Luke Hayes-Alexander- LUST- Luke’s Underground Supper Table
The term child prodigy is a label that isn’t usually attached to chefs, but Luke Hayes-Alexander may be the first to fit that description. In what can only be described as a self-fulfilling prophecy it’s fitting that his mother had named the restaurant after him when he was just a baby, with Luke officially inheriting the kitchen before most kids even have their first job.
Luke’s Gastronomy, the Kingston restaurant that he shared with his mom was his home base, school and culinary institute all wrapped up in one all-encompassing ball, and after helming the kitchen as exec chef for 8 years, the mom/son shop closed up shop in search of greener pastures. Considering the bulk of their customers were making the pilgrimage east on the 401, Toronto was a natural spot for their next venture.
Luke is fluid in his speech and ideas when it comes to food. One adjective that frequently pops up in conversation is ‘sexy’; a term that is rarely associated with food, and that’s what arguably prepares you best for Luke and his unbridled love of cooking.
“People just love coming into a venue and meeting new people, giving them a new experience like nothing else they can get in a restaurant. A 20 year old bartender sitting next to a 70 year old real estate mogul, and they’re both bonding over something intimate like food, it’s a totally different vibe to anything else in the city” says Luke.
Unconventional in both his lack of formal training and his modern approach to menu design, Luke is eager to change the conventions that plague most restaurants (Toronto and otherwise), with rotating dinners at L.U.S.T (Luke’s Underground Supper Table) in Kensington Market. His original approach to the 4 or 5 course meals means that diners never quite know what they’ll be eating, keeping the surprise to the end, and invariably, ensuring his menu never becomes stale. It’s also difficult for guests to plan wine pairings, something that Luke smirks away with “I do give them a hint if they’re really pressing”.
A stint on season one of Chopped Canada, a spotlight on L.A based food chronicle Crave, a TedX talk at Queen’s University have all moulded and forced Luke to cook and act beyond his tender age of 25. While some were still honing their knife skills, Luke was learning the ins and outs of what Romans used to eat and other quirky food history on his self-taught and self-guided food education. Deciding to become a chef at age 11, Luke was home schooled throughout high school which granted him a creative license in terms of training. He immersed himself in cooking at his mom’s restaurant and kickstarted his journey into the restaurant business when he accepted the title of Executive Chef at age 15. Located in Kingston, Luke’s garnered critical acclaim for the rookie chef, and while most of his peers were practicing for their driver’s test, Luke was fascinated by flavours, injecting his rampant enthusiasm for cooking on each plate.
Luke continues to pour over cookbooks for inspiration, albeit now instead of ancient Rome he’s more focused on South East Asia, China and Australia, with Christine Manfield , an Australian chef who wrote the cookbook Spice as a guide until he finally takes some time off to travel around and see the world (something he actually shares in common with his peers).
“It’s all about the balance of the flavours and really researching each region and trying to understand as best as possible the different combinations of ingredients and how to balance the different flavours and how to incorporate as many different things, to me that’s the exciting part” gushes Luke.
Describing his supper club as the ‘anti-restaurant’, with no liquor licence (his L.U.S.T venue is strictly BYOB), menu or formal address, Luke is steering just about as far away from the restaurant label as possible. A two level loft in Kensington Market is home to his supper club which is routinely packed to the brim every Saturday night for his culinary offerings, which vary in theme and style, but hone in on one common goal; explosive flavours creating “lusty” atmosphere, with DIY garnishes (think cilantro or hot red peppers) and communal tables meant for lingering and mingling.
“People are excited by those flavours because really, they can’t get them at any other restaurant in the city” explains Luke.
Not one to sit idle, Luke isn’t resting on his laurels, and is aiming to unleash his modern approach to South East Asian flavours in a more accessible platform. He’s in talks with other potential investors to bring his ‘lusty’ brand of food mainstream, like his ‘sexy noodles’ where he makes noodles and carefully works with them to get the gluten out, rolls it into a cylinder and cooks it on high heat giving the noodles a distinct crunch before they fall apart into a mound. His newest restaurants are still at least a year or so away though, but clearly Luke has time on his side.
The supper club is a permanent fixture though, with mom Carrie navigating front of house duties while Luke maintains his perch in the kitchen, and handling the website and bookings “I like to think of myself as a Chef/Concierge” says Luke. Recent communal dining conquests have seen the likes of a modernized French menu featuring recipes like the classic Beef Bourguignon in celebration of Julia Child’s birthday. Clearly Luke is wise beyond his years.
L.U.S.T tickets can be bought ahead of time here and usually run between $50-55 a head.
Hungry for more? Read my feature on Foodism on LUST here.