You might have heard about the young culinary phenom Luke Hayes-Alexander. If you haven't, you should know that Luke just turned 20 today, but has been Executive Chef at Luke's Gastronomy in Kingston, ON for nearly 5 years. That's right. He took over his parent's restaurant at the tender age of 15. He's also recently given a TEDx talk at Queen's University on "The Future of Food", and has been featured in a number of media outlets like Toronto Life and Food & Wine.
Luke, as his parents before him, has a real commitment to using local ingredients and a passion for making those ingredients into creative and tasty dishes.
(He) is considered a master Charcutier; using local pastured animals, he does all his own butchery. He changes the menu frequently throughout the year to reflect his philosophy of eating as Mother Nature intended – locally and seasonally. He takes pride in the fact that he procures 95% of his ingredients from local farmers and crafts everything on his menus by hand.
Rossy, Joel and I, along with Vicki & Tim from Vicki's Veggies, made the trip to Luke's and were greeted by mom, Carrie. We started off with a bottle each of the restaurant's own red and white wines, then proceeded to order pretty much the entire menu to share.
While I enjoyed the meal overall, I didn't love everything on the menu. For example, the solid and liquid herb salad was overpoweringly herbaceous. However, everything looked beautiful. Luke's creativity is certainly unquestionable. There were two dishes in particular, in my opinion, that matched good looks and fantastic taste perfectly.
You know, I never thought I liked duck, but recent encounters with fantastic duck dishes have me singing a new tune. Luke's "Cosmic Duck" was tender and succulent, with a perfectly crisp exterior. It's a leg confit and "pulled" breast, with strawberry pain perdu, tomato, duck "comet", and a home-made marshmallow. The bird itself was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and I could have eaten this all night long.
The other dish I went absolutely gaga for was the vegetarian dish "The Canvas". It was a ragout of pistachios, quinoa, vanilla, rosemary, rose petals and rootbeer. Sounds like kind of a weird mix, right? Well, let me tell you, if you have the opportunity to put this in your mouth, take it. The nuts are cooked until just-soft and the blend of flavourants in the stew give it an almost cocoa flavour. It's deep and complex and effing delicious. It's served on an oat biscuit that serves as a kind of crust and provides just the right amount of body. I'm a little in love with this dish.
There were a few dish elements that are worthy of mention as well. Any of the lemon treatments were fantastic; from the preserved to the crisped confit bits. The ginger refresher accompanying the rabbit was wrapped in edible cellophane and was a delightful bit of whimsy. Then there was the umami. When I saw that on the menu, I thought, "How the hell do you make umami, much less plate it?" Essentially, Luke takes bits of everything that make up the fifth flavour, umami, and turns them into a little buillon of concentrated flavour. Fascinating.
Nearly all the dishes we tried showed a carefully considered balance of flavours and textures that reflects Luke's approach. It sounds kind of strange to say, considering how long he's been cooking professionally already, but I'm very interested to see the evolution of his career and his food in the next few years. It will be interesting to see if he gets the opportunity to travel to other parts of the world and gain more first-hand experience with different food cultures and ingredients that may not be available here in Canada. In the meantime, he's continuing to do some interesting and tasty culinary experiments, and it's well worth a trip to Kingston to test out the results.