It was a privilege to hear Italian chef Massimo Bottura speak at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art today, Wednesday November 26, and very exciting to have him sign his recipe page in my second book, In the Mix 2: More Great Thermomix Recipes.
He is the culinary equivalent of Beyonce. He’s an author, a TV host, and if you cook, you’ve tried one of his recipes. Yotam Ottolenghi is in his test kitchen, a series of low-tech spice-scented rooms under a railway arch in central London. I’m on the phone in Melbourne and this call is making me late for my kids’ school concert but I’ve decided that soaking up kitchen wisdom is as honourable a pathway to good motherhood as watching my girls twirl.
He survives on four hours sleep, forages in the wild for ingredients and even makes the cutlery himself. Dani Valent meets Ben Shewry, a very unusual superstar chef. I don’t know what I expected Ben Shewry to be doing when I walked into the Attica kitchen two hours before dinner service. Arranging foraged flowers with tweezers, perhaps. Creating “soil”. Dehydrating fruit at the very least. Instead, he is taking up a whole bench – half the small kitchen really – moulding clay to create 100 butter knives shaped like mini Maori clubs. Crafting cutlery by hand? Doesn’t Shewry make it hard enough for himself already?
It’s Friday night in Jacques Reymond’s kitchen and I’ve just saved a junior chef from a bollocking. The Birkenstocked underling has just burned some wafers, and it hasn’t escaped the notice of the eagle-eyed maestro. But nor has my presence – even as I’m backed against the door with notepad and pen – and that’s enough, apparently, to make Reymond dish out a glare rather than the expected yell. “He sees everything,” says my wafer-burning friend. “I would have copped a spray if you weren’t here.”
There are a few reasons that Claremont Tonic chef Dylan Roberts is glad to be feeding his friends by the Yarra today. He grew up in Wales and, even after 10 years in Australia, the shine hasn’t palled on eating outdoors. He’s serving food he loves to eat. “I like salads, raw vegetables and skewered stuff to grill,” he says. Roberts is also happy to cross-fertilise cuisines, which explains the lively tomato salad that swoops to Italy via Thailand. Above all, there’s the gratification of serving food to people who tell you how delicious it all is. “It’s a good feeling,” he says. “My friends are my number one fan club.”
It’s not unusual for chefs to wax lyrical about meals shared with their children. Most nights they tiptoe to bed hours after the kids are tucked in, so family dinners “ when they happen “ are special. But Pierre Khodja, chef at Hawthorn’s Canvas restaurant, becomes particularly emotional when he talks about enjoying meals with his wife, Debbie, and their daughters Jamila, Anisa and Haniya. He has good reason: five years ago, it looked like the Khodjas may have eaten together for the last time.
Andrew Blake has a few hundred thousand regrets, one for every dollar he owed when his Southgate restaurant was shut down seven years ago. But he more keenly rues all the meals he missed with his two ex-wives and four children over the years. While he worked as a restaurant chef “between 1977 and 2002” Blake, 50, never cooked for his family. “I was always working, he says. “And, if I did get home, I couldn’t be fagged cooking, it was always takeaway. Perhaps that’s why he’s such a solicitous host this bright autumn morning, serving oyster shooters and buttermilk pancakes to his girlfriend, Jodie, his daughter Neredah and old friends.
“Everything that happened to me has made me stronger. I can walk, talk, I can cook. It keeps me happy.” Dani Valent profiles pizza pioneer Rita Macali, who survived a brain tumour and returned to open a brilliant new restaurant, Supermaxi.