Chef Kris Van Tuyl, 29, and his wife, Beth, opened Luna Bistro + Catering in the spring of 2011, bringing a sophisticated-casual lunch and dinner option to the East Village. We sat down with Chef Kris to chat about how he started cooking, and why plastic wrap is one of the most important items you can have in your kitchen.
When did you fall in love with cooking? My mom owned a restaurant and gourmet food store in Pella, so I grew up loving food — good food.
What’s your cooking background? I learned a lot from watching my mom, and also from my time spent working in restaurants. I started washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant in Minneapolis when I was 14. Then I worked in a sushi restaurant. Then I worked at the Des Moines Embassy Club for four years. I didn’t go to cooking school. I learned the most when I was at the Embassy Club — I would equate that to better than a culinary education.
What do you enjoy about cooking? I’m really good at it. Plus, I like the hours and the people and the atmosphere. What I loved to do offered me a career — what’s better than that?
How does Luna differ from other restaurants where you’ve worked? It’s very small. We lack the big equipment other restaurants have, but that forces us to be more creative. It helps us come up with better ideas.
What was important to you when developing Luna’s concept? We wanted it to be elegant but modern. We wanted an emphasis on a casual atmosphere with fine food and service. Beth (Van Tuyl’s wife and co-owner of Luna) was behind our style and decor, which reflects the style of the food perfectly. She also helps me write menus — she has great taste in food.
When you opened, you only served lunch. Now you are open for dinner. What’s dinner like at Luna? Our goal was always to serve dinner. It’s a little fancier than our lunch menu, but still a relaxed atmosphere. We have a new fall menu now and have a la carte items, but focus on a prixe fixe menu, which includes three courses — a starter, entree and dessert, for $35. We also have an emphasis on wine and beer. We want people to come in and enjoy themselves. I love to see people come in and stay for two hours. We’re not a “turn and burn” kind of place.
Where do you like to eat when you’re not working? One of my favorites is Flying Mango. I also love The Cafe in Ames and Proof.
Besides a good knife, what one of the most important things in a chef’s kitchen? Saran wrap is really handy. You can do a lot of things with it you wouldn’t think of doing, like taking a long peice of it and twisting it into a rope to tie things or hang things. You should also have a good pan to cook in, and a scrap bin for veggies. If you save your veggie scraps, you can take chicken bones later and throw it all in a pot with water and make a great stock or soup.
What should be in every chef’s pantry or fridge? Butter. We like to do flavored butter on top of steak. You can also stir a little into a bowl of soup when it’s done to make it a little richer.
One thing you’ll never buy premade from the store? Instant rice, instant potatoes or soup. Soup is so easy you should always make it yourself.
Your advice for aspiring chefs? Work really hard and don’t worry about your pay grade, that will come eventually. Prove that you can work hard and put in the hours. It’s better to have less knowledge and work hard than to think you’re better than everyone and work less. It’s a job that’s really centered on hard work and a good work ethic. Knowledge and pay will come in time.
Luna Bistro + Catering
Find it: 621 Des Moines St.
Hours: Lunch served 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner served 5:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
Info: 288-9849; lunabistro.com