Luke Mangan, restaurateur and internationally acclaimed innovator.
If you were in Sydney this September for our “Essentials of Foodservice” event, you were lucky enough to hear from Luke Mangan – restaurateur, one of Australia’s leading chefs, and internationally acclaimed innovator – in person. From planes and trains to ships and shore, Luke shared his insights on creating success in business – lessons that can be applied to any dietitian’s career, not just those in foodservice.
Missed the event? You’re in luck – because we’re about to share the highlights of Luke’s wisdom and inspiration with you now.
Luke, you recently said, “There’s no ‘I’ in “team”. How do you build and maintain a positive team culture?
At 35, I nearly went broke. I had three restaurants in Sydney, and things were pretty tough. I was a control freak – I had to do everything.
So I evolved. Now, I involve the chefs to create dishes and their own experiences – it’s not my way or the highway. There are a lot of young people on our teams who are creative and innovative. I encourage that.
Where do you turn for inspiration and creativity?
’m fortunate enough to travel a lot. When I go to new countries, I always try local food, meet local chefs, visit local markets, and drink local wine and beer. Very important. Wherever I go, my staff is always putting new dishes up. “Chef Mangan, can we put this on the menu? What do you think?” That’s really exciting for me, because I’m learning from them.
What do you think is the key to success in business?
Persistency. Knocking on a few doors and writing letters, as I did to get a job at Michel Roux’s Waterside Inn in London.
You’ve had lots of success, but we’d imagine you’ve had a few challenges along the way. How do you overcome them?
There have been lots of ups and downs. And going broke was pretty bad. I almost threw in the whole restaurant career, and looked for something else, but what else could I do? I thought about being a pilot. I learned from my mistake of letting my ego run my restaurants. It was all about me. A restaurant is about the customer. It’s not just about the food.
It’s about the flowers, the music, the lighting, the wine list and the staff that deliver the food. It’s about making sure they’re knowledgeable – but also making sure that they love where they work. It’s got to be an exciting environment. Bringing exciting people into work for you is important.
Your career has taken you to amazing destinations around the globe. Early in your business relationship with Sir Richard, he invited you to his private Caribbean island, Necker. As you can imagine, this is something the rest of us can only dream of. What was it like?
When I got to Necker Island, Sir Richard said to me, “Luke, for the next two weeks, I don’t really want you to cook. I just want you to enjoy the island.” I said, “I brought some chefs with me.” He goes, “They can enjoy it, too!”
So we went out catching lobsters, and we played tennis. I learned how to wakeboard; that was cool, he taught me how to do that. And I cooked one meal on the island. That was his way of getting me to cook on Virgin Atlantic, launch Virgin Americas Business Class, and eventually to do Virgin Australia.
How do you ensure the delivery of fresh and healthy meals in the unique foodservice venues you cater for for example, aboard Virgin fights?
When Virgin first came to me, they wanted to make a difference in the customer experience. My goal is still the same – to give the customer a restaurant experience in the sky. Every day we’re getting closer and closer to that. There are limitations in how we do the food preparation, but I love a challenge – a challenge is good and keeps things exciting. It comes back to using the best fresh ingredients, cooked well and kept uncomplicated.
Looking at the hospital setting, how can dietitians balance our desire to surprise and delight our patients and residents, and serve them nourishing food, with costs and staff pressures?
My mother is in hospital in Melbourne; she’s a great cook, and rings me every day, and says, “Can’t you do something with hospital food?” And I explain, “Well, there’s costs…it does come down to dollars and cents.”
In a restaurant, you want to use the best ingredients you can, and keep meals simple. I’m constantly telling my team to use the best and the freshest – but don’t complicate it with so many favours and ingredients, which costs more as well.
Hospitals can be innovative and creative, too. A hospital could do fresh steamed salmon with green beans and a lovely dressing of olive oil, tomato, capers and fresh herbs. That’s not expensive, and not a lot of labour to prepare. When we do food for airlines and ships, we’ve got to make a profit and be creative, as well. I don’t think it’s dissimilar.
What role do you think dietitians can play in the foodservice restaurant space?
Everyone is looking for the healthier option, the cleaner option. Dietitians have a big role there: educating people on how to eat well, and to eat clean, and healthy and sustainable. We do a lot with TAFE colleges, and with young chefs and people in the industry. There is a lack of education on healthy eating. My colleagues, like Jamie Oliver, are doing a brilliant job on education. We’ve got to get kids to eat fresh – and understand fresh food. That’s really important.
To keep up with Luke’s latest adventures, visit www.lukemangan.com
There’s another reason that the chance to chat to Luke was near and dear to our hearts. Our passion is for educating and inspiring dietitians to reach their career dreams. Luke, too, is passionate — about supporting the professional development of young chefs, waiters and restaurateurs in Australia.
He has become a leading advocate for elevating the perception of careers in his industry to counter the critical shortage of chefs and other restaurant personnel. Jobs are going unfilled, due to outdated views of these careers as being low-paying and without growth potential. Add to this the image problem that exists due to TV’s glamorisation of culinary careers.
Luke’s “Inspired Series” works to foster new talent through mentorships and training with high – profile chefs. For those already in the profession, Luke’s “Appetite for Excellence Awards” program helps chefs grow their careers by making new contacts and advancing their skills.
How he finds time to do all of this, we don’t know – but we’re keen to learn from his successes. After all, the struggle to elevate your profession and change outdated perceptions is all too familiar to dietitians.
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