Both Birkenstock and Luke Dale-Roberts are different, yet both brands embody progress and quality. Pictures: Supplied
Both Birkenstock and Luke Dale-Roberts are different, yet both brands embody progress and quality. Pictures: Supplied

Chef Luke Dale-Roberts on footwear, leadership and inspiration

By Marchelle Abrahams Time of article published Nov 14, 2019

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British-born chef Luke Dale-Roberts is a name synonymous with award-winning gourmet fare. Not only has he been in the restaurant industry for more than 20 years, but his Midas touch has turned all his business endeavours to gold.

Testament to this was The Test Kitchen coming in as 44th in the World and 1st in Africa at the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards.

The creative genius behind the Cape Town restaurant has collaborated with German brand Birkenstock to kit out his staff with the sophisticated version of the Boston clog.

To find out more about the collab and how he keeps his kitchen in tip-top shape, we chatted to Dale-Roberts.

Q: What inspired you to collaborate with a brand such as Birkenstock?

A: Birkenstock approached us through a friend and wanted to know what our favourite footwear in the kitchen was. Of course, we said ‘Birkenstock’.

It’s the go-to footwear; it’s comfortable, it’s durable, it’s stylish and ticks all the right boxes. They then said, ‘How about we furnish your team with the shoes?’ and we said, ‘Great’. We did a photo shoot in the shoes. Things like that are great for morale.

Q: How do you motivate and support your staff?

A: We spend a lot of time on that - everything from getting in industrial psychologists to analyse how we can improve communication. We work hard on being respectful to one another and have core values that I keep in the business.

I think creating a sound environment where people feel like there’s something bigger is important. And upskilling is something we’re paying a lot of attention to now.

Q: I’m glad you mention upskilling because many companies don’t really realise the importance of this.

A: We’re doing initiatives in the townships. We’re training 18-year-olds in basic cooking techniques. We’re taking a lot of guys and bringing them through the scullery and giving them opportunities. We’re creating an atmosphere of belief and loyalty.

Q: Explain your leadership strategy?

A: Lead by example. Always be honest, whether it’s difficult or pleasurable. I try to inspire by cooking.

It’s the thing I love the most. When I’m cooking and I’m showing people what to do and working on a new dish, my enthusiasm carries through to them and so on down the chain.

Q: What tips do you have for budding chefs who want to deliver meals in a world-class kitchen?

A: Be willing to make sacrifices because it’s not an easy job. Work hard, learn with your eyes and ears. Get yourself in a good kitchen with a good mentor.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Everything, that’s the thing. The seasons are the base to my inspirations. But, I could see a plate that inspires me to do a dish.

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