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Q&A with Luke Dale-Roberts

Food24 sat down with the 2008 Chef of the Year to talk about food, family and the future.

by: Cathrine Shone: Food24 | 12 Feb 2009

We spent a morning in the heart of the Constantia Winelands talking to South Africa's chef of the year, Luke Dale-Roberts, about life in South Africa and what's next on the menu.

1. You have been at La Colombe for two years now. In that time you have managed to win 2008 Eat Out Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year for La Colombe. What comes next?
First and foremost is to concentrate on maintaining La Colombe and developing forwards rather than resting on our laurels. We need to keep going the way we've been going the last two years, initiating change, developing the menu and developing certain service techniques so we can keep ahead of the game. There are other things that are boiling away – there will be some exciting stuff coming this year.

2. How would you describe your cooking style to someone who has never experienced it before?
I've stayed with a lot of French technique, but I've definitely introduced an Asian element to the cooking here at La Colombe. We are experimenting with other dishes here and there with Middle Eastern touches. But it's modern French with a few exciting twists.

3. What would you say to a young chef on his first day of work in your kitchen?
Just keep your eyes open, your ears open and your head down.

4. Any exciting food trends we can look forward to this year?
I think that food is evolving a lot at the moment in South Africa. There are a few big players coming in now as well which is going to raise the level of competition. I'll keep pushing the fine dining element but I'm going to concentrate on what I'm calling refined farmyard food which is basically taking secondary cut ingredients like tongues, brains and briskets and brining them and corning them. Real flavoured foods like duck eggs. I'm looking at smaller suppliers to see if I can get some unique products in that respect as well.

5. Jamie Oliver spends a great deal of time and energy saving British school kids' diets. What do you think about that?
I think it's brilliant – Jamie Oliver made his name many years ago and he is always finding something new to push. The "school dinners" was a brilliant initiative. I'm English so I know that he has made an impact. It hasn't turned the world, or even the whole of England around but it's definitely changed the way people think, which is a phenomenal effort.

6. One thing you refuse to eat or cook?
There are a couple of things in Japan that I ate that were very strange and I don't think I would feel confident cooking them. There was this thing called Natto, fermented soya beans that are eaten at breakfast... I won't be using those anytime soon.

7. If you could have any chef cook for you who would it be?
I'd love to eat at The French Laundry. I think Thomas Keller is a phenomenal chef. What he was doing eight years ago is still relevant and up to date. His food is real; it has solid foundations, not too much fluff.

8. Your South African wife, Sandalene, is very creative in her own right. Tell us a bit about her?
My wife's great. She's phenomenal. She arrived here with me two years ago and within six months she had developed her own design company, designing clothes and selling up a storm with her label Miyabi. She has always been dynamic, she pushes me as well.

9. Who usually takes over the kitchen at home?
She's a good cook. She does a majority of the cooking, always preparing stuff for our boy Finlay, but from time to time on the weekend, or on my day off I'll do something. Sometimes when we have guests I'll cook something.

10. What is your favourite thing about living in South Africa?
Life in general is great and the weather is great compared to England. Obviously where I work is beautiful. Surrounded by vineyards, a view of the cricket pitch – you couldn't hope for much more.

11. The top cookbook of the moment?
A small book called Essence: Recipes from Le Champignon Sauvage by David Everitt-Matthias.

12. If you had no budget restraints, what would your idea be of a completely romantic Valentine's gesture?
Fly my wife by helicopter to Mauritius.

13. One word to describe yourself?
Passionate, I would say, yeah...difficult.

- None


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