John Lutch, known as the King of Prime Rib at American Legion Post 141 South Whidbey, has a new title.
The well-known cook is “state volunteer of the year,” an honor bestowed upon him by the Washington chapter of the Sons of the American Legion.
Lutch’s award was announced last month at the state Sons of the American League convention in Cle Elum.
The national organization comprises male descendants of people who served in the United States Armed Forces.
“John is a dedicated volunteer week after week at Post 141,” said Jim Gardner, who nominated Lutch. “He does whatever is necessary to help our veterans. Everything from doing building repairs to cooking and shopping for food. He also performs the duties of the Sons of American Legion Squadron 141 Adjutant and Finance Officer positions.”
Lutch is known for packing people in for his Thursday night prime rib dinners. His other personal favorites, fish and chips, chicken fried steaks and beef chimichangas, also bring in more than 100 people for dinners.
Better get there early when Chef John is wearing the Legion apron because food runs out by about 7 p.m.
“He does an outstanding job running the kitchen on a regular basis and presents some of his well-known recipes as specials during dinner time,” Gardner said. “He’s also up to cook for special events.”
A son of both a father and mother who served during World War II, Lutch learned to cook growing up on a farm near Black Lake, southwest of Olympia. Lutch previously cooked as a volunteer at Holmes Harbor Rod & Gun Club before joining the American Legion kitchen crew about three years ago.
“I’ve always cooked at home,” he said. “My mother made sure both my sister and I learned to cook. We had 50 head of cattle so I grew up on steaks.”
Even while working full time at Boeing, Lutch volunteered to help out around the old wooden log Legion building, finding a lot to repair and replace.
Gardner figured out that Lutch put in more than 3,000 of volunteer hours this year, shopping, preparing and cooking food three nights a week, cooking and cleaning for fundraisers, coordinating a college scholarship program, keeping tabs of the legion’s finances and repairing mechanical equipment.
Lutch also kicked in about $7,000 of his own money to purchase a commercial refrigerator and freezer and a standby generator to use during power outages.
“I’ve been a member of the Sons for 30 years,” Lutch said. “I first got involved out of respect for all the veterans and my parents.”
His father served in the Navy from 1937 to 1945 as a master chief during WW II South Pacific campaigns. His mother served in the Marines Corps during the war as a clerk in Hawaii, he said.
“Both of them were very proud of their service,” said Lutch, who is 67 and recently retired as an engineer from Boeing after 44 years.
“He’s the best,” commented Duane Gabelein during a recent dinner featuring ribs.
That night, Lutch’s son, home from college for a winter break, joined his dad in the large commercial kitchen downstairs from the restaurant and bar.
“I’ve crafted the menu, changed a few things, added specials,” Lutch said of his American Legion dinners, which are available to members and their guests.
The fish and chips “secret” recipe was passed down to him from former American Legion chefs.
“That recipe has been on the scene 22 years,” he said. “The secret is just good beer for the beer batter.”
Lutch enjoys the feedback he gets for his cooking and the social aspect of the legion. About 80 men count themselves as part of the Sons groups. The other three groups comprising Post 141 are veterans, auxiliary and the motorcycle riders.
“I know a lot of vets, their friends, family,” he said. “I kind of have a following on Thursday nights. The prime rib cuts are 14 to 16 ounces. Nobody goes away hungry.”
Post 141 is offering “Chef John’s Famous Prime Rib” made with a garlic and herb rub as an early dinner on New Year’s Eve, open to the public.
It’s served with a baked potato, vegetable and Caesar salad from 5 to 7 p.m. for $15.
Gardner senses that Lutch is grateful for his parents’ many sacrifices and virtues, especially their military service.
“He does this in honor of his late father who was a Pearl Harbor survivor,” Gardner said.
“He is dedicated to all of our veterans that have given themselves to our country and he wants to give back to them.”
This story originally appeared in the South Whidbey Record, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.