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With his boyish good looks and quick-witted nature, international celebrity chef and restaurateur, Luke Mangan, appears younger than his forty two years. One soon realises his jocular personality cannily camouflages an earnest and dynamic entrepreneur, augmenting a formidable talent and passion for cooking, as well as a decisive street-savvy instinct for the dinning publics mood.
Reading through Mangan’s curriculum vittae his laidback veneer becomes even thinner, with an extraordinary career spanning twenty-six years, evidently raised by the ‘old school’ top echelon master chefs, moreover his celebrity status patently hard-earned.
He began his apprenticeship at 15, when most of us were still spotty faced school kids, with Australian chef/restaurateur and industry doyen, Hermann Schneider at the then famous, Two Faces Restaurant in South Yarra, Melbourne, subsequently completing his qualifications at Schneider’s Delgany Country House in Portsea, Victoria.
Culinary tutelage does not come any tougher than under the likes of Schneider, an obsessive, tyrannical Swiss-German who came to Australia as part of the Swiss culinary team for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
A good friend of the famed Roux Brothers, Schneider dispatched his promising young graduate to perfect his skills with the pre-eminent Michel Roux at the world-famous 3 Michelin star restaurant, The Waterside Inn at Bray, Berkshire, England.
Reflecting on these formative years Mangan often wonders how he ever endured the servitude and arduous hours yet, is unequivocal that this core training instilled the disciplines and aptitude crucial to his success, and above all, indelible stamina.
A stint at Kensington Place after the Waterside Inn, under Rowley Leigh, another Roux-trained chef revered for his culinary dexterity, proved pivotal. Mangan declares Leigh taught him how to adapt his classically French training to contemporary cooking and the modern palate, an invaluable metamorphosis for when he returned to Australia.
In retrospect, returning to Australia turned out to be Mangan’s best move. A distinct and credible Australian cuisine was emerging, exciting in its multicultural diversity with innovative chefs and providores awakening to the bountiful fresh, indigenous produce.
Despite his youth, Mangan’s skill set and impeccable credentials fast-tracked him to a Head Chef position at Sydney’s Restaurant CBD, giving him the freedom to exemplify his talents and style. Reflecting on four successful years at CBD, as told to Nicole Bittar, The Melbourne Age, Mangan volunteers, "To be honest, I was so lucky to be there; it really kicked my cooking off. I was a head chef at 24. I had never been a second chef, so I learnt along the way."
Primed for the next challenge, Mangan and his front of house business partner, Lucy Allon, trail blazed the Sydney dining scene with their own restaurants; Salt, awarded the coveted Sydney Morning Herald best new restaurant, and two casual eateries, Bistro Lulu, a contemporary French Brasserie, and Moorish, a modern interpretation of Spanish and North African flavours, receiving best Mediterranean Restaurant in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide in 2005.
Mangan’s inadvertent evasion of climbing the ranks is conceivably the most fortuitous, if not crucial transpiration in his ascent to celebrity standing, as second chefs are perpetually imprisoned within the inexorable environment of a professional kitchen. Rarely stepping in to the dining room, they invariably suffer an irreversible personality triple bypass.
Acclimatizing quickly to his prominent role, even if it was mostly bravado in the early days, absorbing the urbane exposure, Mangan soon developed a mellifluously articulate demeanour. Constantly stepping out of the kitchen to interact with guests, he made a point of indiscriminately establishing a rapport with dinners, with his down-to-earth approach and natural charisma instilling a sense of affinity.
At the same time, he had enough of the bad-boy image and ‘tours of duty’ to gain the reverence of his contemporaries and keep the media and critics titillated, along with an ever-increasing stream of celebrities and socialites who frequented his restaurants.
One such guest was Sir Richard Branson, whom after meeting Mangan whilst dinning at Salt, invited him to be a guest chef on his private island, Necker. Shortly afterwards Sir Richard appointed him senior consultant for Virgin Atlantic and V Australia Chef providing International Business Class Guests with specially designed signature dishes during their Virgin flights across the Pacific.
Consequently Mangan now consultant for the entire Virgin Australia Group, needless to say, Sir Richard often calls on him for his private events and functions.
From air-wings to getting sea legs: With similar consequence to his Sir Richard Branson chance encounter, Mangan’s facetious overtures to Sture Myrmell, vice president of hotel operations of Carnival Australia, who represent a group of international cruise liners in Australia including P&P Cruises, Cunard, Princess Cruises, Coasta Cruises and Seabourn, resulted in another fortuitous and highly successful partnership. “I was a little bit pissed and being cheeky I said to him, ‘we should do a restaurant together on one of your ships sometime’.”
Unbeknown to Mangan, he had sowed a seed that fitted perfectly in the image makeover the P&O Cruises were pursuing and a few months later Myrmell and Mangan were discussing the potential of Salt and the Luke Mangan brand onboard their ships. P&O now have three Salt grills on their ships Pacific Jewel, Pacific Dawn and Pacific Pearl.
Mangan also consultants to the Hilton Hotel Group, initially establishing their contemporary Auckland Hilton restaurant, White, and more recently opening glass brasserie (www.glassbrasserie.com.au) in the refurbished Sydney Hilton, and the just opened Salt grill restaurant at the new Hilton in Surfers Paradise (www.saltgrill.com.au)
Mangan humbly points to his Royal encounters, having cooked for Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, also summonsed by Australian Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery to host a state dinner in Copenhagen for the Crown Prince of Denmark, Frederik Andre Henrik Christian, his fiancée Tasmanian princess-in-waiting, Mary Donaldson.
The menu and recipes for The Danish Royal Menu can be found in Mangan’s latest book, ‘The Making of a Chef’.
Besides writing five best selling cookbooks, BLD – Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner in 2000, Luke Mangan Food in 2002, Luke Mangan Classics in 2005, and At Home and in the Mood in 2009, and most recently, his autobiography ‘The Making of a Chef’, his media talents have propelled his local and international presence, moreover testimonial of his inexhaustible energy, having been the food editor and weekly columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Melbourne Age.
He is the roving reporter for Australia’s Channel Nine Today show, his segment airing weekly, and has appeared on America’s NBC's Today show with Matt Lauer and Catie Curie for the twelfth time. He also filled in as guest chef for Martha Stewart on her NYC show, while she was too busy in court!
One of Mangan’s more recent filming projects brought him to Singapore, commissioned by Rainbow VOOM HD Network, the world’s largest high-definition television producers. In collaboration with Mega Media and the Media Development Authority of Singapore the series was billed as a travel food program, taking viewers on an exotic gastronomic road trip of Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and India.
Seeking inspiration for new dishes Mangan shared his experiences of regional cuisines, encompassing everything from fine dining to hawker stalls and roadside stands. Local culinary experts appeared as special guests guiding Mangan through indigenous markets, provedores, farms and their favourite dining spots.
At the end of each episode, Mangan cooked for specially invited guests and celebrities at his own Sydney restaurant, Glass, interpreting his experiences and adapting the ingredients and dishes that inspired him with a western accent, complete with his choice of wines to match each dish.
Filming in Singapore for a week with local guest celebrity KF Seetoh, the idiosyncratic foodie, radio protagonist and founder/editor of Makansutra, Singapore’s indispensable guide to street food and restaurants, Mangan asserted, “It was a revelation to see the diversity of intertwined cultures reflected in Singapore’s food. Maxwell Street Food Centre was sensational and so energised.”
He extols, “It was totally inspiring to see the determination of small family run operations, and their conviction to perfect one dish or central ingredient. Sort of like the bones of Slow Food and the family-run Osterie in Italy, only more focused and at a much faster pace!”
He divulges the highlights were Sungei Road Laksa, impulsively conceptualising ‘steamed barramundi with rice noodles, laksa based sauce, scallops and mint’ paired with a racy Gembrook Hill Sauvignon Blanc from the cool ranges of the Yarra Valley.
The Hainanese Chicken at Tian Tian translating to ‘cold poached chicken, salad of pickled cucumber and papaya with ginger dressing, with Seresin Pinot Gris from Marlborough, oscillating perfectly between the clean and exotic flavours.
Mangan’s affinity with Singapore has culminated in establishing Salt grill and Sky bar on the 55th and 56th of the impressive landmark building ION on Orchard and the newly opened Salt tapas & bar at raffle’s City, bringing an Australian twist in creating a modern tapas bar.
If you were thinking Mangan has enough on his plate (pardon the pun), he opened Salt and World Wine Bar, in the Shin-Marunouchi Building in the heart of Tokyo, across the road from Tokyo station and around the corner from the Imperial Palace, bringing his successful formula to the Japanese capital city, championing Australian and New Zealand produce and wine.
Then there are the countless charity dinners and industry events that he donates his time and (surplus!) energy to however, perhaps his most altruistic contribution to the hospitality industry is co-founding and judging the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence www.appetiteforexcellence.com.
If you consider Mangan feasibly has another twenty years of his career ahead of him, undoubtedly there is a great deal more in stall. You can sense the potential in his dialogue, an aura of confident optimism and animated passion, as he reaches for his Blackberry to deal with something, probably a more strategic tool than his frying pan these days.
And what’s next for Mangan? Perhaps Sir Richard has him working on cooking techniques and in-flight menus for Virgin Galactic, in which case we will need to redefine the acronym SEALs Chef to include operating in space!
To find out more on Luke Mangan, recipes and events, visit www.lukemangan.com