To me, food is as much about the moment, the occasion, the location and the company as it is about the taste.
~ Heston Blumenthal ~
Working in the restaurant industry is a tough gig. The hours are long, the time pressure is relentless and the customers can be hard to please. There are many chefs, though, who have made their mark in Australia or elsewhere in the world. Some have achieved celebrity status. Others have been awarded Michelin stars. And many have restaurants with a waiting list that is months long.
This article will acknowledge some of the best Australian chefs and their restaurants, with a global nod to the world's best chefs.
This 'best Australian chefs' list focuses on chefs whose restaurants repeatedly feature in the Good Food Guide Chef Hat Awards. They are known for their culinary innovation, cuisine which uses local produce and native Australian ingredients — and for their long waiting list for a reservation. (But when you finally get a table — wow!)
Peter Gilmore: Quay and Bennelong
You may recognise chef, Peter Gilmore, from his regular appearances on MasterChef where he set one of the hardest elimination challenge recipes ever — the snow egg. Peter was the first Australian chef to embrace the diversity of the vegetable garden and he champions fresh produce from small farmers in both his restaurants.
While MasterChef probably made Gilmore famous in Australia, it is his two restaurants, Quay and Bennelong, that really showcase his culinary status and have elevated him to the position as one of the best Australian chefs today.
Quay, located in the fine dining precinct of Sydney, has retained its three hat status (equivalent to three Michelin stars) for 18 years straight. Bennelong, in the Sydney Opera House, was awarded two hats. Both restaurants feature creative cuisine and continue to win Australian and international awards.
Tetsuya Wakuda: Tetsuya's
Growing up in Hamamatsu, Japan and then migrating to Australia at the age of 22, Tetsuya Wakuda could never have dreamed he would one day become one of Australia's most famous and loved chefs. Wakuda's food is a blend of Japanese cuisine, using seasonal produce, and French cooking techniques. His restaurant, Tetsuya's, located in Sydney, was awarded four chef hats, while its sister restaurant in Singapore (Waku Ghin) has been awarded one Michelin star.
Tetsuya's features a Japanese inspired decor, with private dining rooms and the main dining area, and offers a 10-course degustation menu using locally sourced, fresh ingredients. Wakuda also included a test kitchen in the restaurant design so as to indulge his passion for experimental cooking and fusion cuisine.
Ben Shewry: Attica
Ben Shewry grew up in New Zealand but now calls Melbourne home. Shewry believes that food should appeal to all the senses and should taste of the purity of its ingredients. He harvests edible wild plants and vegetables daily, featuring them as key ingredients in his menu at his three-hatted restaurant, Attica.
Only 9 km from the centre of Melbourne, Attica offers a multi-course tasting menu that features the best of Australian native ingredients and has set the benchmark for fine dining in Melbourne. Bookings must be made at least three months in advance.
Clare Falzon: Hentley Farm
Originally from Sydney, Clare Falzon worked around the world, with a number of the world's best chefs in Michelin star restaurants before returning to Australia and settling in the Barossa Valley (South Australia) to take the role of executive chef at Hentley Farm restaurant.
A single estate boutique winery, Hentley Farm has won multiple awards for both its wine and its food. The menu features regional ingredients, many of which are grown in the restaurant garden or caught in nearby waterways. They offer a 'discovery' menu with optional wine pairings, as well as private dining options.
Sarah Baldwin: Joy
As a high school student, Sarah Baldwin worked as a kitchen hand, washing dishes in her local Chinese restaurant. At 20, she decided to do a chef apprenticeship and, since then, has moved from strength to strength, culminating in her moving to Brisbane to open her two hatted restaurant, Joy, in 2018.
The unique thing about Joy is that it seats only 10 people at a time. For such a tiny restaurant, to be awarded best new restaurant of 2020 is a huge testament to the food. Baldwin describes the Joy menu as an 'omakase' experience — a Japanese term meaning 'I'll leave it up to you.' They don't have a menu and can never be sure of what they will be cooking ahead of time. The menu consists of a number of courses plus small bites.
Federica Andrisani and Oskar Rossi: Fico
As a young chef, Oskar Rossi left Tasmania to work in Melbourne, then went on to Italy where he met his wife, Federica Andrisani. The two chefs moved back to Australia, settling in Hobart where they opened their European style restaurant, Fico.
Fico means 'fig' in Italian. The restaurant, recently awarded two chef hats, is influenced by the small restaurants in Europe, which are as much about family and friends as they are about food. Fico supports small, local produce suppliers and offers a 'casual fine dining' experience, or 'fun dining' as the couple prefer to call it. Most nights, the kitchen offers a set menu, although it reverts to a small a-la-carte menu of their best dishes for Sunday dining.
Ben Willis: Aubergine
Born and bred in Canberra, Ben Willis started his chef career in the capital of Australia. After travelling the world for 9 years, he returned to Canberra to take over Aubergine - raising the restaurant to two hat level, where it's stayed for 9 consecutive years. Willis respects the seasonality of ingredients and uses local produce whenever possible to produce both classic and bold flavours.
Aubergine serves contemporary food with a classic background. They offer a 5-course menu, which changes daily according to the availability of ingredients, plus wine pairings.
Other Australian Chefs Worth a Mention
Everyone loves her: Poh Ling Yeow — celebrity chef, great food, easy-to-replicate recipes
Uses fire to cook: owner of Firedoor in Sydney, Lennox Hastie — culinary genius whose cooking only uses fire (no electricity, no gas)
Understated inspiration: Shannon Bennett — owner of Vue de Monde in Melbourne, inspired many a home cook through his appearances on MasterChef
Australian gourmet legend: Maggie Beer — classic food using the best ingredients and Australian produce, now focusing on improving food in the aged-care kitchen
The World's Best Chefs: Then and Now
By the subjective nature of the word 'best', any list that claims to identify 'the world's best chefs' is going to be contentious. Best at what? Gaining celebrity status? Creating classic dishes? Collecting Michelin stars? Influencing generations of people to get back to their kitchen? You simply can't compare them on one definitive list.
So, let's take a look at a few of these categories and think about chefs that top each list.
Most Michelin Stars
Although he died in 2018, the master of French cuisine, Joël Robuchon, is yet to have any living chef top his haul of 31 Michelin stars. Alain Ducasse (also a master of French cuisine) is second on the list, but still a long way behind with 21 Michelin stars to his name.
This may be debatable, but our research shows that Austrian-American chef, Wolfgang Puck, is likely in the top spot here with 30 restaurants under his belt, including a couple of chains (The Kitchen, Wolfgang Puck Express).
Biggest-selling Cook Book
Jamie's 30-minute meals broke records in 2010 by selling the most copies of a non-fiction book ever over a 10-week period. Love him or not — there is no doubt as to Jamie Oliver's success with 26 cook books and 35 TV shows (and counting) to his name. He is also known and loved for his work with schools and disadvantaged youth.
Most Innovative Chef
You'd have to look a long way to go past Heston Blumenthal in this category. Blumenthal is famous throughout the world for his scientific experimentation when it comes to cooking and his ability to astound and confuse your senses when you eat his food. Four restaurants, with The Fat Duck being the most well-known.
Most Fiery Chef
Love him or hate him, there is no doubt that Gordon Ramsay is the world's best chef when it comes to saying exactly what he thinks and making restaurateurs cower. He currently equals Jamie Oliver's cook book tally, though many of his early ones are not for the novice chef or home cook.
First Celebrity Chef
This may also be debatable, but Marco Pierre White has been called the first true celebrity chef. He is also the youngest chef to be awarded three Michelin stars and has mentored a number of top chefs, including Gordon Ramsay, Shannon Bennett and Curtis Stone.
Two More 'Cooks' Worth a Nod
We can't finish without mentioning Julia Child (arguably the most-quoted American cook, celebrated for bringing French cuisine to the US) and Keith Floyd (oft-quoted British cook who influenced the next generation of chefs).
No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.
~ Julia Child ~
So why not start today, maybe your name will end up on a list like this!
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