Luke Mangan appears to be very comfortable in his role as one of Australia’s leading celebrity chefs. That’s the first impression I received as he welcomed me into his restaurant, glass brasserie, in Sydney with a hearty smile and generous demeanor. Relaxed, confident and cheerful, it’s obvious that Luke’s goal is to make sure his guests are completely comfortable not only here at glass, but in his restaurants around the globe. (He serves fine, natural Australian cuisine with a twist at The Palace in Melbourne; Salt grill in Singapore; Salt and the adjoining World Wine Bar in Tokyo; and, Salt grill onboard three P&O cruise liners.)
It’s with Mangan’s confident ease that he has grown his business from a solitary restaurant in Sydney into a global brand comprised of multiple restaurants, cookbooks, a partnership with Virgin Australia and beyond. But how did Luke become the successful celebrity chef and brand that he is today?
He’s a hardworking boy from Victoria who trained under renowned Australian chef Hermann Schneider of Two Faces restaurant fame. After years of toiling in the kitchen under Schneider, Luke made his way to Europe to learn from top chefs before making his way back to Australia to make a name for himself.
It was in 1999 when Luke Mangan opened up Salt, his first restaurant in Sydney. In its first year alone, Salt had a turnover of $5.9 million and was named the Best New Restaurant in the Sydney Morning Herald. With dishes like tempura quail and roasted barramundi, Luke Mangan was on the map in the eyes of discerning and often big name diners. Among his guests were Tom Cruise, Baz Luhrmann and future business partner Sir Richard Branson. Not too shabby for a 29-year-old head chef and budding restaurateur. It was here at Salt where Luke learned the trials and tribulations of owning a business—but learn he did, which helped fuel the business knowhow of his future brand.
It was also around this time that Luke jumped into the publishing world and wrote the first of his four cookbooks, BLD, short for Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner. This cookbook opportunity turned Luke into a bona fide celebrity chef, as he landed appearance after appearance on morning and talk shows. Mangan has since gone on to publish three more cookbooks and an autobiography, which he says is intended to inspire young chefs. He says, “I did the autobiography because of my involvement with (TV program) MasterChef. It’s about the story of a young, struggling chef who made it. Becoming a successful chef is sort of like becoming a successful actor. It takes so much hard work, and when you get there it’s great.”
Much of that hard work started to pay off when airline tycoon Sir Richard Branson came knocking on Luke’s door. After he was invited to stay and play with Branson on his Caribbean island for two weeks, Luke became the consultant chef for what is now Virgin Australia. Onboard, passengers have the option to sample fare from Luke’s top-quality, fresh, healthy inflight menus.
Still, the bread and butter of Luke’s business ventures are his global restaurants where he creates unique, hard-to-categorize Australian meals pared with some of the best wines in the world. Mangan is quick to point out, though, that he doesn’t like to categorize his restaurants and that they’re intended for everyone. “If a husband and wife want a great night out either alone or with their children, my restaurants will fulfill that wish. I like them to be for everyone. You can come to the wine bar alone and have wine and a great Wagyu burger or come with a group and order great seafood and meat off the grill. One of my goals in owning these restaurants is to promote Australian produce.”
With an impressive resume under his belt, Luke is at the forefront of running a successful brand. He says, “First I established the brand, and now I’m maintaining the quality. I recently took my key management out on a day cruise to identify where we are and to communicate what the brand is about. We’re quite big now with Virgin Australia and other ventures, but my restaurants will always be friendly, relaxed and not formal. We’ll always give the customer whatever they want and I want those involved with my brand to support that notion.”
So, what does the future have in store for Luke Mangan? A new restaurant will open on the Gold Coast later this year, but Luke says, “In five years I hope to have restaurants in Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Perhaps I might even have a boutique hotel!”