Four Australian chefs talk about favourite foods and why they love to cook

Date

Georgie Gordon

Four of our favourite chefs tell us why they love what they do, what they cook for their friends and the things they can't live without in their kitchens.

Guillaume Brahimi with Brussel Sprouts.

Guillaume Brahimi with Brussel Sprouts. Photo: James Brickwood

 

Guillaume Brahimi owner and executive chef at Guillaume in Sydney, Bistro Guillaume in Melbourne and Bistro Guillaume in Perth

The hardest thing about what I do is to try to achieve perfection because nobody can. 

Guillaume Brahimi

Favourite thing to cook for friends?

Portrait of chef James Viles of Biota Dining & Rooms in Bowral, pictured with persimmons, one of his favourite cooking ...

Portrait of chef James Viles of Biota Dining & Rooms in Bowral, pictured with persimmons, one of his favourite cooking ingredients. Photographed Friday 22nd July 2016. Photograph by James Brickwood. SHD SUNDAY LIFE 160722 (SL - aug 14) Photo: James Brickwood

Roast chicken with crispy potatoes.

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Signature restaurant dish?

Basil-infused tuna; also my Paris mash.

Dan Hong with truffles.

Dan Hong with truffles. Photo: James Brickwood

Favourite kitchen tool?

The wooden spoon.

Favourite ingredient at the moment?

Ben Shewry with pumpkin seeds.

Ben Shewry with pumpkin seeds. Photo: Damien Pleming

Brussels sprouts.

Guilty pleasure?

Bread, butter and cheese.

I knew I wanted to be a chef from an early age. I didn't want to be at school and I loved cooking, so for me it was simple. By the age of 14 I was an apprentice at Aux Charpentiers, a very small restaurant in Paris. Once qualified, I went to La Tour d'Argent, a big, three-star Michelin restaurant, then I went to work for [famous French chef] Joel Robuchon at Jamin and that was the big moment for me. I spent 4 1/2 years there before coming to Australia when I was 22.

Robuchon instilled in me rigour, the love of work well done ... and zero mistakes. The hardest thing about what I do is to try to achieve perfection because nobody can. But I'm always trying to be better, which is challenging every day.

We all have dreams. I would have loved to be a rugby player or a surgeon, but I also really love what I do. I make people happy. You have to be generous if you want to be a chef; that's what cooking is all about at the end of the day, and it doesn't work if you're not. You've got people who come to your restaurant, you feed them and you bring them happiness. We probably feed 3000 people a week between the three restaurants.

Seasonal food is important to me: find the best available produce and never compromise on quality. I don't mean buying the most expensive; if you follow the season, you've got the quality. I'm a big believer in "think global, use local".

And cooking with love - just simple, delicious food you want to have everyday.

I've got a few things on at the moment; it's hard and I wish there was more work/life balance. I'm very lucky. I'm about to open Bistro Guillaume in Sydney.

The future is about finding a balance and being part of the future of Australia.

Ben Shewry owner and head chef at Attica, Melbourne

Favourite thing to cook for friends?

I brine a shoulder of pork and slowly smoke it for 18 hours.

Signature restaurant dish?

I don't have one. We always change the dishes.

Favourite kitchen tool?

A miniature grape press. It's for pressing the juice out of grapes to make wine but I use it for rhubarb.

Favourite ingredient at the moment?

Pumpkin seeds.

Guilty pleasure?

Hamburgers.

I grew up in Taranaki in New Zealand. My parent's cattle farm was very isolated and that gave my sisters and I immense freedom. We had to make our own fun - adventures in the bush, river and hills. We didn't have a lot of money but we always had a lot of food and I felt rich in family spirit.

I decided to become a chef when I was five. I did work experience in a restaurant when I was 10 and got my first paid job in the Time Out Cafe in New Plymouth when I was 14. That was a really amazing experience because I had responsibilities; I was in charge of making the lasagne.

When I was 25, my wife and I decided to move to Australia on a whim. We had never been to Melbourne but I had worked in some of the best places in New Zealand and felt like I needed to progress.

I became head chef at Attica in 2005 and took full ownership of it a year ago. It's a very personal and curious place. I think it reflects parts of our culture, our country, and my ideas on what Australian food is.

Native ingredients have been overlooked for a long time by restaurants. I think it's exciting, even for Australians, to come to a restaurant where there are things they don't know, like quandong, sunrise limes and Port Phillip Bay blue mussels.

Our society should know more about native ingredients, and have more pride in them. I would like to play a small part in educating people. At Attica we grow a lot of our own herbs, salad leaves, different aromatics and edible flowers - probably about 70 or 80 varieties. My food philosophy is this: find the best products and don't stuff them up; make everything from scratch on the day you are going to eat it.

James Viles owner and head chef at Biota Dining, Bowral, NSW

Favourite thing to cook for friends?

Fresh soft tacos with heaps of different fillings.

Signature restaurant dish?

Mud crab and creamed eggs with kelp brown butter.

Favourite kitchen tool?

The smoker.

Favourite ingredient at the moment?

Persimmon.

Guilty pleasure?

Anything that mixes salt, nuts, caramel and chocolate.

My first restaurant job was at Milton Park in Bowral. I started working there on weekends when I was 13, polishing cutlery and doing odd jobs. I finished my apprenticeship in Sydney at Galileo and then worked at Jonah's in Palm Beach before opening a tiny restaurant in Bowral called The Old Schoolhouse. When I won a chef's hat there I didn't even know what the award was; I was 23 and very green.

Later, I worked at Alain Ducasse's Spoon in Hong Kong and then spent nearly five years in the Middle East. I started questioning myself there. At one point I ran a restaurant called Views, 50 floors up in the Arabian sky. I had 40 to 50 chefs, an office, and I would look at my uniform and wonder why was I wearing it when I didn't even cook. I thought, I'm going to learn as much as I can, go home and open something that resonates with how I feel.

We opened Biota in 2011; it's everything to me. It has been built by my dad and myself from the ground up. I don't see it as a restaurant, I see it as a vehicle to give people ingredients from the country we live in. On site we grow flax, begonia, white marigold, artichokes, leafy greens and things we need fresh every day. We have our own chickens and bees. The larger stuff is grown locally, between Bowral and Sydney.

I think the best way to describe Biota is produce-driven and freeform, because there's freedom in the way we work. There are no menus any more because people were bringing in boxes of chestnuts, mandarins, persimmons, and the menu was constricting us. The philosophy is restraint, and a less-is-more approach.

I love the freedom of being a chef: no rules, nobody dictating how things should be. My biggest inspiration is nature. If I could cook outside all day, I would.

Dan Hong executive chef at Mr Wong and Ms.G's, both Sydney

Favourite thing to cook for friends?

Steamboat - chicken broth with wagyu beef, dumplings, fish fillets, noodles and lots of vegetables so people can make their own noodle soup.

Signature restaurant dish?

The Stoner's Delight at Ms.G's - doughnut ice-cream, peanut and pretzel brittle, peanut butter dulce de leche, raspberry curd, Mars Bar brownie, potato chips, candied bacon and deep-fried Nutella. It started as a joke, now every table orders it.

Favourite kitchen tool?

The microplane grater.

Favourite ingredient at the moment?

Truffles.

Guilty pleasure?

McDonald's breakfast.

My first job was as a waiter and kitchen hand at my mother's Vietnamese restaurant in Newtown. Then Mum got me a job at Longrain, where I started my apprenticeship, and I finished it at Marque. I worked at Tetsuya's and then as sous chef at Bentley in Surry Hills. I went to New York for a couple of months to train at WD-50 and when I came back in 2008, a head chef position was open at Lotus Bistro. That's when I started working for Merivale.

I oversee two restaurants now, Mr Wong and Ms.G's. The thing I love is a full restaurant every night. Just before dinner I see a line that goes around the corner and that makes me happy. I pride myself on having a busy restaurant and cooking food people love to eat. My food philosophy is that it just has to taste good - it doesn't matter if you are cooking European or Asian food, or blending the two cuisines.

Of course I had to make sacrifices, especially when I was an apprentice and all my friends were going out, but I loved doing it. The difference between chefs who make it and chefs who stop cooking is the sacrifices made; if you can't handle working 50 or 60 hours a week then it's probably not for you.

Everything inspires me. I love going to Asia to eat, whether it's on the street, at a beautiful little restaurant or in a food court. Or I can be inspired at my mother's house every Monday when she cooks for me. On my days off, spending time with my family is really important as I have two young kids. I also love eating at other restaurants, checking out what my friends who are chefs are cooking.

When I was a young chef, Mark Best and Brent Savage were my biggest influences. Now my mentor is [Merivale CEO] Justin Hemmes, for believing in me.