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Chef Ben Shewry: "The Recipe? Being Open And Honest"

Chef Ben Shewry: "The Recipe? Being Open And Honest"

An interview with the hard talking chef Ben Shewry about his upcoming Origin food book, that turned out to be part autobiography and part adventure story

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Born and raised in New Zealand, Ben Shewry is one of Australia's most acclaimed chefs and stands tall amongst the best chefs in the world. His small restaurant, Attica, in the unassuming suburbs of Melbourne, is currently ranked 63rd in The World's 50 Best Restaurants awards.

Three years ago, Ben began to put pen to paper, compiling recipes, anecdotes and deeply personal stories of tragedy and triumph, paired with striking photography: his new book Origin has just been released in Australia (it will be available in the Usa in 2013, for the moment it could be purchased here) and Ben took some time to site down with FDL and explain what he hopes people will get from the book and just what sort of recipes they can expect to find inside. 

What do you hope that people get out of reading Origin?
I think that my story is an interesting one. A lot of young chefs today take one path, to work at an amazing fine dining restaurant - but that’s no guarantee that they’re going to be successful. I started in incredibly humble circumstances, in a restaurant nobody has heard of, working on hotel buffets and supermarket bakeries - but somehow, all of these different experiences make me the cook that I am. Without working in those places and having those understandings, then I wouldn’t have got to where I am. So I would hope that people are inspired by that story. The book has turned out to be part autobiography and part adventure story. It’s definitely an adventure when you work in a kitchen.

All the recipes are incredibly detailed...
If you want to cook any of the recipes we cook at Attica (here the Marron and Cured Beef recipe Ben Shewry shared with Fine Dining Lovers), they’re all there and they’re all there in exact, precise detail. I wrote about the recipes in great detail, because I felt that when I was younger and reading chef’s recipe books, they would say ‘take the meat out of the fridge five minutes before you cook it’ but they didn’t tell me why I needed to do that. I tried to elaborate on the reasons why we do things, so people get a sense of how we cook at Attica - because we don’t do things by chance.

Even though the recipes are detailed, there are many elements that people can apply to everyday cooking.
There’s lots of great components to these recipes. You can learn how to cook fish brilliantly - that’s something that I learnt in my first year [at Attica]. I was criticized by the Good Food Guide for overcooking fish in my first ever review and it cut me to the core. Since then, we’ve never overcooked another piece of fish in six years. That’s why I’m so pedantic about how we handle seafood. I remember criticism, I don’t remember praise.

Why did you want to share so many personal stories?
Because people talk bullshit all the time. I’m an open and honest person with my food and with the way I am, so why would I change anything about myself to write a book? To me, there’s so much posturing and politics in life, why not just lay it all out there? What are we scared of - that people might know what our weaknesses are? I think that’s what makes people interesting. In society now, chefs are portrayed in a certain way and it’s just not the reality.

Is there a certain recipe, or story, that you’re particularly excited to share?
The thing I like about the book is that there’s momentum from start to finish. You read some books that start with a bang, but by the time you get to the end it’s weak. This book is strong the whole way through, there’s no weak point. I also like the parts which are a bit humorous. I comment on chefs who all want to cut fish square, even though a fish isn’t square. Why do we have to cut everything so neatly?

What did you get out of writing Origin?
I got out if it an ability to move on from the past. The ability to connect with the country that I’m living in, to call it home.

  • UPN said on

    Brilliant interview. It is refreshing to see such a bold and sincere chef. For us in NZ, it is a loss to see this unique performer hopping the ditch and becoming Oz's gain. I would have liked to ask him whether there was something specific about NZ that prevented him from establishing his centre here, apart from the country's iconoclastic attitude he mentions - or whether he felt the field here was not big enough. There are many excellent restaurants in Auckland and Wellington but none yet have got international recognition and the restaurant reviewers in major media houses here just don't seem to mind that. If potential world-class chefs leave NZ shores thinking that they can't strike big here, its a genuine problem. I am not belittling NZ , just bringing up a question which is rarely discussed.

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