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Ones to watch: Luke Selby

Ones to watch: Luke Selby

by Pete Dreyer 01 September 2018

Young National Chef of the Year, National Chef of the Year, Roux Scholar and head chef at Hide Above – even the sky is struggling to keep a lid on Luke Selby’s talent. Pete Dreyer spoke to the young chef about his journey so far.


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‘I always wanted to be a chef. I don't know why – maybe it was just being surrounded by nature where I grew up – but I was always going to be a chef. I remember not ever wanting to be anything else.’

Growing up in the foothills of the stunning South Downs, Luke Selby was surrounded by food from the get go. He and his three brothers would head out into the countryside to find food – often at the behest of their mother, who herself was a keen gardener and forager. ‘She’d grow her own vegetables, but she was a terrible cook!’ Luke laughs. As the eldest of his siblings, responsibility fell on him naturally to step up to the stove. ‘That’s why I started cooking,’ he explains, ‘I just took on the role of cooking for my family and my brothers. I’ve always been drawn to it, and I’ve always been good at it.’

Luke’s natural talent and industrious nature has brought him an awful long way from the tranquility of West Sussex. A product of the world-famous Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Luke worked with Clare Smyth and Matt Abé at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, then with Ollie Dabbous at his eponymous restaurant before Ollie whisked him away to his latest project – Hide at 85 Piccadilly.

Luke is head chef of Hide Above – the top-floor tasting menu section of Ollie’s three-storey mega-restaurant. As we sit at one of the window seats, early morning sunlight cascades through the glass front, spilling into the restaurant and down that Insta-famous staircase. Despite the location, there’s not a peep of road noise from outside – a product of the triple-glazing, which allows Hide Above to feel bright and airy, but also hidden away from the world, hence the name. It’s impressive, there’s no doubt about that, and it also comes with its fair share of expectation. ‘The minimum is to get to a two Michelin star level,’ says Luke, 'but that’s not the goal straight away. When you work somewhere like Le Manoir, or Royal Hospital Road, they’ve been open for years and they have systems in place already. At Hide, we’re putting those systems in place from the beginning, so it’s a totally different challenge. It’s not going to happen straight away – it’s a journey and you have to put the work in, but we’re confident.’

Expectations don’t phase Luke much – despite his young age, he’s already a veteran when it comes to dealing with high stakes. He’s one of only two chefs to ever win both the Young National Chef of the Year and National Chef of the Year competitions (the other being Ramsay-protege Mark Sargeant). Luke won the latter in 2018, just six months after he won a prestigious Roux Scholarship. No one has ever won all three competitions before – Luke did it in the space of four years.

In fact, It was a cooking competition that kick-started his career in the kitchen the first place. ‘It was the Rotary Young Chef of the Year,’ he says. ‘I got through to the regional finals or something, up in Banbury. I didn’t know anything really – I was just a little kid in trainers and a t-shirt. Raymond Blanc came to judge the final and I couldn’t believe it! I made an open haddock ravioli, a duck main course and a raspberry soufflé for dessert – I remember Raymond saying the soufflé was technically perfect, but I came in second because I’d bought all my ingredients from Tesco!

‘The girl who came first had bought all this organic produce,’ he laughs. ‘I didn’t know anything about produce or sourcing – Tesco was all we could afford back then!’

That meeting turned out to be a fateful one. Luke wrote to Raymond asking for work experience and Raymond remembered the young chef, even offering to hold a job for him for a whole year until he left school. ‘I finished school at eighteen, went to Le Manoir and that was that,’ says Luke. ‘I didn’t leave for six years. I grew up there really.’ Like most chefs who come through Le Manoir, he speaks with great affection and reverence for Gary Jones and Raymond Blanc, who have both been a huge influence on him. ‘I still have a really close relationship with them both,’ says Luke. ‘I saw them a little while ago at the National Restaurant Awards actually – they were there arm in arm, stumbling around together! They’ve both been great mentors, and they’re still hugely supportive even now.’

The influence of Le Manoir isn’t lost at Hide either. Ollie Dabbous and Josh Angus – head chef of Hide Ground – also worked at Le Manoir, as did many of Luke’s brigade, including two of his brothers – Theo and Nathaniel. ‘When you’ve come through a system like Le Manoir, it just gives you a certain discipline and pedigree,’ says Luke. ‘We all work on the same wavelength because we’ve been through it – you can see straight away the guys that have been there and done that.’

After six years at Le Manoir, and a year spent working at three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road, Luke felt the need to establish himself as a head chef, and was attracted to Dabbous by Ollie’s attitude and conviction. ‘Ollie opened his own restaurant off his own bat,’ he says. ‘He secured the investment, he did the cooking, everything. I said to him when we met that I wanted to learn the business side of things from him, and he wanted someone to run his kitchen.’ Luke joined as senior sous chef at Dabbous, and six months later, Ollie gave him the keys to the castle, making him head chef. ‘It was a very dramatic change,’ he continues. ‘Ollie is a very different chef, and his food is very different, especially when he was cooking at Dabbous. The kitchen was tiny – it was basically just a six burner stove, and the equipment didn’t always work! To make the food we made out of that kitchen and hold a star for all those years, it was impressive.’

Though the setting at Hide couldn’t be more different to Dabbous – Ollie reckoned the staircase alone cost more than the whole of his last restaurant when we spoke to him back in April – the food is no less impressive. 'Ripe tomato and bread' sounds simple enough, but it's a cascading waterfall of flavour when you cut into it – a ripe tomato stuffed with papa al pomodoro, black Kalamata olives and tomato essence. The 'fig leaf' dessert is no mere fig leaf – it's an almighty temple built to the fig gods. There's a fig leaf infusion, soaked chia seeds, fig leaf ice cream, a fig compote, crystallised fig leaves, roasted figs and a reduced fig liquor to finish. The attention to detail at Hide Above is astonishing – a product of the fission that occurs when you combine Ollie's visionary flavour combinations and Luke's precise cooking.

Hide Above is Luke’s kitchen, but the food that comes out of it is unquestionably Ollie’s – that signature free-spirit, natural plating and lightness of touch is plain to see. One feels that the next frontier for Luke might be the thing that brought him to Ollie in the first place – the dream of his own restaurant. ‘Oh yeah, I would love to have my own restaurant,’ he says. ‘Every chef in the world wants that. I’d love to have my own place in London one day, but that starts with focusing on this and seeing where it takes us. We've got great guys here and we're on a journey together – if we keep working hard, hopefully doors will open up, but we’ll see.’

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