The 50 Best Talks, organised by The World's 50 Best Restaurants and sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, welcomed some of the world's best chefs to Sydney for a day of debate and dicussion.
Massimo Bottura (current holder of The World's Best Restaurant title), Dominique Crenn, Peter Gilmore and Brett Graham took to the stage for an open and frank discussion on everything from ego to ingredients, mentors to motherhood.
Around 2500 food lovers packed the Opera House in Sydney's harbour, evidently excited at the chance to hear directly from the chefs. And they did not dissapoint, as Bottura told tales of early years working for Alain Ducasse, and Crenn excited people about the idea of dish creation.
Below is a brief look back at some of the key talking points and comments from the #50BestTalks.
Massimo Bottura on Mentorship
Bottura said that mentors are one of the most important things to look for when you’re a chef trying to define your own style. He told a story of working for Alain Ducasse and how on his very last day in the kitchen, Ducasse asked if he had taken notes. “Yes,” replied an enthusiastic Bottura, showing his wad of paper to Ducasse who promptly grabbed it, tore it in half and threw it in the bin.
“I had this incredible book of notes where I was writing everything: recipes, first impressions, everything. He took those notes and crushed them, I was ready to kill him. He said, ‘You can stand up on your feet, go out and walk.’ I think that was the most important experience of my life, because if I had those notes it would be normal for me to copy a recipe … this showed me that I had to do everything myself, to express me through the technique I learned. This was the moment in which I knew I had to do something personal.”
Dominique Crenn on Finding a Style
Style and finding one’s own style was something that all the chefs discussed, but Domnique Crenn, who definitely rocks her own style, was keen on this topic, warning chefs not to doubt their instinct and initial ideas.
"You need to be personal, if you really want to be a chef you have to have your own story, and if you don’t have your own story, what are you doing?
"You have to understand and know yourself, and with a lot of confidence and determination. It’s about having a vision and where you want to go with that vision - I don’t work on a dish for three years – it’s about the idea and feeling an emotion… It’s quite rewarding when you can serve something that tells a story, don’t do a dish that doesnt make sense and don’t copy a dish from anyone else."
Peter Gilmore on Transforming Ingredients
Asked about transforming exciting ingredients in the kitchen, it was Sydney’s own Peter Gilmore who stepped up. He talked about his own approach to incorporating Asian ingredients in the cooking at his Quay and Bennelong restaurants.
"There are so many incredible ingredients out there and for me, growing up in Australia, we have this incredible multicultural society. One of the ingredients I discovered recently is Mau – basically the swim bladder of a fish and it regulates where it is in the water. The Chinese have been using it for hundreds of years – they don’t waste anything. It’s cooked for about 24 hours, steamed very slowly, then it’s dehydrated. You put a little tiny piece into hot oil, it puffs and becomes like the ultimate natural prawn cracker. We use this as a textural item in a dish … it’s just this ingredient I had never thought about or worked with … it is amazing how dishes can evolve."
Brett Graham on Sustainability
Sustainability was a topic that arose many times during the talk, however, it was Brett Graham of The Ledbury restaurant in London who offered up practical and sound advice on how a relatively small restaurant can still have an impact.
“I think some of the things we’ve done over the past few years, talking about sustainability and how we can make decisions for our customers, is a couple of decisions we have made: we do not serve tuna. We do not serve grain-fed beef, no question – if grass-fed is not available we do not use it. I think a decision like that makes a huge difference, just a small decision like that for a restaurant that serves 650 covers a week, not allowing anyone to eat tuna and grain-fed beef is how we can make a difference.”
S.Pellegrino Young Chef Mitch Lienhard
The S.Pellegrino Young Chef winner, Mitch Lienhard was also in the crowd and took the opportunity to recount some of his own story from winning the competition. Lienhard spoke about how he created his winning dish and how Dominique Crenn, his mentor throughout the competition, helped to form his ideas and push his dish further. An inspirational moment for any young chefs in the crowd.