Ben Shewry has an answer to most questions – not a smartypants response or shrugging of shoulders, but always something considered and thoughtful. So when we ask him how at the age of 30 his food is developing, having wowed fans at Melbourne’s Attica over the past two-and-a-half years with highly original dishes reflecting diverse interests and influences, he comes right back at us.
“I know it sounds all New Age and pathetic,” he says, “but I’m really trying to make it more emotional. I’m starting to try and make a connection with memories. Not just making a dish visually appealing and with great flavours, but also trying to evoke other emotions.”
Shewry, Gourmet Traveller’s 2008 Best New Talent award-winner, talks of desserts built around his fond recollections of childhood sweets and lollies. And a seafood dish he has on at the restaurant “that looks and tastes like the ocean that nearly killed me as a kid”.
That ocean was Taranaki on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Shewry came to Melbourne five years ago and sought out mentors such as Michael Lambie, Andrew McConnell and London’s David Thompson, for whom he worked gratis on his holidays. Now he’s moving on, exhibiting more confidence in his own style.
“I’m trying to think about things more deeply. Bring a little more intelligence to the dish, rather than just ‘oh, chocolate and venison are nice together’, in a way that other people don’t. It’s very personal and when people don’t like it, I get upset.”
For Gourmet Traveller, the brief was to transpose his signature style for the home cook, a considerable challenge, he says. “The flavours are similar, but they’re not restaurant-like,” muses Shewry. “It’s easier for me to come up with restaurant dishes rather than simpler stuff because I’m always in that mindset. These dishes are very seasonal and appeal to me; they have a bit of quirkiness and individuality about them.”
Attica, 74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea, Vic, (03) 9530 0111.
WORDS JOHN LETHLEAN PHOTOGRAPHY **SHARYN CAIRNS
*This article appeared in the April 2008 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller*.