Local spotlight: Luke Foyle
By Gail Williams | Photo by Tabarak Salman
Come as you are
If a bar’s at capacity almost every night, then you can bet the owners are doing something right. Gail Williams meets Juanita’s head chef Luke Foyle.
When Luke Foyle took over Juanita’s humble kitchen, he felt like he had stepped into a pair of comfortable old slippers.
What made him so happy was a sandwich press, a domestic hotplate and a bench top deep fryer, all vastly different to the equipment he used in a former life as a fine dining chef at one of Perth’s top restaurants.
(A)lure at Crown Perth was where, as a teenager, Foyle mastered the art of cooking with sous vide machines, teppanyaki grills, pizza ovens, blast chillers and blade flame cook tops.
But 14 years on, while labouring day and night with his two business partners to freshen up their new bar venture, he rekindled his love affair with Subiaco and chucked his ego out the door. And without any whizzbang gadgetry or industry awards to vie for, he’s as happy as a puppy with a pig’s ear.
“I was born in Subi and lived here until I was two before the family moved to Albany,” he says. “So coming back was like coming home. I couldn’t be happier than I am now. I love the community atmosphere here, regulars dropping in who have become friends. And I love churning out the food I like with the basic equipment I have got.”
Foyle – and his business partners, Jeremy Diaz and Anthony Princi who he previously worked with at Bivouac – are part of a new breed of hip hospitality dudes breathing new life into Rokeby Road while discovering its many charms.
When the trio bought Juanita’s from Murray Gill and Juanita Hille last December they found themselves in good company – Patrick Ryan and Jeremy Prus (Dilly Dally), Paul and Jaycinta Zammit (Lady of Ro), Dave Allan and Lawson Douglas (Subi Hotel) and, most recently, Larry Cherubino (Cherubino’s City Cellar).
What do they all bring to the ‘Make Subi Cool Again’ party? Truckloads of hospitality cred, that’s what.
Foyle’s resumé alone reads like a flow chart for culinary caché with references from some of the most respected operators around.
It goes back to 2006 when, on the day he passed his driving test, he set off from Albany with little more than a chef’s hat gleaned from Albany’s Esplanade Hotel. He was quickly scooped up by (A)lure restaurant, which was rated one of the best in Perth at the time.
“I finished my apprenticeship there under Sean Marco who was a huge mentor to me,” says Foyle.
“I still make one of the dishes sometimes at home, the lobster ravioli, which people still talk about.”
The experience equipped him with all the sophisticated cheffy skills and techniques to guarantee him a job almost anywhere. But his career took a casual Mediterranean turn when Michael Forde approached him to work at now defunct Mt Lawley’s Cantina 663.
“I fell in love with that style of restaurant,” he says.
He’s also done stints at Ace Pizza, Joe Beef in Montreal, The Old Crow in Newcastle Street and Mrs S in Maylands.
But he’s perhaps best known for his Middle Eastern-inspired share plates such as goat shoulder braised in master stock, roasted eggplant and grilled haloumi at Bivouac. And that’s how, while working at Subiaco’s Lulu La Delizia, he was offered a chance to join his former bosses in what he calls “this crazy Juanita’s venture”.
“I got a phone call from Jeremy saying this site had become available and asking me to go for a drink here,” he says. “I told him he had lost his mind. It wasn’t our vibe at all. It was full of bric-a-brac. It was all cluttered and cramped. Jeremy’s got this great power of seeing potential in things, while I can deal with the here and now and just focus on the labour and be the workhorse. But I trusted his instinct and here we are.”
The trio threw themselves into repainting the walls, redoing the floors, opening up the side room and adding more couches and tall tables.
“As we worked, I started falling in love with it,” says Foyle. “It’s an old house which had been turned into a corner art supplies store, and then Juanita’s. It just started to take on a life of its own.”
And, it seems, the regulars have also fallen in love with him. People from all walks of life and all demographics fill the 100-seater on a nightly basis. Along with the 82-year old lady who can sink a pint of beer faster than any tradie, it’s not unusual to see Little Creatures founder, Nic Trimboli and his wife, Rose, take up a leather couch, or Adam Gilchrist and wife, Mel, popping by to say “hello”. Subiaco councilor Murray Rowe is a familiar figure along with former Perth City Councilor Rob Butler. And it all adds up to one big friendly party with people table hopping and doing their best to talk bartender, Gianni, into making them a margarita.
“We generally don’t do cocktails but if a customer wants one we will get them to ask who’s on to see if they will make one for them,” says Foyle. “That’s how we roll.”
With limited kitchen space and minimum equipment Foyle has kept his menu brief – it’s listed on the blackboard along with the wine selections.
There’s his signature duck liver parfait, a charcuterie selection and sliders. There’s also a definite focus on European wines along with the usual suspects such as New Zealand or Australian sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and French rosé.
Our motto is “come as you are and drink what you like.”
Sounds pretty good to me.