Luke Holder

Luke Holder

Luke Holder

Luke Holder, the co-head chef at Hartnett Holder & Co at Lime Wood, a five-star hotel in Hampshire, is a chef well versed in provenance. He champions local, sustainable produce, creating cuisine that is simultaneously rustic and sumptuous.

The experience of living abroad as a youngster shaped Luke Holder culinary beliefs: “First and foremost every cuisine is tasty, generally”, he says equitably, adding: “Having been brought up in the Middle East and Italy, where the culture of eating is much more family orientated, where people are given dishes in the middle of the table and take part… it definitely influenced the way I want my customers to feel comfortable eating.”

In 1998, Luke Holder realised that “what I really wanted to do was cook.” So he contacted Chris Galvin. “I had no college training, and understood nothing about cheffing, but [I told him] I had lived a lot and I was here because this was what I really wanted to do.” The bold tactic paid off and he started as a commis chef job at Orrery in London. “It was probably the hardest moment in my career because I went from being a travelling hippy to sixteen-hour days in a kitchen!”

A year later, he moved on to some of the capital’s busiest venues, including The Sloane Club, Sugar Reef, and the Oxo Tower. Then came a four-month stint with molecular gastronomy specialist Stephane Buchholzer, and a period running a restaurant in Koh Samui, Thailand. Following a serendipitous visit from Annie Féolde, the young chef began work at Enoteca Pinchiorri, herthree Michelin-starred establishment in Florence: “I had to cook on every section and it was quite a challenge because I didn’t speak Italian,” he recalls. It was a key moment in his development, and he returned to the UK equipped with a distinct philosophy – fine dining which is “produce-led. More time sourcing it, less time cooking it.”

After a stretch at The Lakeside Park Hotel on the Isle of Wight, he joined Lime Wood in 2010, where he now shares head chef duties with Angela Hartnett at Hartnett Holder & Co (also known as HH & Co). When the Michelin-starred Murano chef came on board, the cooks discovered that they share a “similar food ideology” and sense of humour. Both place great importance on provenance and sharing plates. The result is a seasonal menu of daily-changing dishes with an Italian sensibility that’s perfectly suited to Luke Holder’s clean, robustly flavoured fare.

Lime Wood’s bountiful grounds and environs have enabled Luke Holder to embrace the locally sourced, seasonal and sustainable ethos with gusto. Homemade produce from the onsite smokehouse – of which he is extremely proud – has been well received, and there is a raw food menu at Raw & Cured, the hotel’s spa health bar. These are attractive features, as is the three-and-a-half-day week Luke Holder’s staff work – a decision the head chef hopes will “influence change in working conditions.” When asked how the busy kitchen functions, he explains: “It’s having a lot of benefits [and] they’re still working hard, they’re still doing 50 hours in the days they’re here.”

He’s also aware of a sea change in younger chefs who “aren’t willing to work all the hours God sends and not be paid for it – they’re a new generation who want to have a career in catering that doesn’t have to become all consuming.” And he’s refreshingly honest about customers, too, prioritizing their needs over his ego: “The customer rules, we’re in a service industry and we’re the service”, he says, frankly, adding: “If you’re not making the customers happy then it won’t take long for your business to go under.”

Whilst grateful to chefs who “taught me so much about how to cook and appreciate produce” his hero is not a celebrated cook but the Lime Wood CEO and hotelier Robin Hutson: “He really pushed me to believe in product and produce over technique and fashion. He got me to think about the guest more than anyone else. He made me question why I put something on a plate as a head chef.”

Luke Holder’s plates often seem casual, even light-hearted, yet each has been carefully considered, and the ingredients painstakingly grown or sourced. His popular signature dish (a similar version of which can be found here), inspired by an octogenarian truffle hunter, is representative of his approach: “The polenta agnolotti with truffle and artichoke comes from a very humble background, but has luxury ingredients, treated simply and beautifully.” This is how the affable chef sees his food, as “simple but luxurious, I think it can be relaxed and elegant at the same time, you know, that probably sums it up.”