Chef Luke Mangan
This past Christmas was the season for food books and amongst the many cookbooks that were released, there is amongst them an autobiography of chef Luke Mangan called "The Making of a Chef" published by New Holland. Luke Mangan is known as the chef behind Glass, Salt and the P&O cruise Salt restaurants as well as having the honour of being the featured Australian Chef at a Princess Mary of Denmark pre-wedding dinner. I was sent a review copy and sat down to read it one evening. The first thing that struck me was that it was written like it was a direct translation of Luke talking which took a little getting used to.
It's best approached as a "how to become a chef" guide for an upcoming young chefs or kids inspired by the whole Masterchef phenomenon. He explains the pitfalls and highlights of being a chef. He is however a very different chef and it's a different book than Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. Luke Mangan uses celebrity names from the likes of Richard Branson, Princess Mary and Bill Clinton like Bourdain uses expletives. There's no sex, drugs and rock and roll-well there is the latter in the form of Chris Isaak being a diner but nothing quite as juicy as one may have hoped.
Mangan can also polarise people-he writes of his time making enemies writing a popular food column but it appears honest, like it is making some amends and well as touched with a bit of chef's trademark arrogance. From many reports he is also a very generous chef too. When I tell him of how I used to dine here at Glass when I worked in advertising he invited me back any time for a meal and I had heard of him extending similar invitations to others.
I was also invited along to the Sunday Magazine reader launch of his book at his restaurant Glass and see that Luke is busy flitting around and drumming up sales of the book. He tells me that the event sold out within hours (he is holding two dinners in Sydney and two in Melbourne) "I could have done four events here" he says excitedly. He greets everyone at every table with a handshake (and a pen for signing in the other hand) and he is friendly and warm if fleeting.
Bread-sourdough and fruit sourdough with Luke Mangan olive oil
The bread is excellent-warm and with a lovely light crackly crust my favourite was the slightly sweet fruit bread and is offered with the Luke Mangan olive oil which is a lovely drop.
Hiramasa Kingfish Sashimi, ginger, eschallot, Persian feta matched with 2007 Luke Mangan Viognier by the Vice family, Adelaide Hills
Our entree is superb with a strong finely diced ginger and oil on top of the delicate leaves of Hiramasa Kingfish sashimi. And despite the fact that Persian feta and peppery Italian rocket is an unusual sounding ingredient to pair with the Asian flavours, it works beautifully and it is an enormous serve to boot. This particular entree (as well as the dessert we are having tonight), was served to Mary Donaldson, Prince Frederick, Queen Margarethe and the Prince Consort one week before she became Princess Mary at the week long pre wedding celebrations. The dinner was held by the Australian Ambassador to Denmark.
Seared and then poached fillet of beef, fragrant pumpkin asparagus, dates and almonds served wtih 2004 Luke Mangan Cabernet Merlot by Highbank, Caoonawarra
I wasn't quite as taken with this beef dish as I found the pumpkin and dates a bit too sweet to have with the beef-I prefer sweet flavours with meats such as pork but savoury matches well with beef. There is also orange zest which further adds to the sweetness. It is accompanied by asparagus and almonds and this particular dish was served to Sir Richard Branson. And if I am to be honest I just wanted some of the amazing Wagyu entrecôte and bone marrow that I had the last time I dined here. Hubba hubba...
Richard Wilkins, the host for the evening teases Luke about the book being a "Four hour read" (it's quite true) and the prolific name dropping (it's quite true too). There are a couple of pushes for book sales and diners move to the front to buy their own copy and get it signed. During the evenining there is a business card draw and four lucky winners receive a variety of prizes.
Liquorice parfait, lime segments, lime syrup, tuile served wtih 2010 Chialk HIll Moscato, McLaren Vale
If you've read the book, you will have heard about the liquorice parfait, said to be his signature dish. He even provides the recipe for this. I was skeptical. I am not a liquorice fan at all and I wished that liquorice maniac Mr NQN were here to try it. I take a small bite and it is certainly liquoricey and I almost put my spoon down but take another as it has a pleasant creaminess to it. Then I take another spoonful and dunk it in the almost clear liquid lime syrup and that almost neutralises the liquoriceness and it becomes a very unique but lovely dessert. The buttery crisp tuile is lovely and not just a decoration and I find myself enjoying this dessert although many of us agree at the table that it isn't one that we would have normally ordered ourselves.
Luke Mangan Interview
NQN: You are one of seven boys.
Luke Mangan: Yes, I'm the youngest of seven.
NQN: How IS your mum after bringing up 7 boys?
(laughs) She's well, she's 80!
NQN: You've said money doesn't motivate you, what does?
Luke Mangan: It's doing what I love and that's having the restaurant and seeing guests leave happy and having young lads like Shannon who is now my partner in the Salt restaurant in Tokyo. Things like that and seeing people reach their goals too.
NQN: You hated school-there's even a copy of your report card in the book which is not as bad as I thought it would be...
Luke Mangan: I think I got the best one I could (laughs).
NQN: I'm interested in why you hated school. Being a chef requires a similar kind of discipline so why did you respond to that well but not to school?
Luke Mangan: I hated it (school) with a passion. With school I was confined to a desk and told to do this and to do homework. I don't handle being told what to do very well but I love to be free and be creative and do things my own way so being in a kitchen you walk around and do different things than just sitting behind a desk.
NQN: But you would have been told what to do?
Luke Mangan: Yeah I guess it was I don't know it was something different from school I was being told to pick a kilo of beans and that was something different. I was using my hands I guess rather than using my mind that didn't want to work.
NQN: At the age of 33 you were responsible for 160 people and were turning over $10million but at 35 you stopped cooking. Do you miss it?
Luke Mangan: No because I still do bits of it but I don't really stand in the kitchen every day like I used to. There are parts of it that I miss but I enjoy doing what I do now.
NQN: When you say you do bits of it what do you mean by that?
Luke Mangan: I still work a service in the restaurant but I wouldn't be in the kitchen, I'd be on the other side checking the plates that come out and talking to customers
NQN: And do you ever get criticised for not cooking?
Luke Mangan: Probably but I tend not to listen.
NQN: In the book, you talk about the mistakes that were made-would you change any mistakes?
Luke Mangan: I don't think I would change anything because you learn from the mistake or I leant from them. I think that's what the book is all about, it's trying to pass on to younger guys who want to be chefs or successful in something that you're going to go through bad times and you've got to accept them. So I think I'd have it all happen again because you learn from it.
NQN: The book is almost written like a conversation, like it was a transcription and uses your slang and language.
Luke Mangan: Yep I just wanted it to be me. My mother rang me the other week and said you swear too much
NQN: Mums are always going to say that...
Luke Mangan: Yeah after a couple of glasses of wine and we were talking, the f word would probably come out-but in a nice way.
NQN: What do you think of the way that chefs are treated now?
Luke Mangan: There are two ways. You get recognised for being a celebrity chef but is that a good thing or a bad thing I can't answer that but it's different. The working conditions now are probably for the better for the apprentices. It isn't the long hours that we had to do.
NQN: Do you get recognised in the street a lot? Are you comfortable with that?
Luke Mangan: I tend to a bit. You know I wasn't but now I just think I'm a normal person and I'm a bit shy and embarrassed.
NQN: Who are you star struck by? You've met Chris Isaak, Bill Clinton in the book?
Luke Mangan: The Bill Clinton thing was pretty cool, if only I could open my mouth!
NQN: What would you have said to him if you could do it over again?
Luke Mangan: That's a good question, I don't know, I still think about that. It would be interesting to sit down and have a conversation with him wouldn't it. Now I don't get blown away because I think that everyone is normal. Maybe 10 years ago, like when I got the call from Richard Branson I was pretty much blown away by that but when you now meet him and have discussions with him it's like talking to another mate. I don't get star struck in that sense. But if Jennifer Aniston rang me then I'd probably consider...I don't know what I'd say!
NQN: Tell us about cooking for Princess Mary.
Luke Mangan: That was a really good, different experience. Having the opportunity to go over and do that was really good. When they could have chosen so many different chefs.
NQN: What was the process? It wasn't a pitch was it? Did they approach you?
Luke Mangan: Yes I got the email and would I be interested. It came from the Ambassador to Australia Denmark so it came through that link.
NQN: She dined at Salt because Belle Property was close by. Did you ever speak to her during the process?
Luke Mangan: No I didn't. A couple of years afterwards we did a function for Fred and Mary in Sydney. I don't know what that was for but there's no personal relationship there.
NQN: You speak of making some enemies through the Good Living column. What is your perspective on that now? Is it tall poppy?
Luke Mangan: I think very much in this industry, back then it was, there is that tall poppy thing. I suppose that's in any industry.
NQN: Have there been amends made now?
Luke Mangan: Without being arrogant or sounding arrogant I don't really care now. You grow up and do your own thing. You just try and block it out and do your own thing. You've just got to do what you do and there are bills to pay. That was a good turning point for me in my career. I don't buy papers and listen to restaurant reviews and all that but I think a restaurant critic has an opinion and some criticism is true so you do have to take note and listen to it but its up to you how you handle it. 10 years ago I would have handled it differently but now I don't think much of it.
NQN: Do you google yourself?
Luke Mangan: Ahh no, I'm not actually much into computers. I am a bit of a blackberry man and we've just set up a new office and I got the bill from the IT guy and he was telling me all these things he had to do. I said listen you're telling the wrong person. We'll pay the bill (laughs).
NQN: What do you think of bloggers?
Luke Mangan: It comes back to everyone has an opinion. Who is to say that my piece of fish is better than another's piece of fish. And that's good as anyone in any business should utilise food bloggers because its a source of getting your message out, hopefully in a positive way. (laughs).
NQN: Marcus Wareing called some bloggers recently about a review and was, from reports, quite angry. Would you do that?
Luke Mangan: No, that doesn't bother me. Look there was a bad review I got from a journalist sure that bothered me but I didn't do anything about it.
NQN: Three questions: Most amusing experience in a kitchen?
Luke Mangan: Amusing you say...well when you're an apprentice people play jokes on you a lot. They send you up to the shops to buy a kilo of pig's ears and you are so gullible you do it and the butchers end up laughing at you.
NQN: Most heartbreaking experience in a kitchen?
Luke Mangan: I think heartbreaking is when you've done your best in the kitchen and you serve 80 meals or 100 meals and the last thing you want is a dish that comes back from a customer saying that their plate is too salty or its overcooked. When you think you've done the best you can and that happens, that's quite heartbreaking.
NQN: Do you get customers writing in?
Luke Mangan: We get both types we get customers writing in and telling us of bad experiences but its not a lot thankfully but you also get letters of great experiences and that's a good motivational thing for the team.
NQN: Do you answer them?
Luke Mangan: Yes if someone complains I ring, I like to ring them directly and if someone likes it then I write a note back thanking them and saying I will pass that onto the team.
NQN: The toughest experience in a kitchen?
Luke Mangan: The apprenticeship was the hardest thing I had to do. The hours and the stress and all that. But that's not a bad thing, it's tough but its still good.
NQN: What do you eat? Day to day?
Luke Mangan: Generally for breakfast a bit of fruit and yogurt. Lunch might be a piece of fish. Dinner just fish or chicken or meat with veges. Pretty simple.
NQN: And do you eat at your Glass restaurant?
Luke Mangan: I do, I ate at Glass last night, I try to eat in them when I can.
NQN: How often would that be?
Luke Mangan: At Glass, whenever I'm in Sydney I'll eat here every day for lunch at after lunch service. And if I'm in Melbourne the same.
NQN: Your last meal?
Luke Mangan: It would be a steak, medium rare, with chips, Bearnaise sauce, green beans and shallots and a good bottle of red wine.
NQN: What kind of steak?
Luke Mangan: It would be a sirloin, yeah.
NQN: Grass or grain?
Luke Mangan: It would be grain fed.
NQN: How do you want to be remembered?
Luke Mangan: Oh I hadn't thought about that. I don't know I guess I like to promote Australian produce around the world when I can. Like going on the Today show in America because we have really great ingredients and wine so maybe someone who has seen to have done that.
NQN: 5 words to describe you?
Luke Mangan: Umm easygoing but don't take advantage of me
Likes to have a laugh
Pretty um casual sort of guy. Normal, normal how's that?
NQN: And is that how you'd like to be remembered? As normal?
Luke Mangan: Well no (laughs)
NQN: How do you want to die?
Luke Mangan: Phwoar! In my sleep after a long lunch
NQN: With that last meal?
Luke Mangan: Yes
So tell me Dear Reader, which chef's autobiography would you like to read?
Luke's book "The Making Of A Chef" is published by New Holland $29.95