Luke Holder, Head Chef, Lime Wood Hotel, Hampshire

The  Staff Canteen
Luke Holder is head chef at Lime Wood Hotel in Hampshire where he shares the reins with Angela Hartnett in the new restaurant, Hartnett Holder & Co. He has worked under some great chefs like Chris Galvin, Marco Pierre White and French chef, Annie Féolde, at three-star Enoteca Pinchiorri in Italy where he fell in love with the Italian style of cooking – simple, local, flavour-centred, ingredient-led, relaxed and unfussy – an ethos he has brought with him from the plains of Tuscany to the woods of the New Forest.    You didn’t train as a chef; when did you realise that this was the career for you? The definitive moment when I realised I wanted to be a chef was on the last part of a year out travelling when I was getting a bus from Nepal to India and I realised that the time was coming when I’d have to return home to the UK. I thought to myself, did I really want to go back to working on the tomato farm where I’d been working before and I realised that I didn’t, that what I really wanted to do was cook. Within two weeks I went down to Chris Galvin’s restaurant, The Orrery; I told him that I had no college training, and understood nothing about cheffing but that I had lived a lot and I was here because this was what I really wanted to do. He sold me the dream and I started at The orrery. It was probably the hardest moment in my career because I went from being a travelling hippy to sixteen-hour days in a kitchen! Why did you choose Chris Galvin? Pot luck – I didn’t know who he was; I didn’t know what a Michelin star was; I didn’t even know who Marco Pierre White was! You worked at Annie Féolde’s three-star Florence restaurant, Enoteca Pinchiorri; how was that experience? I met Annie Féolde in Thailand where I was running my own restaurant on Koh Samui. She came to my restaurant and I cooked for her several days in a row. She sat me down after a few days and asked me to head up a new restaurant she was opening in Beijing for the Olympics. It freaked me out at first because I thought, why are you asking some guy on a beach in Thailand when you must have a kitchen full of extremely talented chefs? She said, “We’ve got cooks but we haven’t got leaders.” I turned the job down three times because I thought it was just too big for me but eventually I thought, what am I doing turning down this opportunity? So I took the job and flew to Italy for a year’s training at Enoteca Pinchiorri. I had to cook on every section and it was quite a challenge because I didn’t speak any Italian and I met a lot of hostility from a lot of guys in the kitchen, because there were guys who had been working there for eight years waiting for that kind of opportunity.  In the end the whole Beijing deal fell apart and Enoteca Pincchiori pulled out over a dispute over the wine lists. I had the opportunity to stay in Italy but my wife and I wanted to move back to the UK to start a family. In your time at Lime Wood you’ve seen it change from a two-restaurant operation to a single, more relaxed, Italian-inspired restaurant in cooperation with Angela Hartnett; what drove that change? The hotel had originally opened with a fine-dining restaurant and a brasserie. After I took over I, was supported massively by Robin Hutson (chairman of Lime Wood group) to run both restaurants but I think he could see that the fussiness and overworked attitude of fine dining restaurants was coming to an end, and I think he always knew that a 29-bedroom hotel should only have one restaurant. So after a couple of years, although Robin and the hotel were pleased with what I’d done, they wanted to move me forward and revamp the restaurant, moving away from that classic country house hotel feel – tablecloths but a dead atmosphere, no lunch trade and only really working Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Financially it wasn’t making much sense so Robin approached me last March and said we’d like to relaunch it with Angela Hartnett as Hartnett Holder & Co. And how is it working out? Obviously I was nervous at first although I was completely behind the idea because I think working with another great chef can only do you good. Angela is brilliant to work with; she’s a consummate professional but also a lot of fun; the relationship with Angela has gone better than I could have dreamed and now the restaurant has a clear identity of what it is and what it’s trying to achieve. It’s now driven by atmosphere – it’s a great, vibrant place to be; it’s priced so that it’s not ridiculously expensive – you can start for £6.50 and you can have a main for £11. How do you and Angela share your time in terms of dish creation and in the kitchen; are you both on the pass at the same time? Angela’s contracted to be here two days a week. She normally comes down in stints, so she’s not here every Monday or Tuesday; she’ll come down and do a week or ten days at a time.  In terms of dish creation, dishes end up on the menu through everybody’s input, not just me or Angela’s – there’s no set system like she does three dishes and I do three dishes – it’s a collective thing. In terms of in the kitchen, she might run the pass while I’m catching up on paperwork or I’ll be on the pass while she’s out in the restaurant speaking to customers, taking food to the guests and getting feedback. We’ve got past the initial niggles that inevitably happened at the beginning where one of us would walk off thinking the other was running the pass and actually left nobody running it! Has your food philosophy changed since you’ve been at Lime Wood? My food philosophy has changed massively in my three years here and Robin Hutson has probably been the biggest influence on that – getting rid of all the paraphernalia and bells and whistles, which are more about the chef’s own ego than they are about the quality of the dish. The food here now is quality-driven; it’s technically astute without showboating; and central to everything is this Italian ethos of sharing – moving away from individually-plated food and putting down big bowls that everyone can tuck into. And because taste is now at the forefront, we’ve moved away from being so fussy about whether to put a courgette here or a courgette there or putting a swipe and a single pistachio nut here- the intensity of that causes a lot of pain and stress and tears at kitchens of that level. There’s still pain and stress and tears here sometimes, of course, but it’s much more because we’re busy and that’s a good thing because quiet kitchens are a horrible place to be. View Luke's recipe for Creedy Carver Chicken View Luke's recipe for Wild Mushroom Tart Think you have the potential to be a head chef like Luke? Then have a look at our current vacancies
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th September 2013

Luke Holder, Head Chef, Lime Wood Hotel, Hampshire