Luke Cockerill, head chef, The Rabbit in the Moon

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th September 2017

Luke Cockerill is head chef at Michelin-starred chef Michael O'Hare's Manchester restaurant, The Rabbit in the Moon.

**Please note that Luke Cockerill has now left The Rabbit in the Moon

The Rabbit in the Moon opened in January 2017. Located in the Urbis Building, above the National Football Museum, Luke has brought 'space age Asian' cuisine to the people of Manchester with a rather unique 'snacking' style menu.

Luke told The Staff Canteen about the concept behind the restaurant, his working relationship with Michael and creating an Asian-inspired menu with a difference.

What made you want to become a chef?

Luke Cokerill and Michael OHare   credit Manchester Evening News

Luke Cokerill and Michael OHare

credit Manchester Evening News

It’s not your classic story. I never used to bake cakes with my mum or anything like that. There was nothing that stood out to me like “I want to be a chef”. I showed an interest in food and cooking at home. But I’d say the moment when I was 100% on a career as a chef was when I first met Michael O’Hare in York. His first ever real venture, which was called The Blind Swine, was a rock and roll cocktail bar with a taster menu on the side – it was a real original thing for York.

That was when I first saw a style of cooking and a lifestyle as a chef that really attracted me. Obviously, it’s part and parcel of wanting to become one - your working hours and what your life’s going to be like - seeing the full package. It was a great working life and a team with a great ethos - so creative, expressive and artistic.

I suppose before that, I didn’t really know it even existed as a subject, because there’s not many restaurants out there like that. So when I started working there, I knew I wanted this in particular, this style of being a chef. Because I think that there are so many different styles, and people forget that we’re not all the same and we’re all doing completely different things. It’s like comparing two artists; they’re completely different and this is just one side of being a chef that gave me a real purpose.

What’s it like to work with Michael [O’Hare]?

We’ve been working together now for four or five years. When you work with someone for so long (especially since I started working when I was untrained, at 17), our relationship has completely changed and evolved over the years. Now he’s given me my own place and so every step that I’ve taken with him and different venture I’ve done with him has changed our relationship. I guess now he is more like a mentor: he gives me advice and helps me out but obviously gives me a lot of freedom. We’re super good friends now and it’s great fun to work together.

Info bar
Dream restaurant- You’ll hate the answer, but I’m living the dream now. There you go.

Dream brigade - I’d give Mike a job, obviously. There’s another guy I like… a guy called Kray, who I used to work with at TMBTC - he’s a good laugh. David Chang - I love David Chang. Albert Adria. If I had them on my team I probably wouldn’t be part of it myself to be honest. I’d be too embarrassed! Sounds like a good team. I like small teams as well, quite intimate.

What are your responsibilities as head chef at The Rabbit in the Moon?

Pretty basic and what you’d imagine. Obviously running the kitchen team, running the food, writing the menus, coming up with new dishes. And then also the front of house: I have lots to do with that because, with a concept like ours and a tasting menu, it’s important that the front of house reflects the ethos and the food and that everyone gets it. The transition from it being served for them to understand why I did it. Trying to be the face of it and trying to raise it and make it established. It’s only been open about 6 months, so that’s the main focus at the moment.

What would you say is different between there and The Man Behind the Curtain?

There are a lot of similarities: it’s ran with the same ethos, with the same philosophy about food and the way we look at it in an artistic sense - making sure it tastes really good and has a massive visual impact as well. The difference is, I suppose, there’s quite a few different concepts. All the food here is handheld and finger food; we only have chopsticks and that’s all people get. Everything is a lot smaller and snackier, and it’s a lot more focussed on east Asian cuisine. Whereas TMBTC is more eclectic; you’ll get food from all around the world.

Obviously, we didn’t want just another TMBTC in Manchester. We wanted to focus on something that we discovered at TMBTC: Asian cooking. We started using a lot more Asian ingredients on the menu, and I fell in love with that. So it’s going to be a restaurant which has a bit more of a focussed cuisine, so we could explore that style of cooking and serving a lot more. TMBTC is iconic – it’s one of the most-established restaurants in the North of the country now, with Michael as the face of it. At The Rabbit in the Moon, we’re still trying to establish ourselves. The concepts and the way we’re serving are still changing – it could be different again in six months’ time.

Chinese bacon butty, Luke Cockerill, The Rabbit in the Moon
Chinese bacon butty

Do you want another Michelin star? 

I’d love that. I’ve been there to see what it does to a business. With the TMBTC, I was there when we got the Michelin star and it’s massive for a business in what it does; that kind of acknowledgement, it’s definitely nice to have. But with TMBTC we just did what we wanted to do, and stuck to it. It was such a unique place and it wasn’t your usual kind of Michelin-starred restaurant.

I think they’re modernising a little bit - giving stars to restaurants that maybe wouldn’t have been the most obvious restaurants to give them out to ten years ago. And there’s the whole thing of Manchester not having any and, in comparison to London, it’s a bit more of a talked-about subject. If you open a restaurant in Manchester with a certain kind of standard you automatically, without choice, go into that sort of rat race for one. Obviously I’d love for us to get one, but it’s more about establishing the restaurant, making it successful and getting it full.

Does having a restaurant based in a football museum bring a different crowd?

It’s a completely separate thing. We have a different entrance and we’re only open in the evenings, when the museum is closed. Zero effect. People come from all over to eat here and we’re in the top tier of this building, rather than in the Football Museum because we don’t want that to be confused at all.

How did you get the inspiration for the Asian influenced menu?

I haven’t trained in Asian cuisine or been to Asia, or even eaten that much Asian food. We didn’t go for a Chinese takeaway or to Japanese restaurants when I was younger, so it was something completely different and new, with flavours and ingredients. They’re something that aren’t looked at creatively as much as the ingredients in Western cuisine, which have a more creative scope for being mixed – combining ingredients that haven’t been used together before. Asian cuisine forces you to be more creative. When there aren’t as many recipes out there, or chefs using these ingredients in different ways, you’re forced to look at ingredients and take them apart and to be a bit more creative with them.

 A million things have been done with a potato, but how many ways have you seen a taro root used? That’s what I like about it, being able to discover more. We’re not authentic east Asian or traditional, which a lot of it is out there in the industry, especially in the UK. We had the scope to do something completely unique with that. Not just with the flavours alone - it was just something about the punchiness and the impact of it. It’s quite powerful and in your face, and that kind of fitted with doing small plates and mouthfuls, that punch. Look at how popular it is - people love that style.

Edible plum stone, Luke Cockerill, The Rabbit in the Moon
Edible plum stone

What’s your favourite dish to cook?

I don’t do loads of cooking at home. Fried chicken and sticky rice is what I’d be into right now. I cook something I want to eat. At the restaurant, it’s completely dependent on my mood. In terms of the customers, it’s what you’ve got a lot of pride over. If it’s a dish that you’re proud of and it’s very personal to you - unique and you know the story behind how you came up with it - you get excited knowing the impact that it can have on the customers.

These conceptual parts of the cooking of your own dish definitely make it more enjoyable. The way you cook in the industry, you cook all sorts of bits at a time. It’s the process of bringing together all the components to a whole tasting menu. Maybe you see the whole tasting menu as an overall dish, because you want to it be seen as an overall thing, almost like an album. Not just people comparing what their favourite dish is - that’s fine, but it’s about all the dishes working together as a whole and being a complete expression.

 Where do you see yourself in the future? 

I haven’t really had time to think so much about that. But it would be nice to have success. I don’t know how long that’s going take; hopefully not forever. Then I suppose I’d like to look at running other restaurants. For me, it’s just about broadening my culinary palate as much as I can and not being restricted to any one thing. I’m still young and still evolving and developing my own style and what I want to do. To do that, you need to delve into everything and at the end of it, work out what you do like and what you don’t like and know it inside and out.

(Luke left The Rabbit in the Moon in September 2017.)

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th September 2017

Luke Cockerill, head chef, The Rabbit in the Moon