“Putting yourself out of your comfort zone is the best way of developing and growing, not only as a cook but as a rounded individual. ”
Luke won on his first attempt in April 2017 at the age of 27. He did his stage at Nihonryori Ryugin in Tokyo, the first and only winner to date to stage in Japan. He is now head chef at Evelyn's Table, London.
At the time, he was head chef at Dabbous and went on to works for Ollie Dabbous’ subsequent restaurant Hide in Mayfair, which won its first Michelin star in the 2019 guide after six months of opening. Luke left Hide in May 2019 and in April 2020 he took over Evelyn’s Table - a small, intimate counter restaurant in the heart of London, working alongside his brothers Nathaniel and Theodore. The restaurant’s menu focuses on British produce but uses French and Japanese cooking techniques.
2017 was a golden year for Luke: within weeks of his return from his stage in Japan, Luke competed in the final of the National Chef of the Year and won, making him just one of five previous Scholarship winners to win both competitions. He is also winner of the Academy of Culinary Arts Annual Awards of Excellence in 2012, the Annual Craft Guild of Chefs Graduate Awards in 2013 and the Young National Chef of the Year in 2014.
Luke always wanted to be a chef and worked at a hotel and a restaurant at weekends while he studied for his A’Levels. He then went to Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons for a week’s work experience which confirmed his ambitions. After gaining A’Levels in chemistry, biology and art, he was offered a job as a commis chef at Le Manoir, rising from commis to sous chef over six years, running every section of the kitchen, the private dining room and the pass.
In September 2015, he took a job with Clare Smyth at the three-star Michelin Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, London. Leaving as Junior Sous in September 2016, he took a job with Ollie Dabbous at ‘Dabbous’ in Fitzrovia, London, starting as senior sous chef and rising to head chef within six months.
Tell us about your stage?
I chose Nihonryori Ryugin in Tokyo because it is a small restaurant which offers a wide range of both traditional and modern Japanese dishes. Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s ethos is one of total respect for the ingredients and to use almost only what is available in Japan. It was an amazing chance for me to immerse myself in Japanese culture and learn about the produce, techniques, flavours and style.
What did you cook in the final?
Royal-style saddle of hare, chestnut-flavoured tagliatelle and purple sprouting broccoli. I remember when the Rouxs revealed what we had to cook, I felt excited. There was nowhere to hide with this dish as the hare had to be completely deboned and stuffed with a forcemeat of its offal, then poached in a stock made with its bones to a perfect cuisson. Also nailing the sauce, which had to be thickened with the blood of the hare at the last second – it wasn’t an easy dish! I still remember carving my hare once it had rested and feeling confident that I had done my best.
How many times did you enter?
I won it the first time I entered. However, I was in a fortunate position having honed my craft in some fantastic, classic French restaurants in my previous roles. I went into the final with an open mind and knowing that what I was about to be tested on, I wouldn’t be able crash revise in a Larousse or Escoffier book the night before. I was lucky because I was familiar with a lot of the processes that came up in my final.
What do you remember most about the competition the year you entered?
I vividly remember being the last chef to cook. It was intimidating enough waiting and watching each finalist go into the kitchen at 15 minute intervals epically with the Roux family keeping a close on us – it felt like being back at school! When I finally got into the kitchen I could already see the other contestants super busy and cooking away. I was surprised to see that on my station there was a polystyrene fish box..! The Roux family had hidden the hare inside the box just to make sure there was no way we would be able to guess what was in store for us! Also at this point a memory flashed back to me from earlier on in the day, when I didn’t yet know what final dish we had to cook – Andrew Fairlie had held a briefing for us nervous finalists at the beginning of the day. Giving words of wisdom and advice he encouraged us to ‘pay close attention to everything that goes onto the plate. Make sure you are happy and taste, taste, taste – sometimes in the judges chamber it can come down to a HARE'S BREATH’
What advice would you give applicants?
Advice I would give is to go for it – don’t wait or second guess yourself with the what if’s. Every stage is a learning process and even if you don’t make it all the way at least your putting yourself out of your comfort zone – which for most chefs I know is the best way of developing and growing, not only as a cook but as a rounded individual.
Who are your culinary heroes?
I’m always constantly inspired by everyone in our industry, from starting from a young age I’ve been lucky enough to have been influenced by some fantastic people - not just in the kitchen but front of house too. Predominantly my time at Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons under the tutelage of Raymond Blanc, Gary Jones and the senior team there - I started with them at the age of 18 and they took time to nurture and teach me the skills, block by block, that I needed to progress in my career.
Tell us about your current role/restaurant/career highlights?
In my current role I am taking inspiration from my experiences in Japan and classic training in French cuisine, working with the best produce that I can source in the UK. I will be cooking on the stove for 10 guests per sitting in an open kitchen with my two brothers. Watch this space!