Australian chef and Miele Ambassador Shannon Bennett is currently on tour cooking an Australian inspired menu in 22 Miele cities around the world, including Prague, London and Nice. Simoné Miche catches up with him over lunch...
Much to FOUR magazine’s delight, the second stop on Shannon’s itinerary while touring the 22 Miele cities, which include the likes of Mexico City, Istanbul, Berlin, Dubai and Moscow, was in London at the Miele HQ last week. Shannon served guests a slice of Australia and dishes based on the menu at his restaurant Vue de Monde, Melbourne, in celebration of Miele’s next generation of cooking appliances – Miele Generation 6000.
Shannon’s culinary style certainly has a strong sense of location and an element of the outback. All the produce he uses at Vue de Monde - now one of five projects Shannon has in Melbourne - is wild, organic and indigenous, all locally sourced and sustainable, grown within the perimeters of the 70 acres of land that surround his estate, or foraged from the bountiful landscape that is southern Australia.
What’s your earliest memory of being in the kitchen?
My earliest memory is working in my uncle’s kitchen in London when I was 12. My father was an engineer so he would travel a lot and I was lumped over here [in the UK] with my uncle for 6 months. My uncle was a bit bohemian. He was in a rock band called the Londoners, made a lot of money in the 60’s and then decided to buy three pubs. He put himself trough an apprenticeship with some of his friends at The Dorchester and went to work with Anton Mosimann. I learnt how to cook in his pub, Victory, just opposite Regent's Park in Great Portland street and that’s where I first fell in love with cooking.
Name a few of the chefs your worked with through the years?
Marco Pierre White, Alain Ducasse, the Roux brothers, John Burton-Race. I learned a tremendous amount from all of them and every chef I’ve worked with I’ve got to know really well. I find Michel Roux Jr an amazing inspiration. He’s been great, he’s kept in touch with me over the years. Any book that he does, he’ll always send me a copy, so I’ve been able to keep track of his career that way. John Burton-Race I worked with for two years at a place called Wartime when John was really cooking at the top of his game. That was my first introduction into the UK. I was 18 when I first joined John and I really didn’t know what Michelin star restaurants were all about. At the time, he was trying to push a three star so that got me in the gear of understanding what a great restaurant was.
Explain the French influence behind your cooking style?
I think there’s two pillars to cooking. There’s Asian cookery or there’s French cookery. I think as a chef you have to stick to one of those pillars and I’ve always felt that I’ve stuck to French techniques. It’s also got a nice connection to Melbourne. French chefs were the first professions to come to Australia during the Gold Rush so there’s a lot of French restaurants that hung around for a long time. One of my favourite past times is going to the National Library and getting all the recipes!
What or who is your greatest inspiration?
It's changed and evolved over a long time. René [Redzepi] has influenced me a lot. I ate at Noma about 5 years ago and I got to know him well. We collaborated on a book together, Coco. But there’s one chef that I think has influenced every chef and that’s Michel Bras. What he was doing 20 years ago was revolutionary. It was all about ingredients and telling a story and if you look towards some of the best restaurants today, that’s what they’re doing – they’re all telling a story.
How do you feel about awards
Awards are great for a pat on the back but we don’t live for them. I think, if anything, they put a lot of pressure on you and your cooking style gets influenced unnecessarily. I had a period like that about five or six years ago. But I think, with experience, you become a little bit calmer and you realise that as long as everyone walks out of your restaurant happy, then you’re on the right track.
What’s your take on trends?
I think travelling gives you a great perspective on trends. I look towards Brett Graham in the UK. His cuisine is really modern, but it’s also timeless. Some of his dishes were popular ten years ago and they’re probably going to be popular in ten years time.
Tell me about the produce on your menu?
Most of the produce we use is wild. We use warrigal greens which is a beach spinach that is indigenous to the southern coast of Australia and that replaces English spinach on our menu. We use different herbs like wild camomile which has been in Australia for 150 to 160 years. Emu eggs have taken the place of duck eggs on our menu, too.
What’s been the toughest moment in your career so far?
Coming back from Australia when I’d worked for some amazing chefs in the UK. No one had heard of the chefs over there, so I didn’t get he opportunities I wanted. That’s when I opened my own restaurant. I took the 70,000 dollars I’d saved up over the six years I’d been over here and started my own restaurant. In the beginning I didn’t really have the funds to do what I was aiming for, but I stuck at what I believed.
Sum up your style?
‘Marvelous Melbourne’ from the Marvellous Melbourne era at the end of the nineteenth century. Everyone used to eat so well back then! They used indigenous food and food that was brought over from Europe. It was a wonderful combination of the two, and that’s where I think my style sits.
Tell me about the visual side of your cooking?
Telling a story is really important and that goes hand-in-hand with the visual side of cooking. At the restaurant we use wood boards to serve our dishes on. We put them in the oven, just before serving, and the heat softens the wood and allows the oils and vapours to be released, giving our guests a real sense of the landscape that their food came from.
As Brand Ambassador for Miele, you must be kitted out with the best kitchen gadgets. What’s your favourite?
Miele Generation 6000 DGC6800XL Combination Steam Oven - Price Guide from £3,430 - which is a 48 litre steam oven that steam cooks your food while retaining vitamins and minerals. It also has M touch controls so that you can swipe or scroll through a menu with the tip of your finger.
Describe one of your best food experiences…
One of the best food experiences I’ve had was in Chicago sitting at the edge of lake Michigan eating an oyster Po-Boy after I’d cycled 20 km to this place called the Fish Shack…
If you could take a plane ride to anywhere in the world, for just one meal, where would you go and why?
I’d go to Fäviken in Sweden!
Any plans in the pipeline?
I’ve got a property with a friend that has 70 acres of land and a historic hotel on its grounds. So that’s my next project, set to be finished by 2016; redeveloping it into its former glory. Our aim is to make it into a luxury 100-room kibbutz where you can work on the truffle and the emu farm and get credited with stay. But first, I’m off to Nice for the third round of the Miele tour!
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Images - Simon Griffiths