Every Tuesday during our Christmas Countdown, Le Cordon Bleu London’s accomplished alumni will be sharing their Christmas stories, to give you a bit of festive inspiration and a unique insight into potential career prospects after acquiring a qualification from the world leading culinary arts, wine and management school!
Next in the alumni series is Luiz Hara, talented chef and founder of the London Foodie blog, who graduated with a Grand Diplôme® in 2012.
What was Christmas like for you growing up?
I grew up in Brazil and lived there until I was nineteen before moving to the UK. I am the son of Japanese and Italian immigrants, my father had an optician shop and my mum owned an Italian restaurant. I grew up behind a shop counter and helping out at the restaurant so I was always dealing with people and working hard helping my parents. Christmas is a particularly busy time if you are in shop-keeping or in the restaurant business but I remember those years fondly.
In Brazil Christmas dinner is celebrated at midnight on the 24th December, and ours was a mixture of traditional Brazilian and Italian dishes like roast pork leg, cassava grit (farofa), lasagne and some delicious Japanese dishes thrown in for good measure. My fondest memories were around this rather gastronomically-confused dinner table!
Why did you choose to enrol at Le Cordon Bleu and what did you learn on the course
After many years in finance and investment banking, I decided to follow my passion for gastronomy and embark on a new career – well into my thirties I realised I needed the best training and qualification I could get in order to have a good head-start. In my mind, Le Cordon Bleu’s Grande Diplome® was and still is, the best qualification in this industry.
I really enjoyed learning from the excellent Chefs and lecturers because of their incredibly high standards and how they pushed us to achieve our best in the kitchen. The training was tough, but it made me realise that to become a successful chef, you need more than just artistic flair and creativity – you need to work hard and learn the essential cooking skills and techniques because there are no shortcuts.
What have you accomplished since graduating?
Since graduating, I have been running my Japanese and Nikkei Supper Club events for thirty people each evening from Wednesday to Saturday at my home in Islington. I serve a ten-course tasting menu and have been very fortunate that my events have always sold out since I started them. Since January 2016 I have also been hosting one guest chef each month at my supper club, offering them a four-night residency and helping to promote their name and work via my networks and social media channels. I work frequently with various brands, including Martell Cognac, Bordeaux Wines, and Stellenbosch Tourism Board to name a few, developing menus, recipes and hosting supper club events for British media and consumers to promote these brands.
I also write as The London Foodie, so my time is spent either planning and cooking for my supper clubs or travelling and collaborating with other chefs to discover new ingredients and cuisines, and writing about these experiences on my blog.
My first cookbook ‘Nikkei Cuisine: Japanese Food the South American Way’ was published in 2015 and I am currently working on a second cookbook to be published in late 2017.
How do you think your diploma from Le Cordon Bleu has contributed to your success?
The Grande Diplome® has given me the credibility to do the work that I do but most importantly, it has given me the confidence to perform my work to the best of my ability. It has also helped me a great deal in terms of publicity because as a new chef in a tough, competitive London market, the qualification from Le Cordon Bleu London has given me the skills and standing that I needed to get started in my new career. It was one of the best investments I have made in myself.
What do you tend to consume on Christmas day and what traditions do you uphold?
I don’t have any particular food traditions over Christmas anymore. We tend to just have friends round for lunch and serve anything from roast goose to sushi with plenty of bubbly. But this year I plan to roast a whole Spanish suckling pig for Christmas!
Despite not having a big family in the UK, I still make sure that certain Christmas rituals are followed – a tree, decorations around the house and invitations to friends for Christmas lunch or drinks throughout the festive season. I am usually quite busy hosting Christmas events for my clients up until the week before the big day, so Christmas week is usually a time for relaxation.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
This may sound like a terrible cliché but it is so true, just believe in yourself. Before leaving investment banking on the wrong side of thirty, I could have stayed on doing the same job, disliking it all the way, just putting in the hours day in and day out and getting my pay cheque at the end of each month without much else to worry about. One day, I realised that I would never excel at what I did because my heart wasn’t in it. How sad would that have been, if I had got to an age where I looked back at my life, and wondered what I could have been if things had been different? We only live once, and so I decided that I had to change my life.
I had so many doubts about myself and my prospects as a chef, and a lot of people also tried to discourage me from taking the plunge – after all I had a mortgage to pay, and there was so much at stake. I am so happy that I believed in myself and decided to quit my job in investment banking and retrain at Le Cordon Bleu – my only regret was not doing it earlier! It has been a tough road but it has paid off a hundred fold.
What is the most important thing about Christmas for you?
Great food enjoyed with the people I care about – it is also a time to think and re-assess, a time to be thankful and to catch up with dear friends over fantastic food!