Chef Eric Lackey
The executive chef of Ulele selects Holy Hog Barbecue
Hot plate: Sliced brisket with the house barbecue sauce and a side of fried pork cracklings
How long have you been coming here, and how did you find out about it?
I came here for the first time about a year and a half ago. We were in the planning stages of Ulele and I had driven past the place and wanted some barbecue. I loved it right away. A few months later I was doing the Gasparilla Music Festival and I met owner Dan Hernandez and told him I loved his food. We just kind of hit it off. We ended up becoming friends through the business. I just respect everything he does.
Why is this the best barbecue in town?
It’s a little bit of everything. The quality of the brisket—it’s not too heavily smoked. I like the flavor profile of the house barbecue sauce the most. And then you tie in the family aspect and who they are as a company. It’s just like with the Gonzmart family, and that’s what I look for in a company. You can get a great meal somewhere but if there’s no meaning behind it, it’s not as impactful. A great meal is like family. And they welcome you into their family here.
How did you get into the culinary business?
I’ve been doing this pretty much my whole life. My family has always been in the restaurant business. My dad was a vice president of Shoney’s. My family separated when I was young and my mom worked three jobs. So I took care of my little brother and cooked at home. My family is from France, and you know with that European background, we like to eat. I’m blessed enough to say cooking saved my life. I had a very checkered past, but Tom Pritchard took me under his wing in 1991 when I worked at Aero Squadron. He gave me guidance when I was cleaning my life up.
Where else have you worked?
I started in Palm Beach at a place called This Is It Pub. I was a 13-year-old dishwasher assistant. When the bus boy brought the dishes back, I cleaned them for the washer. I worked there all through high school and went to UF. After college, I was recruited to work at Innisbrooke. Then I worked at Columbia at the Pier in St. Pete, then I met Pritchard, went to Grille at Feathersound and stayed there many years. After that I was personal chef for the Devil Rays.
How did you get involved with your current restaurant?
They were looking for a chef for the new idea and wanted to stay local. They knew me from previous jobs and their corporate chef liked the way I cooked. He saw that I was hands-on when I cooked them a few times, so they gave me an opportunity. I needed to be somewhere with meaning. I’ve turned down positions at other places because they’re just a restaurant and not family.
How would you describe the cuisine at your restaurant?
We’re a Florida native-inspired restaurant.
What’s one dish everyone should try at Ulele?
Any of our steaks, but our char-grilled oysters are our signature. They go great with our Waterworks Pale Ale.
What’s one ingredient you can’t live without in the kitchen?
Beer. A lot of chefs cook with wine, but we use beer. It’s who we are and what we do.
What’s one food you won’t eat?
Olives. As a chef I’ll try it, but I’m not eating it.
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Chocolate. If it has sugar, I’m good.
What are you doing when you’re not in the kitchen?
I like to tinker in my garage. I have a project now. My wife bought me a ’69 Mustang for our 22nd anniversary I have a 69 mustang.
If you weren’t cooking, what would you be doing?
I would work with underprivileged youth or young adults, or I’d work with cars. Because of my past I know there’s more to give in life. Being in trouble and doing drugs, I experienced a lot and I think I can help to guide along the underprivileged. I had a lot of hard time and I went the wrong way. I feel like I need to do what I can to make sure that doesn’t happen to other kids.
Which cooking competition show would you most enjoy competing in?
Probably Hell’s Kitchen because I watch 10 cooks make the same meals and they can’t seem to get it right. Then I watch my guys cook 1,000 meals on a Saturday and never miss a beat. I’ll show them what’s up.
If you had to pick a runner-up barbecue joint, who would you choose?
Eli’s BBQ in Dunedin