On the outside, it’s a grey stone restaurant front. But on the inside, there’s a menu that combines items like romaine lettuce-flavoured ice cream and bacon.
“Adventurous” doesn’t begin to describe Luke’s Gastronomy, a boutique restaurant located at Princess and Sydenham Streets.
When I visited the restaurant last weekend, I was greeted with funk music and a dimly-lit, edgy-chic atmosphere. With abstract artwork donning the walls and sheer curtains providing an air of mystique, I knew this wasn’t like most places to eat.
Luke Hayes-Alexander, the executive chef at Luke’s, has held the position in his family’s restaurant since he was 15 years old.
When I sat down with Hayes-Alexander, now 22, at a secluded table in the back of his restaurant, he lounged in his chair, at home in his surroundings.
Growing up in the restaurant business, Hayes-Alexander said that a career in cuisine had always been a clear choice.
“Even when I was 15 or 16 … the thought of spending 12 hours in the kitchen made me happy. I think it may have made other kids maybe not so happy, but I liked it,” he said.
I was surprised by the small size and tight layout of the kitchen in Luke’s, but Hayes-Alexander said he prefers to be alone when preparing meals in the kitchen.
Known for unique and thoughtfully-crafted cuisine, Hayes-Alexander said he’s changed his philosophy for the restaurant’s upcoming eighth anniversary.
“I want it to be something that you can’t get anywhere else,” he said. “But it’s always been complex, like a lot of components going on the plate, and now I’m changing that to making it simpler.”
Whereas Hayes-Alexander’s earlier dishes feature complex plates with deconstructed meals, his newer meals appear more built-up with a concise presentation.
Hayes-Alexander said that incorporating food history has been an important aspect of the development of his dishes. He drew on inspiration from the 1940s for one of his newest menu items.
“[It’s] based on … one of the very first southern fried chicken dinners, so they would have their fried chicken, their coleslaw, their gravy, their southern biscuits,” he said. “But I wanted to take that, and put it together in a way that you can’t find anywhere else. So that’s how I made the entire thing into a burger, so it’s the very first southern fried chicken burger.”
Hayes-Alexander makes his new “Fricken Burger,” a fried chicken burger, for me to try, along with his “Poutine Bun,” which is as the name suggests, and “Brizza,” a pizza that incorporates elements of brunch.
He said that each of these items are world firsts, as after much research, he’s certain he’s the only chef in the world making these creations.
While each of these dishes came simply-plated, the mingling of distinct flavours and tantalizing scents were anything but simple.
Taking a twist on classic comfort food recipes, the “Fricken Burger” and “Poutine Bun” were rich and palatable. The “Brizza”, meanwhile, tasted like a new creation all together, distinct from expectations of both pizza and brunch.
“I try just to be authentic, adding some modern techniques or adding some interesting elements, but everything there, no matter how interesting, there’s a reason for it so that it makes sense to the palate and to the nose and everything,” he said.
Though he said that it can often take a few months to come up with a new dish, Hayes-Alexander has recently introduced a number of brand new creations to the menu.
“It’s just like we’re changing the entire environment and I think whether it’s the playlist or the decor or the new dishes it just all kind of fits together for something that’s a little more casual, a little bit more edgy, a little bit more fun,” he said.
Hayes-Alexander said he will keep his intriguing staples on the new menu.
Upon a first glance at the menu, I am slightly taken aback by some of the more innovative items, such as his romaine ice cream as a take on a classic Caesar salad. I can’t deny my curiosity.
“It has all the same flavours: the romaine ice cream is light and lettuce-y, and Asiago rice crispy is all salty and cheesy, and there’s a sweet and salty bacon jam,” he said. “It tastes just like a Caesar salad so while you’re eating it you’re like, ‘okay, I’m understanding these flavours in a different way.’”
With his unique treatment of flavours, Hayes-Alexander makes use of unexpected ingredients, like tobacco in a dessert called “Testosterone” to fulfill his vision for each individual dish.
“I wanted to represent masculinity and [the] stereotypical … old-fashioned idea of some … rich dudes sipping whisky and … smoking cigars,” he said. “I just wanted to capture that image so that’s how the tobacco got involved.”
“You think tobacco’s going to taste weird, but it’s one of our most successful desserts.”
With more than an interest in cooking, Hayes-Alexander has compiled over 180 recipes and said he is looking to expand his own horizons outside of the kitchen, to a cookbook or a potential TV show.
“It’s just a matter of actually finding the time to get out of the kitchen for a few minutes here and there so I can pursue them,” he said.
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