Kitchen Tips

Foodie destination: Luke's Kitchen, Kuaotunu

Beginning with just a small caravan and a jar of sundried tomatoes, Luke’s Kitchen is now an essential dining spot on the Coromandel’s east coast. Rustic, relaxed and staunchly local, it’s the kind of place you’d visit once and never want to leave.

By Harriet Keown
There aren't many places to eat on the upper east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, and even fewer options in the small coastal town of Kuaotunu. Luckily for locals and the throngs of visitors, Luke's Kitchen is there to provide "good honest food" on the daily, with their delicious made-from-scratch pizzas, seafood and salads, as well as organic coffee and daily baked goods. With regular live music and a warm local vibe, Luke's Kitchen feels almost like it could be an extension of your own home. We talk to owner Luke Reilly about how the restaurant has evolved from its humble beginnings to the icon it is today, and score the secret recipe to their ever-delicious 'Neverfail' pizza.

Q: Can you tell us the story behind Luke’s Kitchen?

I started working in kitchens from the age of 13, beginning my journey as a dishie. After finishing my studies and becoming a chef, I spent time travelling, living and cooking at many different restaurants throughout Australia and the Pacific Islands. Luke's Kitchen began nine years ago, after my Dad suggested I come home and open a small food caravan on the family land in Kuaotunu. I spent my last few dollars on a jar of sundried tomatoes before we opened!
My first year I surfed the days and served food for locals in the evenings while they entertained themselves with music sessions amongst Dad's mechanics garage. They started calling it Luke's Kitchen, the name stuck and we slowly grew as the people came! I had never imagined that Luke's Kitchen would be where it is today, and I believe that is what has helped us keep our rustic beach vibe, known for treating our customers as a mate popping in for some good honest food and a chat!

Q: How does your Kuaotunu location influence your business?

Being nestled in a small coastal village a stone's throw from the beach, removed from the hustle and bustle, sets the vibe for our customers to relax, creating a space for locals, tourists and weekend warriors to enjoy all year round.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for the dishes on your menu?

The menu is inspired by many factors. From my travels and experiences cooking, by the environment we have around us, utilising seasonal and fresh ingredients where possible, and focusing on simplicity and health. We are very spoilt to have fresh seafood available, such as our locally-harvested mussels. Also, creating spin-offs from old classics, like our Triple P Pizza from the well-known 'surf and turf' menu.

Q: What makes your menu memorable?

We believe in offering the full experience with the menu, from watching the pizza being made and cooked in front of our customers' eyes to serving them local craft beers and local organic coffee. Simple, good food done well.

Q: What is your favourite item on your menu and why?

My favourite is always our next creation on our menu, but for now I always come back to the Neverfail Pizza – a consistent crowd-pleaser utilising fresh fish, handmade pizza dough, a tasty tomato sauce and a wood-fired oven, created from days of spearfishing with mates and making pizzas for ourselves with the fresh fish we had caught.

Q: Are there any sustainable aspects of your business that you are most proud of?

I have always sourced eco alternatives where possible since opening Luke's Kitchen years ago. We source alternative packaging, use local suppliers and, of course, use a wood fired oven! All our compostable food scraps are donated to the Kuaotunu Food Forest, which is a local community garden run by volunteers amongst the community.

Q: What do you want Luke’s Kitchen to be known for?

Being a laidback, Kiwi-style restaurant with friendly staff, an array of fresh seafood and ingredients combined well to create simple, delicious food from the wood-fired pizza oven at heart. A destination that welcomes all walks of life, so families, tourists and locals can enjoy our beach, sunsets and all-round happy vibes!

Q: Is there anything new on the horizon for Luke’s Kitchen?

We are always musing on different quirky ideas to keep it interesting – stay tuned!