Capon, 37, grew up in Rockland County, N.Y., in a family whose dual emphasis on food and hosting lives on in his work. At Lure, he is known for circulating in the dining room, hailing regulars and chatting up customers who might well feel like regulars by night's end.
"My dad always had a saying, whenever you invite somebody over to your house, and you offer them drink, whether it's after work, you know happy hour, you're having a cocktail -- he would always say, 'You should give them a nibble,'" said Capon. "Which means you should never drink something without eating something because it's not healthy. If you work all day and you haven't eaten and you have a couple cocktails and you don't eat anything, the balance isn't there. So I always remember showing up at my dad's place, we would have a couple different 'nibbles.' They're really mezze, because he grew up with Greek parents. So there was always a couple little bites on the table. And I think I can of ran with that."
Capon's ascension from culinary student to Manhattan chef was indisputably quick. But his biggest professional jump may have come near the very beginning, when he was just a teenager with a job at the local diner.
"I remember when I was a busboy, and one morning the breakfast line cook didn't show up, and the owner was walking around this local diner freaking out," Capon said. "And I knew he was drunk from the night before because I was working the night before. I was only like 14 or 15 years old, and he didn't have a breakfast cook, and I kept looking at him, and I said, 'I can do it.' And he's looking at me like, 'You're a busboy, what are you talking about?' I said, 'I'm telling you, I've been watching the guy, I can do it. It's eggs, it's French toast, it's pancakes; I can do it.' So finally, after not much of a choice, he says, 'Alright, do it, get back there.' And not only did I do it, but I was making like little apple fritters for all the regular customers, and put a little powdered sugar and a slice of orange, and he was like, 'What's going on here?' And everybody really enjoyed it. And I think ever since then, I kind of haven't looked back."
A sense of ambition is clearly at work for Capon, who now has been running restaurants for the better part of his professional life. Just as important to his work, however, is a sense of enjoyment, he says.
"I realized that not only do I think I can be good at [cooking], I enjoy it; and that's something I always promised myself, even growing up in high school," he said. "I never saw myself sitting behind a desk with a suit and tie every morning. I just knew it wasn't me. I think the best question anybody ever asked me on a job interview was, 'How do you feel about working while the party is going on? How do you feel about working while everyone else is having a good time?' And I looked at him and I said, 'You know, that's the best question anybody's ever asked me.' And the truth is I always have a good time. I like to make sure everybody else is having a great time. Even when somebody comes to my house, I'm always like, 'Can I get you something to drink? Are you hungry?' It's just who I am, it's what I'm about. So it just comes very naturally, I think."
The chef's warmth of feeling about his work transfers to the people he works with.