Luke Cockerill, protégé of Michelin-starred chef Michael O'Hare, is about to take on his first head chef position at the new Rabbit in the Moon restaurant in the National Football Museum in Manchester, where he will serve ‘space-age Asian' cuisine. The 21-year-old chef speaks to Katie Pathiaki
Where did you start your catering career?
While at catering college I worked in a few hotels and bistros around York, but I started my career properly at the Blind Swine in York. That was Mike's first solo venture. I was only 17, but it was the first place where I had a genuine feeling of belonging. It gave a sense of direction and purpose to my cooking that I'd not felt before.
How is Michael O'Hare as a boss?
What have you learnt from him?
I've learnt that food and cooking in general is just a medium of expressing your personality. It's not something that you can become truly great at by just studying cookbooks and working for top chefs around the world. It's an art form, like painting or music. A lot of chefs will endlessly search for originality, but end up getting lost and forgetting that the only truly original thing is who they are.
Is the Rabbit in the Moon your venture or a sister site to the Man Behind the Curtain?
It's a sister restaurant in terms of being part of Mike's brand, but the creative responsibility is mine. All the food is my own, and I've been allowed input into the other aspects of the restaurant too, so it has its own identity.
What exactly is 'space-age Asian cuisine'?
Space age to me is a term that can be defined as innovative, forward-thinking and generally pushing the boundaries. It's about disregarding the status quo. We found that no other labels fitted the style of food that I wanted to go for, and we didn't want to be constrained by anything generic or by traditions of authenticity.
Will the cocktails at the Rabbit in the Moon - which are created by Matt Whiley of Fantastic Mr Fox - be paired with your dishes?
The cocktails will not be paired with the food directly, but they have been created to enhance the overall dining experience. Matt has worked to distil our own flavoured alcohols to create truly unique cocktails.
Did you ever see yourself in this position back when you were studying?
Not at all. Where I am now is a mixture of being in the right place at the right time, meeting the right people, and taking up opportunities.