The cautionary tale of Luke Thomas 3

Teen chef Luke Thomas has been on everybody’s radar in the culinary world now for about 12months, but on Wednesday night his PR machine reached new limits of promoting the latest stove monkey that thinks he deserves a Michelin star.
During the hour long homage to “Britain’s youngest Head chef”, I experienced a roller-coaster of emotions & to be honest I could see how some of the less than forgiving Twitterati arrived at the conclusions they did.

I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut but @cheflukethomas you are an embarrassment to this trade you give chefs a bad name you silly little boy.. @TomKneale

@cheflukethomas what’s it like to have 90% of the honest hardworking chefs out there hate you!!!!! Try and answer that genuinely ? @ChefRoss1

Watching Britain’s youngest chef on BBC3, what a joke!! Learn your craft first… PR stunt @William_Curley

But when you break the 60minutes down it wasn’t just bad, it was terrible & terrifying at the same time. To say that Luke Thomas or his PR machine has stretched the truth a little is a mild understatement. Most chefs that want to climb the culinary tree often go & do stages, that is to say you work for free to experience different kitchens, pick up ideas, etc. No chef worth their salt considers this working or employment. Yet from Mr Thomas’ own blog, which has been regurgitated many times since as a bio states:

Since winning FutureChef 2009 at just 15, Luke Thomas, recently turned 17, has gone on to secure opportunities to work with some of the UK’s most outstanding chefs, including Heston Blumenthal, Gary Rhodes, Brian Turner and Simon Radley

The massaging of the truth was really only the start of it; in the first 10-15minutes Luke Thomas came across all Gordon Ramsay,something akin to the early episodes of boiling point. Of course the difference between the two is a gapping void in terms of everything kitchen related, yet Mr Thomas continued to eff & jeff his way through the programme.

Then Mr Mark Fuller made an appearance; now if like me you’ve been around the catering industry a while, Mr Fuller requires no introduction. His no-nonsense approach to getting things done precedes him like nobody else I know of in the trade. Yet in this programme he was constantly frank about how

every restaurant needs a PR angle

and that Luke Thomas was his one for Sanctum on the green. But what else was just astonishing was how Mr Fuller repeatedly tried to nurture the young chef into being able to ‘run’ the business. So it was a harsh lesson for the young chef, when the Bank of Mark Fuller stopped the seemingly bottomless pit of cash flowing into Sanctum on the green.

Besides the precocious teenage chef, the other two key players in this sorry saga: Mark Fuller and Borra Garson (a talent agent responsible for the early days of Jamie Oliver’s career), both declared that they signed up Mr Thomas before even tasting his food. Absolutely remarkable, predominately because any chef with an even half decent background will tell you that the interview process will involve at least two meetings and a cook off, to display your culinary wares. So how did Luke Thomas manage to convince two industry hardened individuals to sign him up, principally on a whim & for PR value?

One of the more interesting highlights was Mr Thomas paying a visit to the troubled Michelin starred chef Tom Aikens. Mr Aikens past is well documented concerning his downfall, & he talks candidly about the pressures he was under at the age of 26 and achieving 2Michelin stars. Yet in the cab ride home Mr Thomas glosses over the these wise words of wisdom & warning from Mr Aikens, instead considering himself to be in the same ballpark of talent and selectively editing what he’s taken from the experience. Even in Mr Aikens eye’s, Luke is too young for the position he’s in and advises to get more experience.

Tom Aikens

With the explosion of social media it’s never been easier to follow your favourite chefs, particular on Twitter and the silence from the rest of Mr Thomas’ Great British Menu competitors was deafening, Daniel Clifford of the 2Michelin starred Midsummer House tweeted:

The telly is ok. Inly saw 10 mins then gave up. I feel sorry for him

Whilst Tom Aikens tweeted:

On I player but judging by some of your comments ladies & gentlemen it might not be worth it …. A few expletives going around …

But that was it, and this is part of the problem. He’d roundly had his ass handed to him on Great British Menu by the talented Michelin starred Richard Davis, yet Mr Thomas (and his PR machine) has openly set himself up as an award winning chef, but really what awards has he won? None with an credibility connected with running a professional kitchen; no rosettes or even a listing for Luke’s Dining Room in the Michelin guide, a point that Mr Fuller conceded. And this is the point, when you want to be in the Michelin guide, you don’t just open the doors and expect them to come. It’s widely known that you have to get in touch with the little red book people, send a copy of the menu, a CV of employment & a covering letter. This is where Mr Thomas will find it hard; Michelin aren’t interested in where you’ve staged, they’re interested in longevity, stability & so on and Luke Thomas just can’t show that.

The closing credits proclaimed that:

Twelve months after taking over the restaurant Luke has now managed to turn it into a profitable business.

As Luke’s Dining Room & Sanctum on the green are trading as two separate entities it’s hard to define if this statement is actually true. But what I can say for sure, is based on the information at Companies House is that Sanctum on the green actually has £1.1million negative value. Where as Luke’s Dining Room has yet to file any accounts as it was only registered as a company on the 19th of March this year. Luke Thomas isn’t a director of either company, so to open the documentary by saying ‘This is my restaurant’ is slightly mis-leading at best.

Whilst the cynic in me will look at Luke Thomas in his current position & just wonder how this happened, part of me knows he isn’t a patch on Robert Thompson or Aiden Byrne, the two other contenders for the youngest Michelin starred chef, and this is crucial for Mr Thomas to understand. Thompson & Byrne gathered their stars whilst working under a more experienced mentor figures, Thompson was Head chef at 22 in a 2Michelin starred restaurant and 23 when he achieved a star in his own right at The Hamborough.

I don’t want to be an advocate of the school of hard knocks, but as some chefs tweeted on Wednesday night, ‘Luke you haven’t earned your stripes’ and I tend to agree with them. My only real concern is where does Mr Thomas go when his PR value drops?

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3 thoughts on “The cautionary tale of Luke Thomas

  • keith

    Doncha just love boy-wonders lol
    My first position as Head ( not ‘executive’ btw ) Pastry Chef was aged 31 ( started working properly after leaving college at 18)
    Still got so,so much to learn…
    Thanks for the great blog chef..

  • Babaduck

    How I got my first job. “of course I can type”. Except not on an electric typewriter. I didn’t even know where the bloody power switch was. Now I’m a Michelin starred genius!

  • Phil

    “Mark Fuller and Borra Garson, both declared that they signed up Mr Thomas before even tasting his food.”

    Oh dear – a bit like the boss who employs a secretary without getting her to do a typing test.

    Enjoyed the write up – nicely researched. I hate the PR machine. It works on the principle if you tell enough people that you are the best, then some of the idiots will believe you.