Dressed in whites they coordinate their movements between pan and plate in a kitchen in open view to patrons. It’s evident that they are young and tough, self assured in their manner, with cheeky grins to spare when you catch their eye. You hear his voice, low and calm and a confident chorus replies “Yes, Chef”. Luke Dale Roberts moves agile and light-footed around his team and back to his perch at the pass. Between greeting guests and overseeing each plate every night at The Test Kitchen in the urban artisans’ precinct of Woodstock, Cape Town, Dale Roberts is carving his creative stamp on the global food scene. His Pot Luck Club restaurant has expanded into a stylish top-floor restaurant with an almost 360 degree panorama over the city. A pop-up branch in Verbier, Switzerland has taken his 5-tastes ‘tasting plates’ concepts to the hip ski crowd.
Having recently been awarded the One To Watch accolade sponsored by Cacao Barry at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013 sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, we spoke to him about his vision and plans for the next future.
What does winning the One to Watch award mean to you?
It’s awesome. It shines a spotlight on us and the South African dining in general which is a great thing.
What about the dining scene in South Africa?
It's growing fast. There is a lot of talent here and I think it’s defining itself as a culinary destination slowly. I have seen some exciting development from a supplier level, particularly in the last year. I believe suppliers should motivate themselves to be the best they can be and achieve the same level of excellence as the kitchens in the fine restaurants.
Tell us more about your culinary background.
I was born in Britain, and started my training at Baur Au Lac Hotel in Zurich, Switzerland. It was, at the time, one of the top five hotels in the world and a great start for a youngster. Thereafter, I moved back to London and worked at Elenas L’Etoile under Kevin Hopgood who trained with the Roux brothers. The focus there was classic, French fine dining. My next move was to Australia and this introduced me to Pacific Rim fine dining and was an exciting time. I returned to London, to Bali Sugar and the emphasis was on fusion cuisine. My next move was to Soho House Media Club and then I explored Asia for 5 years working in restaurants from Singapore all the way to Seoul, before to move to South Africa, my wife’s home country and now mine, in 2006. I worked as executive chef at La Colombe at Constantia Uitsig which in 2010 it was voted number 12 by the World’s 50 Best.
When did you decide to open your own restaurant?
In 2010 I branched out on my own opening The Test Kitchen with a lab off-site to test and experiment. It’s since expanded. At the end of 2011, I opened The Pot Luck Club a more causal dining experience where patrons are served ‘small plates’. Pot Luck has since expanded to a pop-up in Verbier and a new premises in Cape Town.
How did your 5 year long experience in Asia influence you?
The type of food I cooked and ate there and on the streets on off days, left an incredible impression on me. It was punchy in flavor, well balanced and exciting. It’s influenced my personal style greatly.
Which is your approach to food?
My mantra is ‘’Flavor’! Test Kitchen is very conceptual, there’s a feeling, a story and a multi-sensory element to most dishes. Pot Luck is simpler but delicious. I keep experimenting with a dish until it’s perfect to me. I find myself losing the layers and getting more ‘primal’ and natural with the dishes.
Current favorite flavor combination?
Our Jerusalem artichoke parfait with coffee granita and shaved macadamia.
What are your next plans?
I aim to develop the Test Kitchen’s offering and service as far as my creative character can. I want to grow my team and develop the young skill as far as possible. The food at Pot Luck is ever evolving and provides both us and the customer with a kind of rapid gratification. Pot Luck is a brand that can be replicated in any city in the world with the correct level of skill and support. This may well happen in years to come.