Luke Dale Roberts is the second top chef to quit the Eat Out Awards

The acclaimed chef tells us why he's decided to withdraw The Test Kitchen from the running for Eat Out's annual Top 10 restaurants list

08 December 2019 - 00:00 By Hilary Biller
Luke Dale Roberts of The Test Kitchen is one of the country's most lauded chefs.
Luke Dale Roberts of The Test Kitchen is one of the country's most lauded chefs.
Image: Andy Lund

Much-lauded chef Luke Dale Roberts of The Test Kitchen in Woodstock, Cape Town, is super chilled. Speaking hours after the announcement last week that he is stepping down from the Eat Out Awards, he's oblivious to the storm he has whipped up. He's just returned from a family holiday in the Maldives and life could not be rosier. 

Restaurant awards are interesting beasts, never far from controversy, and the Eat Out Awards - established in SA in 1998 - are no different.

Dale Roberts's announcement came hot on the heels of Restaurant Mosaic's chef Chantel Dartnall's decision to withdraw from the awards.

Over the past couple of years I've felt there's a directive that has become more restrictive, more prescriptive and dictatorial in respect to what the chefs should be doing
Luke Dale Roberts

"It's fair to say the Eat Out Awards have been good to me over the years," says Dale Roberts, probably the chef with the most Eat Out accolades under his belt. "It's something when I first arrived in South Africa [he was born in the UK and trained in Europe] I was very focused on."

But "over the past couple of years I've felt there's a directive that has become more restrictive, more prescriptive and dictatorial in respect to what the chefs should be doing", he says.

"When I opened The Test Kitchen, for me it was an expression of my creativity, so for me as a creative person I honestly can say I feel relieved."

In her response to Dale Roberts' s decision, Aileen Lamb, MD of New Media, the owners of the Eat Out Awards, played down the news. She said the reason for the chefs' stepping down was "to make space for the next generation of younger chefs", something - among other reasons - Dartnall and Dale Roberts expressed.

Lamb went on to say that they are working on a new model, in collaboration with all restaurants, to be announced in early 2020.

The night before his announcement, Dale Roberts and Dartnall's restaurants received top ratings in the 2020 La Liste Restaurant Awards, announced in Paris and covering 195 countries. Both received an impressive 94 points out of 100.

Dale Roberts is unfazed. "I didn't look at La Liste today, I didn't know they were happening." He hesitates. "That's where I am, I just want to concentrate on the thing that makes me happy ... and that's cooking," he says.