Star chef retreats to Grove

Star chef retreats to Grove

CLEARLY setting up a restaurant in the suburbs while living an hour and a half from the Melbourne metropolis is no impediment to being one of the best at what you do.
Ocean Grove’s Ben Shewry is co-owner of Ripponlea restaurant Attica, which has just jumped from number 63 to number 21 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in the last 12 months.
The ranking was the latest accolade for Taranaki-born Shewry, who was the Age Good Food Guide chef of the year in 2010 and named Best New Talent in 2008 by Gourmet Traveller.
Ben is known for his eclectic flavour combinations he credits to growing up in black, rural, coastal Awakino, where his family foraged, cultivated and caught their own food.
Last year he was the focus of a 15-page feature in the Swedish food magazine Fool, while New York Bon Appétit writer Andrew Sachs flew in simply to profile him and his restaurant.
Sachs wrote: “Because here’s the thing: You may think you’ve had this kind of food in Brooklyn or Portland or San Francisco or San Sebastian or wherever. But you haven’t. What you ate may have been perfectly good, but it wasn’t this. While ideas travel, taste is local. The food doesn’t taste better at Attica because you’ve flown halfway around the world to eat it. It tastes better because it is made of things that can be had nowhere else, and handled with care by a sweet-tempered control freak. The Ben Shewry experience requires you to be no more than 35 seconds away from his kitchen.”
Talking about his latest recognition, Ben said he felt a bit surprised.
“It’s been a bit surreal. Unexpected but really nice. It is about the continued evolution of the restaurant, I didn’t really expect that much. When this sort of stuff happens it’s hard to believe,’’ he said.
“We’ve just got to continue evolving and getting better, that’s the goal. Has always been actually, right from the beginning. Whenever we had an award we always tried to get better after that and never tried to rest on the work we’d already done. You always want to be more articulate with your work.”
Ben’s passion for his craft is evident in his answer to the question ‘why not cash in on the success?’
“Some people might think that but I guess I can assure that it’s never the time to sell it.
“It has to continue to get better because that’s where we draw our satisfaction from. There’s a whole team at the restaurant. We draw our pleasure from doing a better job every day.
“(I) Could earn a lot more money in a number of other jobs or other work environments but it’s not the main reason for wanting to do this really.
“Pretty soon our development kitchen will be finished, we’re putting in a lab kitchen at Attica. That will be finished soon and when that’s finished that will make it a lot easier for us to evolve the actual cooking part more directly.
“The restaurant has a lot of staff, so it’s hard to get in there and have a quiet moment to develop things.”
Nor has the extra attention won him over.
Ben has been consistently un-phased by the celebrity chef opportunities springing up.
“No, to be completely honest that’s one of the hardest things to deal with. I don’t feel that at ease with that. The attention is not really my cup of tea. I appreciate it and I’ve had overwhelming support from people, it’s amazing, but the way I feel about the whole celebrity thing is not something that trips me at all.
For Ben, a holiday in Noosa and the welcoming surrounds of Ocean Grove are preferable to a glitzy outcome.
“The community in Ocean Grove is fantastic, since we moved there we just made so many friends.
‘‘We feel so comfortable in Ocean Grove. Just one of the best places ever. The support that our friends and the community give us is just unreal.”

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