I get the rare privilege of reporting from a world class kitchen or restaurant once every year, thanks to World Food Day. This year, I'm at Luke's Dining Room at Sanctum on the Green to catch up with my guest, the youngest head chef in the United Kingdom, Luke Thomas.
Luke, who recently turned 21, on 2nd October, began his culinary career at 12 and has worked for many prestigious establishments including; the Chester Governor Hotel, Liverpool One, the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, Alinea in Chicago, to name a few. In 2009, Luke won the Future Chef competition organized by Springboard and ever since he's been bouncing his way to the top through his diligent work and mature leadership.
Luke and I discussed a whole lot; from cooking, to global hunger, to even the English Premier League. Do well to grab a snack for this mouthwatering stroll. Here's our conversation:
Ebenezar: Thank you for hanging out with me Luke, it's great having you on the stroll.
Luke: Thank you, Ebenezar.
Ebenezar: First of all, let me say a big happy birthday to you. You turned 21 on October 2. How does it feel like to be 21?
Luke: Thank you, well it's kind of strange because you do feel that bit older, but I think the best part is that I can now legally have a few drinks when next in the USA and Dubai of course when Retro Feasts opens.
Ebenezar: (Haha) Yeah, right? Did you make any special dish to mark your birthday? Was there a party or something?
Luke: A few little parties with family and friends, nothing too crazy though but lots of fun of course.
Ebenezar: Okay, turning 21 also means you've been cooking for 9 full years--close to a decade. That's a lot of experience, you know? What have you enjoyed most about these 9 years?
Luke: I would say 2 parts of the journey, firstly was probably being in the kitchens of Alinea in Chicago. That was truly an amazing cooking and learning experience, at that level, at the age of 17. It was probably the equivalent of being an aspiring footballer and playing with Real Madrid. But then the buzz of opening the first restaurant, because suddenly you're responsible for pretty much everything so it's a nice pressure to have, lots of learning curves but when you step back from it, it's an amazing experience.
Ebenezar: In course of these years, you've worked at the Chester Grosvenor Hotel, the opening of the Liverpool One complex, the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai, Alinea (like you just mentioned), to name a few. How has visiting these different regions of the world affected your cooking?
Luke: The beauty of traveling and seeing lots of varied cooking skills, techniques and cuisines is that after your basic training as a chef it opens your eyes and helps you make a decision as to what route you want to take in this wonderful world of food and drink.
Ebenezar: Now, the interesting part is, in February 2012, you became the UK's youngest head chef when you took over Luke's Dining Room at Sanctum on the Green. I mean, you're so young to be head chef, does anyone listen to you?
Luke: I won't lie, it was very challenging but what isn't hey, as long as you can enjoy every single day of your job, you then suddenly don't look at it as a job. People were understandably curious in the sense of "can he actually do this at such a young age", but you find people who want to come on the journey with you and there are areas that were harder than others and I will always remember the people who helped me through the times where it was hard and were there to also enjoy the times where we were booming.
Ebenezar: How do you coordinate the day-to-day running of the restaurant?
Luke: I'm lucky to now have a team of great people involved with my business outlets and we manage them between us. Everything is done quite organically at the moment, no big 5 year business plans, its more a case of let's cook some lovely food with some friendly, attentive service then we are on our way to success and let's see what happens.
Ebenezar: Luke's Cookbook has been released and from what I hear, you're working on a second cookbook?
Luke: It certainly has, book two is not on the cards as of yet but fingers crossed we will get something in the near future. Writing a book is very rewarding and something I really enjoyed doing.
Ebenezar: Okay, I know this is a weird question to ask a chef, but I'll just try anyway. What's your favorite dish of all time?
Luke: This is too hard...
Ebenezar: Yeah, I know! Sorry... (hahah)
Luke: I love food and love lots of different styles. Comfort food is the one for me, a good roast or a lovely curry, but there is nothing like British comfort food.
Ebenezar: Okay, that's cool. Still talking food, October 16th was World Food Day, and recent statistics show that, sadly, some people don't have the luxury of naming a favorite food because they don't even have what to eat. The World Food Programme is doing a lot about this, but as a chef, what do you feel can be done to solve the problem of global hunger?
Luke: I admire and respect the good work charities like The World Food Programme do. As I'm just a chef, I don't have an answer per say to such a huge question, the best I can do is support these charities as a personality and with my wallet!
Ebenezar: So, apart from cooking, do you have other hobbies?
Luke: I am a big fan of football, but I usually go to watch Liverpool play, than play myself. My life is very much around food and drink and developing my restaurants.
Ebenezar: Okay? So I assume you're a Liverpool fan right?
Luke: I certainly am, one of my other love's in life along with food.
Ebenezar: So, on a final note, I'd like you to make a prediction. What team will win the 2014/2015 English premier league season? Please be honest.
Luke: Sadly, after Liverpool's start to the season I would be surprised to see us in first position when May arrives but top 4 I would think is achievable for LFC. Chelsea or Man City is where my money is for the title race.
Ebenezar: Well, as an Arsenal fan I beg to disagree, (hahah). Anyway, I'll remind you of this prediction when the season finally ends. Let's hope you're correct. Many thanks again for speaking with me Luke. All the best bro.
Luke: My Pleasure, Ebenezar, thank you.
This Interview was first published on THE STROLL, to mark World Food Day 2014