Hibachi chef at South Side steakhouse makes dinner spectacular
Luke Bercik likes to play with fire.
As one of the most in-demand hibachi chefs at Nakama, a Japanese steakhouse in South Side, Bercik spends more than 40 hours each week flipping eggs, juggling spatulas and igniting fires to entertain -- and feed -- his guests.
"I spend my days playing on top of a 500-degree grill with sharp objects," said Bercik, 28, of South Side. "But it's taken me from the bottom to the top."
Before donning his tall, black chef's hat and white jacket, Bercik grew up in a small family in the same neighborhood. His father, a chef, died when he was 3. Bercik became close with his mother and extended family.
After dropping out of Pittsburgh Public Schools as a teenager, he worked to earn his GED at 17 -- a year before he was supposed to graduate -- and pursued basic education classes at Community College of Allegheny County.
He started working at Nakama more than five years ago as a busboy. Co-owner Becky Gomes met Bercik during a South Side Street Spectacular while he was making sandwiches at a deli.
"After a while as a busboy, we got him trained as a chef and he just went crazy on his own," said Gomes of McCandless. "Now he's one of our most requested chefs. It's been a fun few years."
Nakama -- which means "place for friends" in Japanese -- is one of several hibachi-style restaurants in the region. Chefs cook shrimp, chicken, steak and vegetables at large tables that generally seat eight. Cooks are trained to perform "tricks" ranging from flipping shrimp tails into their hats to igniting an onion "volcano."
Bercik has a few favorite tricks -- particularly one he dubbed the "Geno roll" after Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin, a regular customer who picked up the trick himself. In that maneuver, Bercik juggles an egg on his metal spatula before tossing it in the air and cracking it with the side of the spatula.
Because of the flames and sharp objects involved in his job, Bercik works carefully. He knows from experience the pain associated with slip-ups.
"I once fell on the grill, bare-handed, after losing my footing while serving food," he said. "You learn to be careful."
One of his favorite things is interacting with customers, many of whom are strangers when they sit down at the family-style tables.
Yet, away from Nakama, Bercik describes himself as a quiet family man. He wouldn't divulge his salary but said his pay and tips are "pretty good," and the job enables him to bring home enough money to help his family.
Being a chef is conducive to another passion of his: hockey. As a season ticketholder for Penguins games, he works his cooking schedule around the team's schedule.
He has cooked for the big names -- among them, Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Sergei Gonchar -- and several out-of-town players such as Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone and Martin St. Louis. After the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last month, he created a cup-styled onion volcano.
Hockey players aren't the only superstars for whom he cooks. Bercik said he has served "a handful, maybe two handfuls" of celebrities. Some, such as singer/guitarist Gene Simmons from Kiss, he didn't recognize until someone told him.
He'd love to open his own hibachi restaurant one day.
"I came from a small family, with a lot of troubles," Bercik said. "I've struggled growing up, but now, it's nice being successful."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Southmoreland directors to seek loan info from banks as state budget impasse continues
- Youthful East Allegheny girls soccer moving in right direction
- Rep. Stefano’s 6th coffee conversation centers on budget impasse, taxes
- LaBar: Why NXT shouldn’t be compared to RAW
- Connellsville Chamber to honor Falcon Foundation, which helps district students, at Gatsby gala Oct. 24
- Penguins see Stars, blanked by Dallas in opening game
- Charleroi deals with more road problems
- Roaches troubling to Donora residents
- Clairton man arrested on drug, weapon charges
- Manor Township considers tax break
- Steelers quarterback Vick getting more acquainted with offense