Preston Clark’s crab and lobster ravioli is no ordinary ravioli. He tosses all-purpose flour, egg whites, yolks, olive oil, and salt in a giant mixer, then rolls out the pasta, alternating between the electric and hand-crank rollers depending on how busy it is at the restaurant. Then he stuffs each doughy pocket with a mix of blue crab, lobster, various herbs, a bit of mascarpone, and a dab of ricotta cheese.
Once he forms the ravioli, he turns to the uni cream sauce — a decadent combination of uni, heavy cream, butter, and lemon juice — and heats it in an olive oil-slicked pan coated with garlic, chile flakes, and parsley. As the sauce is bubbling, he pours in the pasta and additional crab meat. Clark finishes the plate with lobster, toasted breadcrumbs, and a dash of fresh cayenne, parsley, and lemon juice.
The pasta — which speaks to Clark’s culinary career influenced by diverse neighborhoods and cultures — is a signature dish at Lure Fishbar in Soho, where seafood is the foundation of the menu. “You have the ocean on your plate,” he says. “It’s just an umami flavor bomb in your mouth.”
Clark is the executive chef and culinary director of the nearly 20-year-old restaurant, which consistently attracts a buzzy crowd, including celebrities like Justin Bieber and LeBron James. But Clark leading the restaurant is noteworthy in his own right: In 2019, the New York Times named him as one of 16 Black chefs changing food in America. He is also the son of legendary NYC chef Patrick Clark, the first Black chef in the country to win a James Beard Award. Although both father and son share the same last name, Preston is establishing his own legacy in New York as the culinary force behind Lure’s longstanding success. And as a Black chef cooking diverse fare at the restaurant, Clark is refusing to be boxed into an industry that often only allows for Black success when it’s tied to Southern or soul food.
Having Patrick Clark as a father might send a kid running away from anything having to do with the culinary arts, given the chef’s resounding impact on the industry, but Preston did the opposite: He ran directly into the fire. As a teenager, he started his first cooking job at Central Park icon Tavern on the Green, where his dad ran the kitchen. Both of Clark’s parents were culinary-school graduates, and his work was fueled by memories of home-cooked dinners that featured whole fish, fried chicken, lamb chops, and pasta.
He also carried memories of Sunday dinners. Fried chicken with mac and cheese meant that it was his father’s day off, and soul food could take precedent. As the oldest of five, Clark became a natural caretaker, watching his four younger siblings, and helping his mother Lynette to cook for them. The nurturing role he assumed in his family’s kitchen “helped to lay the foundation for carving out my own path, and for my own career,” Clark says.
Early on, the chef gravitated toward the sensory aspects of the Tavern on the Green job, closely studying whether a steak needed more salt, or if a vegetable was underseasoned. A Caesar salad, for example, wasn’t just a Caesar salad to Clark. A sprinkle of Parmesan crisps could change the salad entirely, demonstrating the importance of texture. (At Lure, Clark has a kale riff on the Caesar salad that he made as a teenager.)
While his dad was the head of the kitchen, Clark says he faced the same rigorous, late-20th-century-era training that many of his peers went through. “I got as much grief as the next guy in the kitchen,” Clark says.
As Clark began carving out his own path, tragedy struck: His father died from a rare blood disorder in 1998, when Clark was 16 years old. He had to figure out his future — as a chef and as a Black man — on his own. “There was this mental anguish, for sure,” Clark says. “But it didn’t deter me, and it didn’t deter my drive.”
Clark spent his high school summers learning from chefs and line cooks shaping the modern dining scene in America. His journey took him to kitchens across the country, including Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, Cafe Mezé in Hartsdale, New York, and, at the age of 24, French fine dining stalwart Jean-Georges, where he met his colleague and longtime friend James Kent, the chef and owner behind swanky downtown Manhattan hits Crown Shy and Saga.
“You have plenty of amazing experiences in dining, but not everyone makes you feel welcomed and loved,” Kent says. “But you do get that experience with Preston.”
As his culinary career progressed, Clark incorporated flavors from East and Southeast Asia, and he began creating his own culinary narrative, shaped by the influences Clark had around him. During his seven years at Jean-Georges, Clark rose from line cook to sous chef. After stints at other notable restaurants in New York and California, Clark was hired as the executive chef of Soho seafood hot spot Lure.
According to his boss, Lure owner John McDonald, Clark doesn’t channel his dad’s food, which was closer to traditional American cuisine, such as roasted rack of lamb, veal chop, and pan-roasted beef with blue cheese ravioli. He jumped headfirst into Lure’s seafood menu — from sushi to uni-covered pasta. He does, however, channel his father’s energy and commitment to dining well.
“He’s constantly screaming on any night, ‘It’s Friday night in New York City!’” McDonald says. It’s an inside joke, he explains, that essentially means it’s time to “put on a show.”
McDonald says that the vibrant energy many people associate with a Friday in New York — the music selection, the loud conversations, the unforgettable food and drinks — is an atmosphere Clark tries to create during every shift. He’s also quick to jump on new ideas: The owner recalls having numerous casual conversations about potential dishes with Clark and other cooks at Lure. Clark often takes those conversations to heart — and within 24 hours will have prepared the recipe, tested it, and have it ready to serve.
“He embodies that idea of a collaborative, innovative chef,” McDonald says.
Upon walking into Lure Fishbar, the respect for seaside fare is apparent; wood paneling, life rings, and anchors capture the yacht environment. A generously battered tempura shrimp is light and crunchy; the lobster tempura roll is constructed with painstaking detail; a sea urchin bucatini offers a briny richness.
The oysters, seafood pasta, and extensive sushi menu are part of why Clark was drawn to Lure, as the restaurant gave him an opportunity to be himself. “I think it is extremely important to be able to be a creative and to be an artist, and to have a space for that in this industry,” Clark says.
For Clark, his current position demonstrates the equitable culinary space that his father tried to create for chefs like him, and that he’s working to continue. Clark believes his existence on the dining scene is proof that Black chefs can do whatever they want.
“I pride myself on being a guy who can really back up what he’s doing,” Clark says. “I hope people understand and believe that when they’ve eaten at Lure.”