Cooking up inspiration: Head Chef Luke Nair



Can you imagine being in the food industry for 20 years or more? That’s a huge chunk of your life! I couldn’t think of a better way to have lived… The Oyster Box Hotel Head Chef Luke Nair, has been in the food industry for over 30 years!


Head Chef Luke Nair was destined to be in the kitchen, as he points out cooking ran in his family. His food journey started from his family’s humble kitchen and under the guidance of his Chef Dad a and Mom, who was also a really great cook. “Food was always important in our family & that’s where I learnt how to cook Indian food with style and flavour,” says Head Chef Nair.


Although Head Chef Nair was in two minds as to whether to pursue engineering or follow the family path and become a chef; he decided to pursue his cooking and started his training at ML Sultan Technikon, qualifying at the Umhlanga Sands Hotel. “I had an incredible Mentor in Chef Hans Bachmann at the Umhlanga Sands… he inspired me and I’ve never looked back,” says Head Chef Nair.


“I’ve been with the Red Carnation Hotel Group for 7 years & at The Oyster Box for the past five. Before that I was at The Royal Hotel for 20 years,” Head Chef Nair shares. Being in the industry for so many years, many achievements have been accomplished, Chef Nair shares; “As a younger Chef I traveled internationally and took part in many competitions, many of which I won… this gave me a lot of confidence. At The Royal I made High Tea for Prince Charles & Lady Diana; I cooked all meals for The Queen for four days; and cooked for Tony Blair & Al Gore. When I was at The Royal, I was the first non-white Executive Sous Chef in a 5-Star hotel in South Africa.”

Head Chef Luke NAir & The Oyster Box Hotel GM Wayne Coetzer
Head Chef Luke NAir & The Oyster Box Hotel GM Wayne Coetzer

At home Head Chef Nair leads a simple life, with his family as his focal point. When he is not cooking grand meals for The Oyster Box Hotel, he keeps it simple in his kitchen with freshly made pasta and concocted sauces for the family. Chef Nair says, “I had a heart-attack last year, so now I take life a little more easily/slowly; I love spending time in my garden and with my wife, children and grandchildren; my family are a central part of my life outside of the kitchen.”


Chef Nair has truly dedicated his life to the love of food and cooking. His Cooking up Inspiration interview struck a chord with me. It’s true what they say, follow your heart and not your head when pursuing your future; as there is so much more satisfaction in the life you end up leading.


Below are a few fun quick questions Head Chef Nair answered. Be sure to also try out his lovely Chicken and Prawn curry recipe.


Quick questions:

1. What is your favourite family home cooked meal and who cooks it the best?
Pot Roast Chicken cooked by my wife Shirley.
2. Best cooking advice you ever received and who gave it to you.
Always & only use the freshest ingredients available.
3. What advice would you like to give budding chefs or food obsessed home cooks like myself?
Keep it Simple
Use the freshest ingredients
Never stop learning; things are changing so rapidly, so in order to stay relevant you have to keep improving yourself.
4. What is your favourite kitchen appliance?
My garnishing tools & a sharp knife (I have over 30 knives in my collection); it’s a Chef-thing!


5. What is your motto in the kitchen?
‘Keep It Cooking’


6. Who is your chef hero?
Gary Rhodes
Chef Bachmann


7. Complete this sentence: food is…
“The way to the heart is through the mouth.”


OYSTERboxCURRYbuffet 02

Chicken & Prawn Curry


500g large prawns shelled and deveined
500g chicken breast cubed
160g butter
60g ginger/garlic paste
100g onion paste
200g tomatoes blended and strained
20g cumin
20g fennel powder
10g turmeric powder
60g mild curry powder
10g elachi powder
60ml pure honey
150ml fresh cream
100ml coconut cream
10g fresh coriander
5g curry leaves



Melt butter on low heat, add onion paste simmer for 2min; add ginger/garlic paste and cook for 4min; add turmeric, curry powder & chicken cubes & cook for 5min; add prawns and juice of strained tomatoes and simmer for 4min; add all spice powders and cook for 5min; add fresh and coconut cream and continue to cook for 5 min without the lid; add honey, coriander, curry leaves (finely chopped); add salt. cover pot and leave it on the stove for a few min.

NB: This meal must be cooked on very low heat with light stirring.