Self-isolating chefs may be taking to social media to post their home-cooking videos, but Ben Shewry's latest project may trump them all. The Attica chef will lead his friend and comedian Hamish Blake through the process of cooking a two-course romantic dinner, and their efforts will be live-streamed on Thursday 16 April, 7pm (AEST) on Instagram.
Viewers are encouraged to follow along with the step-by-step instructions – Shewry has already provided a list of required ingredients and indicated which items need to be chopped, grated or whipped ahead of time. Or, they can just watch the hijinks unfold over an hour in Shewry's and Blake's respective kitchens.
"I had this idea just to cook with somebody else on Instagram, and Hamish was the first person I thought of," says Shewry. They've been friends for a few years after meeting through Melbourne's bike-riding community, and Blake counting himself a fan of Attica's food as well as its focus on staff and community.
Blake's first suggestion was to put a date-night spin on the menu so he could cook a special dinner for his wife, cosmetics entrepreneur Zoë Foster Blake. "I developed the recipes and made them a bit corny," says Shewry. Hence, the tongue-in-cheek dish names, styled à la Attica: a "red is the colour of love" prawn spaghetti and "a heart-shaped box" chocolate mousse.
Blake also requested "cheffy" techniques. "It's actually challenging what 'cheffy' things are – to me, it's having sharp knives, making sure your cutting board doesn't slip on the bench," says Shewry. But the comedian had fire and drama on his mind; ergo, the flambé prawns in the pasta dish. The cooking technique of adding alcohol – usually cognac – to a hot pan, resulting in tall leaping flames, was all the rage in the late '80s and early '90s, says Shewry. All well and good for an experienced home-cook perhaps, except Blake admits he's more of a passionate eater than pan-hustler.
"This is a guy who knows nothing about cooking, demanding to learn something as easy as possible, from someone who's one of the best chefs in the world," says Blake. "There's a good chance I'll light myself on fire."
Attica's Ben Shewry is no stranger to innovation. In just a matter of days he converted his Melbourne fine-dining restaurant into a home-delivery service serving lasagne and garlic bread, and opened a bakery next door. Pre-COVID-19, the chef regarded social media as a "necessary evil", but has since embraced Instagram as a medium to thank his supporters, and to launch a series of "Attica dispatches" where he shares his experiences as a meals-on-wheels bike courier.
The Thursday night project is another way for Attica – GT's 2020 Restaurant of the Year – to continue its broader reach into the community. "Attica has always stood for much more than a restaurant and a place to take your money. We always want to contribute to culture and society and put a positive message out there," says Shewry.
For Blake, he's hoping the project will shake viewers from their self-isolation blues. "It's a silly, long-shot idea," he says. "But I love that the best restaurant in Melbourne is the least wanky, and willing to spin on a dime for the love of good food and community."