Friday, August 01, 2008

InterVue - Shannon Bennett

Shannon elucidates a point.

Sitting a couple of feet from a huge cauldron boiling chicken carcasses for stock (when will we three meet again?) at the Chef’s table at Vue de Monde Neil Murray, of 'At My Table', and I spent an hour or so chatting with Shannon Bennett. The conversation ranged from reviewers to restaurants, from oysters to truffles and a lot in between. It began with Neil's question about early chefs influencing him. Shannon included Marco Pierre White, a notoriously difficult and highly innovative 3 Michelin star English chef, (see http://www.tomatom.com/ on the subject of temperamental chefs) and John Burton-Race, also a Michelin starred celebrity chef frequently featuring on TV, and in the divorce courts. He is extremely complimentary about Gordon Ramsay who he sees as both an excellent chef and a great showman but less complimentary about Jamie Oliver who has lost his way and become ‘a product’. He also has good things to say about local chefs and thinks both Ray Capaldi and Greg Maloufs' new restaurants will do well. It was an extremely frank and open exchange, so much so that I cannot use the adjectives Shannon used in speaking of some of his critics. Quite some time ago now Stephen Downes wrote a seriously silly and unbalanced review of Vue which led to him being banned. I was surprised that potential patrons could take his comments that seriously but evidently some did. Other reviewers show no understanding of the real costs involved in, for example,having a top sommelier pour a glass of wine.
It’s not only the dead tree press that concerns Shannon it’s everything and everyone be they bloggers or patrons. Any comment or criticism is treated seriously. Speaking of restaurants it was revealing to hear Shannons’ view of El Bulli. Ferran Adria is an artist, it’s not transferable, it starts and ends in the kitchen at El Bulli. Nevertheless watch out for Ferran Adria coming to Melbourne and putting on something special with Shannon at Vue.
Which chef would Shannon like to cook with - Alex Atali at D.O.M. in San Paolo Brazil for one. Another he admires is Andoni Aduriz (who trained at El Bulli) from Mugaritz outside San Sebastian. This is also a restaurant that follows the molecular gastronomy approach, called technoemotional by the Spanish.
Getting personal: Shannon works out at a gym three times a week, he likes driving fast cars but strictly, and only, on the race track. He has sold his own car and the family car is an Audi but he walks to work at present. He spends his free time with the family and loves spending time with his two young children. For ethnic cuisine he likes Ethiopian and Moroccan, specially tajines. He spends one afternoon a week mentoring troubled kids at The Whitelion Society, through cooking, teaching them that they can do things really well, a perfect omelet for example, can provide remarkable self belief. The societies charter, in brief, is to open doors to opportunities, relationships and community for young people involved in the Youth Justice System or at risk of involvement.
You can visit their web site at http://www.whitelion.org.au/
About food: On the creative side, of his own creations, Shannon most likes his liquid mushroom gnocchi but acknowledges that most of his dishes are variations and developments from others initial efforts. Freshness of ingredients is absolutely crucial. For example West Australian black truffles are identical genetically to the Perigord truffle being from the same spore and there is no terroir so they have the advantage of being able to be used within a few days of being harvested before they start to deteriorate.
There is a particular oyster that Shannon favours - Moonlight Oysters from Batemans Bay. This is virtually an artisan oyster grown under very specific conditions to produce an excellent tasting full bodied oyster in a flat shell.
On Vue: Shannon not only strives to be really good he strives to be the best. This involves concentration on all aspects of the restaurant. Excellent performance everywhere is the key to Vues’ success. There is a major concentration on ‘front of house’ performance and training staff to the highest standards, both on the floor and in the kitchen, is another mark of a quality restaurant. The architecture, the lights and lighting, the cutlery, the crockery, the Riedel glasses, the re-upholstered chairs - it all counts. Top quality staff are essential to making a meal at Vue a great experience. Behind him there are a now a support staff of 90! Not all at Vue of course.
Shannon didn't say this but he might have Vue does not just sell food it sells feelings and I must say they are feelings I enjoy enormously.
To get another side of this interview visit www.tankeduptaco.blogspot.com/

2 comments:

Thermomixer said...

Congratulations and thanks for making the effort to have an interview that is not used to promote the interviewees agenda.
Although you may get even more attention from Bryan & Raul - if that's possible.

Elliot said...

Hi Thermomixer
It's true they really make me feel that they specially look forward to looking after me. This is quite a talent and I wonder if they manage to make most guests feel like that.