New Zealand born Ben Shewry has brought a thoughtful but playful approach to fine dining, winning plaudits with his endlessly creative food that draws inspiration from native Australian ingredients.
His Melbourne restaurant, Attica, is consistently rated among the world’s best and gourmands rave about the ingenious likes of Green Ant Pav, Marron in Kelp, Whipped Emu Egg and Deep-Fried Saltbush Leaves.
After Attica was again awarded the highest possible honour, three chefs hats, at the Good Food Guide 2019 Awards, Shewry talked to The CEO Magazine about the win, how his team keep the creative fires burning, the possibilities around working with Indigenous Australian foods and some of the people who inspire him.
Is it harder to get the three hats the first time, or to keep them?
Hmm, I don’t know. It’s very hard to get in there but I don’t really think about it too much as I have my own personal agenda with the restaurant. I don’t think every day about whether I’ll have three hats or not, we just run it as we see fit.
How exactly do you organise the creative process of coming up with new dishes at Attica?
We do a lot of research, that’s how it starts. We have a creative team of about eight chefs and I’m the leader of that team but we’re all responsible for researching. We meet twice a week, Tuesday and Friday, around the creative work of the restaurant.
We discuss new ingredients we have found or researched, cultural aspects of Australian society that we are thinking about and changes that need to take place on the menu. We then have a list of preparations that we’re working on that aren’t dishes yet and another list of dishes that we’re working on, so it is broken down into these sections.
We (order) the list of dishes that need to be changed into urgency. Seasonal changes always guide us, or (a dish) might have been on the menu too long, and we discuss where we’re going with those, who has an interest in doing what and then we divide up the jobs between us and then we go for it!
During the week, each of those eight people are working on different creative avenues and they bring the results of their experimentation to me or to our head chef.
At the end of the week, we come together again and we talk about what worked and what didn’t. Then we update our list and eliminate things that clearly aren’t going to be good.
We do a lot of forward planning as well, up to six months ahead. It’s probably the highest level of organisation we’ve had around creativity. In the past, it was more in a vacuum with just me and one or two others. But this is the best way of sharing it with the team.
Do you think we’re only just scratching the surface of using native Australian ingredients?
Oh yeah, we’re not even at 1% into that, we’re not even at the tip of the iceberg.