Q&A with chef Ben Shewry
The Melbourne-based culinary star on cooking with kangaroo, his fitness routine, and more
“To me Australian cuisine is not defined by centuries-old restaurant traditions, but instead an innate understanding by Australian people of what quality is on almost every level,” explains Ben Shewry, chef and owner of Melbourne’s Attica restaurant, number 32 on S.Pellegrino’s revered World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Here, Shewry discusses the importance of gardening, wholesome ingredients, and how his kids keep him fit.
How do you create a sense of place at Attica?
"I spent three years intensely studying the culture of Melbourne and the state of Victoria when I first moved here. I believe our food should reflect our country by innovating personally, by acknowledging the continued culture of the Australian Aboriginals, by utilizing and learning to work with the many ancient ingredients that are endemic to Australia, and by being true to ourselves. But most importantly, by having fun with it. That is a major part of our culture: Be serious about what you do, but don’t take yourself too seriously."
Any super healthy ingredients you’re cooking with at the moment?
"Kangaroo is low in fat and high in protein. It's healthiest when it's of the highest, freshest, and most sustainable quality."
How does seasonality influence your menu?
"We have a large garden that we work in every day. Because we are harvesting and planting for three hours every day, we are in constant contact with the changes not just in the seasons, but within the seasons. We have a huge investment both financially and emotionally in those gardens, and we have to make the best use of everything that comes out of them. Growing food yourself forces you to be more flexible and reactive to menu changes."
What compels you to forage for ingredients?
"It was something that was familiar from weekly life during my childhood in New Zealand and I continued that at Attica when I wanted flavors that were different from what you could buy from the markets. Those market products had no life or energy. Wild plants have to fight for everything they have, especially in Australia with our harsh climate. The flavor of Australian indigenous plants is reflected in this and manifests itself through ingredients that, to some, could be harsh tasting, but to me are fascinating representatives of the plant kingdom."
How important is it to you to offer food that tastes good, but is also good for you?
"I strongly believe when working with whole ingredients from scratch, that the two are completely in sync. Wholesome, ethically-produced ingredients, cooked from scratch by human hands makes food that is both delicious and nutrient-rich. The trouble begins when you allow large corporations to do all of the cooking for you."
What is your fitness routine?
"Normally I’m an avid cyclist and really into fitness, but this year has been crazy with the huge renovation of the dining room and World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards being held in my hometown. That said, I find the time to play basketball against my 12-year-old son Kobe at least twice a week. He is incredibly fit and schools me a little now. I also go mountain biking with my 10-year-old daughter Ella every single Sunday in the bush. The many kangaroos we pass (and dodge) on the journey are an added bonus. Fitness is so important to the positive mental health of cooks."