minutes or until desired doneness is reached. Remove steak from grill and place on cutting board, loosely placing foil over steak. Rest steak for 5 minutes.
GARLIC MASHED POTATO
1-2 russet potatoes
½ cup heavy cream
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
Chop potatoes into quarters and place them in a small saucepan. Add ½ cup milk, ½ cup heavy cream and 2 cloves minced garlic. Add ½ cup of milk to make sure potatoes are almost completely covered by the liquid. Cook on medium-high heat for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are tender. When potatoes are tender, strain the potatoes into a colander, saving the garlic-infused cream. Put potatoes back into the pot and mash them with potato masher. Next, take the garlic-infused cream and fold it back into the potatoes until creamy smooth. Fold in 1 tablespoon of butter. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6 asparagus spears
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil a baking sheet. Toss asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until plating.
7 ounces mushrooms
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper
Add 3 tablespoons of butter to a pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally for 6 to 7 minutes until most the liquid has evaporated and mushrooms are caramelized. Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic and cook for 1 more minute, stirring constantly. Pour mushrooms and remaining liquid over steak.
1 romaine lettuce heart
3 ounces Caesar dressing
2 ounces Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Cut romaine lettuce heart in half lengthwise and drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place romaine lettuce heart halves on grill and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook for additional 2 to 3 minutes until nice and charred. Place on plate and drizzle with Caesar dressing. Add croutons and Parmesan cheese. This recipe also goes great with grilled chicken.