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The Oyster Box Hotel’s head chef Luke Nair retires

Luke Nair retires from The Oyster Box Hotel as head chef after 15 years.

Luke Nair retires from The Oyster Box Hotel as head chef after 15 years.

Published May 19, 2022

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Durban: After serving delicacies in some of the best restaurants in South Africa and internationally, chef Luke Nair has put away his knives after more than four decades.

Nair, 66, of Verulam, who has worked as the head chef at the Oyster Box Hotel for 15 years, retired this month.

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However, his journey into the world of food started in his kitchen at age 9 with his mother.

“As a child and while growing up, I had two passions – cooking and cars. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mother.

“I watched what she was doing and helped her cut the vegetables. Soon thereafter, I was in front of the stove. The first meal I prepared by myself was a fish dish. I was so proud.

“However, while in high school I considered studying motor engineering, but when I finished school, I got a job in a restaurant. I started as a learner chef at a small Portuguese restaurant on the Durban beachfront. My passion for cooking just grew.”

Nair said while working, he did a chef course at the then-ML Sultan Technikon.

“The course was a few days a week and it was held in the evenings. After working for a while at the restaurant, I left. I then got a job as a trainee chef at Umhlanga Sands Resort where I did my in-house training. I qualified as a chef in 1977.”

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After working for a few years at the resort, he decided to explore the world.

“I travelled to India, Germany and England and worked in some of the finest restaurants. I also entered several cooking competitions, many of which I won.”

Nair said that in the late 1980s he was employed as the executive sous chef at the Royal Hotel.

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“Those were my glory years. I was the first black executive sous chef in a five-star hotel in South Africa. The hotel had seven restaurants and boasted massive banquet and function facilities. I loved being in the kitchen. Apart from preparing a variety of dishes, I got to interact with staff and train student chefs.

“However, one of the highlights was cooking for various local and foreign dignitaries. I prepared a high tea for Prince Charles and the late Lady Diana, and cooked all the meals for Queen Elizabeth during her four-day stay at the hotel."

Nair said that after more than 25 years at the Royal Hotel, he took up a new responsibility – becoming the head chef at the Oyster Box Hotel.

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“The managing director approached me a couple of years ago and I was keen about starting my next adventure. Furthermore, the Durban CBD was deteriorating as crime and violence increased.

“At the Oyster Box as head chef, I had to ensure the smooth running of the kitchen and daily planning, as well as training student chefs. This was another career highlight. I worked with a great team and met new people every day.”

Nair said that while he prepared a variety of dishes, his signature meal was a chicken and prawn curry.

“This dish dates back to my days at the Royal Hotel and my recipe has been shared worldwide and served at many restaurants and functions. It is a great feeling when I am told or receive messages on how much people enjoyed my dishes.”

Nair said while he may be retired from working in the hotel industry, he had a new venture.

“I already miss being in the kitchen. I am currently in the process of opening a small home-based catering business. I hope to have it up and running by June.”

His advice to aspiring chefs: “If you want to work in this industry, you have to have a passion for food, food service and people. You must also be willing to learn. For me, this has been the most exciting and rewarding 47-year-long journey.”

Nair is married to Shirley and they have two children – Sylvester, an executive chef working and living in New Zealand, and Francesca, who works in the finance industry. They also have four grandchildren.

“Funny enough, when the grandchildren are at home with us, they want to eat their grandmother’s food,” he said.

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