Luke Selby: Cuisine And The Power of Visualisation

The Notebook | 30th September 2019

The increasingly celebrated chef on his Mortimer House residency, maintaining a healthy balance of body and mind, and the unique power of visualisation

Luke Selby was born to a musical family in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to an English father and Filipino mother, but moved to the classic seaside locale of Brighton at just five years old. As such, he spent his formative years in the somewhat more Enid Byton-esque parochial village of Steyning, nestled among the rolling hills of West Sussex. He somewhat rebelled as a teenager to follow his dream of being a chef, and it’s testament to his prodigious talent that his first port-of-call in the industry was working with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, completeing six years under the tutelage of the infamous star. He then went on to work at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay before becoming Head Chef at Dabbous London. He went from there to take the helm at Hide, winning the restaurant's first Michelin-star in less than half a year. The heady frisson of culture clash defines his approach to cuisine, and his achievements as a chef are enviable–he is, after all, the only chef to have won National Chef of The Year and The Roux Scholarship in the same year. Given that his capacity for self-actualisation is second-to-none, Selby was the perfect choice to helm a residency at Mortimer House in The Living Room & Den, where his inimitable creations, such as Roasted Native Lobster, Fennel & Smoked Butter Sauce with Tempura Claw & Ponzu and Smoked Haddock Chowder, Potato, Leek & Crispy Quail Egg, have excited the palettes of members and guests alike for the last four weeks. Here, the celebrity chef recalls how a childhood of foraging piqued his interest in cuisine, and tells us why the art of visualisation must always precede a goal.

What first turned you on to food in your childhood?
I guess that my upbringing, more than anything, instilled a deep respect for produce and a connection to nature that I still have with me today. My mother is a keen gardener and forager. She had a strict no waste policy and was someone who would have me and my three other brothers out picking up all the apples that fell from our trees in the garden to peel, prepare and freeze every autumn! We also kept chickens and were sent out most weekends to the beach to pick mussels and catch crabs–everything would come back home to the pot! Believe me, there was nothing left on the beach when we had scoured it!

How did that dovetail into the desire to become a chef?
I started reading cookery books with fascination from a very early age, taking notes and constantly wanting to practice different recipes. I made a decision to pursue a career as a chef, much to the disappointment of my mum who had grand visions of me going to university. My father listened to me, and we agreed that I would finish my A-Levels and then I would have his blessing to pursue my passion–on one condition, that I trained with the best. I started with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons in 2009 at the age of 18 and trained with him, leaving six years later as the sous chef. My time with Raymond and Gary Jones (the executive chef) where hugely formative and gave me all the building blocks and foundations that have shaped me not only as a chef, but also as a person. Their ethos of respect, training and mentorship is something that I also try to carry, and instil in people who work with me now.

What do you think gives a chef real flair and edge in a competitive industry? is it imagination?
For a chef to have flair and an edge in a competitive industry–I think that is something that comes down to the individual style of the chef. Yes, it is about their imagination, but also about keeping true to their roots. For me, I try to improve and build on the cooking experiences I have had not only in the UK, but also taking inspirations from working in Japan. I do enjoy competitions, and have competed in and taken the title of:

Great British Menu Banquet Starter Winner 2019
Winner of The National Chef of the Year 2017-2018
Winner of The Roux Scholarship 2017
Young National Chef of The Year 2014
Craft Guild of Chefs Graduate Award Winner 2013
Academy of Culinary Arts Annual Awards of Excellence Winner 2012

Rather than seeing these as competitions–they have been great learning experiences and have enabled me to grow as a chef. The support and learning development that have come as a result of challenging myself to participate in these competitive environments has been a great learning curve not only for myself, but also for all my teams in the past.

In a stressful environment such as a busy kitchen, how do you maintain balance and calm...
I think that it is so important to maintain balance in any professional career–life is all about balance, and I believe for you to be truly happy that you must search to find that. Yes, I have worked very hard in my career, but alongside that I have been lucky enough to forge meaningful relationships, and also help others along the way. I love playing music, so that is a release for me, but also, keeping fit, cycling and reading. A healthy body and a healthy mind go hand-in-hand–the most important thing that drives me is to focus and visualise goals that I set for myself of how I want to live my life. Then to put the hard work in.

Interview by John-Paul Pryor
If you would like to book for the final instalment of Luke’s residency contact reservations@mortimerhouse.com