Chef Joel Best providing an experience that engulfs all the senses


Providing an experience that engulfs all the senses, chef Joel Best is quietly excited about the start of his culinary journey with newly-founded, Sydney-based Japanese restaurant, Besuto.

Over Joel’s career of more than 20 years, he recalls there has always been a strong interest from consumers in Asian cuisine.

“The spotlight on types of Asian food changes, where 15 years ago it was all about Thai food and now there is a heavy focus on Japanese food.”

The new venture is part of Joel’s fresh start getting back into the swing of knocking up Japanese cuisine after taking a few months off.

“I realise that I need to take time out every so often to recharge my batteries,” says Joel. “It’s so important to prevent burnout, especially in this industry.”

And Joel, while loving his industry and his job, knows only too well the toll they can take on personal life and wellbeing, after facing some tough challenges early in his career.

After training at seafood restaurant Peir and Fish Face in Darlinghurst, Joel opened up his own restaurant, Bondi’s Best.

By his mid-20s, Joel then found himself the owner of 2 restaurants and a father of twins by the age of 26. Life was hectic and Joel became overworked, running both restaurants and working more than 100 hours per week, just to stay above water. His days started from 5.30 and went through to midnight.
Managing the restaurants, Joel talks about the many hats he wears to manage his staff – as a mentor, human resource person, teacher, policeman – as well as a chef.

“You worry about making sure everyone is happy at work and it’s up to you to help achieve this,” he says.
Working to perfection is also a thing.
“As a chef, you want to get every dish just right, but this can sometimes come at the detriment of your wellbeing.”
To deal with stress, Joel’s casual drink after work to relax, developed into a habit that led to daily excess drinking and substance misuse as well.

“I didn’t want to deal with my emotions and, growing up here, guys aren’t really taught about how to deal with them.
“Besides, taking on two restaurants was too much to manage. The industry’s so demanding as it is and I ended up selling one restaurant soon after.”

Deciding his drinking dependency couldn’t continue, Joel decided it was time to check himself into a rehabilitation centre to deal with the problem.

He was helped to deal with feelings and stop drinking altogether, finding ways to do the job he loves and be with his family.

“There was a time I didn’t see my wife for 6 weeks,” he remembers. “I soon realised a real balance is needed between work and the people you love.”

A new start with Besuto

Joel’s past experience has changed the way he manages Besuto.
“Your staff become like a second family because you manage it all and you see each other a lot of the time.”

Joel doesn’t allow his staff to work more than 55 hours a week, so that they can have more of a work-life balance.
Supporting staff with their wellbeing, making sure they’re alright, listening to them makes a lot of difference.

I was brought up in a single parent family; my dad walked out when i was 5; at a very young age i was responsible for the finance in my family; by the time I was a teenager i had to be an adult; when i was an adult, i was a teenager, Joel put himself into rehab to stop the drinking and drug use, a journey of identifying emotions and didn’t know if he felt angry or sad; no one taught him or his family unit about emotions;

And now…?

Joel’s days still do involve working 16 hour days, with around 4 or 5 hours’ sleep. He plans to reduce these hours once the restaurant is fully established.

There is a shortage of chefs and hospitality staff. In the industry, you cant get by without having any prior knowledge and start a job for $75000.

I tell my staff and my customers ‘all we do is try to do our best, and our best might be different from today, or different from yesterday.’

With Joel’s experience of working in the industry and going through the mental health challenges he has, he believes that more support is needed from bosses to support their staff with maintaining good mental wellbeing.

Even more there, there needs to be more benefits in place for people coming into the industry. This includes a better pay structure, and offering incentives that support mental health, such as gym memberships – even yoga classes.

So, what advice can Joel pass on to new chefs coming into the industry?

There’s a lot of hours and commitment, so make sure you really love it, he says.
“There is a lot of joy in being able to make people happy through food.”

With the long hours and demands of working in busy restaurants, staff are more averse to becoming run down or stressed. Joel says leaders need to be less concerned with profits and listen more to their staff about how they’re feeling and how they’re genuinely doing.

And in an industry where there is already a shortage of staff, holding onto existing and full trained staff becomes much more important.