3 January 2023

Chef Luke Sankey brings his passion for ingredients to The Dromedary Hotel, Central Tilba

| Lisa Herbert
Join the conversation
chef in restaurant

From South London to Central Tilba, Luke Sankey brings his paddock-to-plate philosophy. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

Chef Luke Sankey hails from South London. He loves structure, produce-driven food, progressive techniques and passing on his knowledge to others. He also cites his mum as his foodie inspiration.

Sankey has just taken on the role of head chef at The Dromedary Hotel, a much-loved, historic pub in the heritage village of Central Tilba on the NSW South Coast.

We caught up with chef on the front deck of The Drom (as it’s locally known) just 10 days into his new role.

Sankey says he learned about food around his mother’s dinner table.

”My mum was a foodie, she was a fabulous cook, as were all her friends. She ran cafes with my dad and she’s pretty much my foodie inspiration.”

In thinking about a career as a cook, Sankey says: “I knew I loved food and flavour and plants and animals, that’s what you work with in kitchens, and the molecular gastronomy thing was coming through, which is a bit sciencey, so it started to tick all my boxes.

“Then, walking into a kitchen, the camaraderie. But you know, this was London in the ’90s, so it was all that, yes, but also all the heat and the violence that it was back then, which doesn’t really work anymore.

“You can’t extract the best from your team leading from fear. But that’s what I went through. It taught me to push myself.”

restaurant diners

Dining at The Drom will transform incrementally under new head chef Luke Sankey. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

Young Sankey began the first year of an apprenticeship at the two-Michelin-starred Cafe Royal. He progressed quickly, and over the next six years cooked around London, at Mirabelle, The Savoy under Anton Edelmann, finally working for famous hospitality group Corbin & King at The Ivy, Le Caprice, and eventually J. Sheekey.

By the late ’90s, Sankey was working 100-hour weeks, driving himself and being driven.

“I wanted it,” he admits. “I understood I had to push and gain the skills, put down the synapses really early on, so I went in pretty hard and burned out pretty hard.”

At J. Sheekey, Sankey met and fell for an Australian woman who was working front-of-house and due to return home to Sydney.

“So I was looking at everything, looking at this country [Australia], and life seemed a bit easier, like, restaurants close at 10 pm! In London, I’d still be taking orders at midnight.”

Over the next 17 years in Sydney, Sankey cooked at restaurants including Balzac, Quay and Darlinghurst’s The Owl House. Then six years ago, they packed up and moved to Moruya on the NSW South Coast.

Once settled in Moruya, Sankey created the experimental South Coast Dining Project, a twice-monthly degustation pop-up that attracted pre-bookings for up to six months. Then COVID kicked in.

READ ALSO Why farmers still rule the roost, rain, hail or (no) shine

Just as he was considering restarting the Dining Project, the call came from The Dromedary Hotel.

So what does Sankey have planned for The Drom?

“The pub’s owners are very forward-thinking. It will be about letting the ingredients speak for themselves. We’re talking to many local producers and growers, people that love their produce, so we need to do the same, treat it with integrity and respect.

The Dromedary Hotel

The Dromedary Hotel owners refer to themselves as custodians and celebrate its history. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

“Paddock to plate is definitely what we’ll be doing here at The Drom.

“We’ll keep the pub classics and elevate them, slowly moving into some slightly technical dishes.

“We’ll change incrementally. A dish is about the customer and the plate, but it’s also got to be didactic for the kitchen, because teaching is a massive part of what we do. What the kitchen crew can do is all part of dish design.

“I’m trying to build a crew of people that really want to cook, and with waiters who want to serve. The synergy is so important.”

With the macho tradition of London restaurants in the ’90s far behind him, how does this high-energy chef maintain balance?

“Jumping out of planes is my passion, so for my downtime, that’s what I do. It is for me true freedom … When you exit an aircraft, everything else is irrelevant, and until your feet are on the ground, you’re in the now. I don’t need a day off, I just need a jump.”

The Dromedary Hotel is open every day from 11 am to 10 pm, closing at midnight Friday and Saturday.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.