He loves fish head curry, wants kids to “play with food” and credits his grandma for his passion for cooking. We chat to Luke Thomas, Britain’s Youngest Head Chef, ahead of his new cooking show in SG
Luke Thomas was named Britain’s youngest head chef in 2012 when he was just 18! He went on to open his first restaurant, Sanctum On The Green at Cookham in Berkshire in the limelight of the UK TV show ‘Britain’s Youngest Chef’, which documented the restaurant’s launch. Luke has worked in big-name kitchens from The Fat Duck with Heston Blumenthal to the seven-star Burj Al Arab in Dubai and has authored Luke’s Cookbook — a collection of nostalgic British, comfort foods with a modern makeover. We chat to Luke whose cooking programme with Dr Leslie Tay to discover authentic Singapore cuisine airs 7 June 2018 online via ieatishootipost. Find out what inspired his passion for food, his advice for other young buddings chefs and the one thing parents should know to foster adventurous eaters.
What is your earliest memory of food?
I would cook most days helping my grandmother in the kitchen, from peeling vegetables to trying to sauté Brussel sprouts – failing, of course! But I very much was brought up on humble and comforting home cooking, which has always stuck with me – cooking simple, hearty dishes that bring people together.
What or who inspired your passion for cooking, and when did it start?
From age three with my Grandmother. She loved to cook, and still does, so that was how I first got into food. Although, I have to say that Jamie Oliver is a big inspiration, he was the rock-star in the late 90’s when I was growing up. Watching him tear up bunches of herbs and drizzle big lugs of olive oil onto food; it made food exciting and accessible, and he inspired me to take food more seriously.
What do you think is the most important thing parents can do to foster adventurous eaters in their kids?
Give your kids natural and balanced diets. Don’t starve them from treats but very importantly, do not make foods that are packed with additives and sugars a regular occurrence, if at all. Get kids involved; they’re more likely to be adventurous if they’re having a go at playing with food themselves. Incorporate new and bold tastes to excite their pallets and make healthy diets interesting.
We hear your family always ate together around the table – tell us about this? How do you think eating together influences the family’s relationship with each other and with food?
My grandmother is old-school in that way. She always liked us to eat at the table, so we did and I think it’s really important to take that time to sit and appreciate good food, have a conversation about your day as well as spend valuable time together with your loved ones, and not over TV dinners.
How did you get your first job in the kitchen?
I was training in my local butchers shop from age 11 or so, and it made me really interested in food and taking on a career in food for that matter. I then managed to blag a day’s work experience in a restaurant called Soughton Hall in North Wales, and two years later I was still there spending time and learning the basics of professional cooking in restaurants. I was hooked from there-on-in.
What has been the secret to your success?
Staying passionate, not being too focused just on one particular thing, and being very open to explore and continually learn as it can be easy to just become ‘busy’ and that is dangerous. Keeping time to continually develop, travel and work with great people is key.
Any tips for aspiring young chefs?
First piece is always very much just jump in and ‘do it’ – this is an industry with tons of opportunity from the kind of foods you cook through to the countries around the world you can work in. You have to embrace it and grab fully with both hands, and you’ll have a good time along the way. Don’t get stuck on being in one place forever. The whole world is an amazing place and if food is your thing, you should go live it.
What is your cooking style?
It’s hard to pin down but it’s all of these things; bold, eclectic, simple, sharing, social, tasty, street food inspired and experiential. So not one cuisine, I have very much embraced food’s from around the world. In recent years Britain has become a culinary melting pot, which has meant people are very up for trying new foods now.
What has been your favourite own creation?
Roasted Scallops with Mussel Katsu Curry. Scallops are one of my favourite ingredients. Mussels are, too, and I love the natural flavours and then Katsu Curry was my intro to curry – something mild but fragrant. When brought together with a touch of mango, almonds and other funky ingredients — it’s beautiful.
Which chefs have been the greatest influence on you?
Jamie Oliver, for sure – as mentioned, his style and approach to food has inspired a generation and I admire his charitable Good Heart work, it’s a lesson to us all in how to try and make the world a better place. And through Jamie’s Barbecoa restaurant, Adam Perry Lang in the USA – I was fortunate to spend a few days with Adam in London and he has a very unique approach and is super inspiring. He gave me tips on cooking meat that I have stuck to and kept with me since meeting him when I was 15 years old.
Is this your first time in Asia (where else have you been if not)? How are you finding it?
I have been to Cambodia before, I cycled with a group called ‘The Truants’ to raise money for three UK based Children’s Charities so it was a great way to experience Cambodia, albeit the heat made my very amateur cycling difficult. I also visited Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, which I totally loved – experiencing their street food and culture was just absolutely special. But Singapore is spectacular. I had only been through the airport on transit before, so seeing the authentic and iconic dishes and being shown the city by Dr Leslie Tay himself, was my lucky insight to local cuisine.
Have you tried any of the local food – durian, chicken rice, chili crab? Any favourites?
Lots of dishes I have loved: Chilli Crab was a big hit and so was the Chicken Rice. Fish head Curry, though, was one of my highlights and something I will be trying to recreate somehow. Even my palate, which isn’t super tuned to spice, enjoyed every mouthful.
Have you been to any local bars or restaurants? Which ones have you enjoyed if so?
I had a very special lunch at Bacchanalia, I had been reading up on this place and I, fortunately, had time to grab lunch there. It was fantastic – their chicken was a highlight. I also got to have dinner at Chef Willin Low’s Wild Rocket. I mostly enjoyed authentic local food in Singapore at places such as Chin Chin for the Fish Head and Chicken Rice, then also got to try The Original Katong Laksa which was mind-blowingly good. I also hit Crab at Bay Restaurant to try their different signature Crab dishes. I was pretty full by the end of it.
Thanks Luke for your time! We look forward to watching your cooking programme when it airs 7 June 2018 online via ieatishootipost’s Facebook page!