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Innovations in the new Mecca of dining

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When it comes to dining, Sydney is the new Mecca. There is something almost alchemic about it; a transformative magic that lifts fine to great and elevates popular to legendary. Of course, the buzzword now is native, with both ingredients and cuisines staging a triumphant comeback this year. We speak to five influential chefs who talk of food beyond taste, innovation beyond gimmickry, and presentation at par with artistry. These artists of ingredients spill the beans on how flavours evolve, their cooking styles and top food trends.

Logan Campbell

Jonah’s , Australia

Bonding over textures: Ingredients dominate the plate for Logan Campbell, who advocates discipline and respect for them. He is a great believer in authenticity and the art of experimenting. An executive chef for 12 years at Lucio’s in Paddington, Australia and recipient of two chef hats in 2014, he joined Jonah’s on the magnificent Whale Beach in Sydney in 2015 to create a contemporary Australian menu that focuses on seafood with a delicate Italian flavour.

Your earliest food memory: My father was a chef so watching him cook was one of my first memories.

Personal favourite: I don’t have a favourite only because what I create always evolves. I’ll make a dish and be happy with it then I revisit the dish months later with fresh eyes and rework it.

Top ingredients: I love passion fruit. The sweet yet acidic balance really appeals to me. The second would be seafood. It’s the ultimate in delicate proteins and the variety of textures and flavours available in our oceans really challenge me.

Artist or a chef: A chef is an artist. An artist is a chef. They create. Their mediums are different but the heart is the same.

Dream destination for a culinary tour: I have worked in Asia and have done many tours to Europe and North America. I have yet to see South America and India though.

If you weren’t a chef: Teaching would be an option.

Biggest challenge: Finding the balance between what people are familiar with and therefore willing to pay for and the implementation of new, fresh, wellbalanced ideas without being pretentious.

Food innovation or mere gimmickry: Innovation means change. Change is the only constant. What most people think is classically Italian is, in fact, not. Tomatoes do not come from the Italian peninsula and neither does basil or eggplant. Is buffalo mozzarella an Italian classic? How many water buffaloes were walking around during the time of Caesar? All of these things were imports till a few hundred years ago. There is gimmickry now but let’s not confuse that with innovation.

James Viles

Biota Dining, Bowral, Australia

Less is more: Owner and Chef of Biota Dining and Rooms, James Viles was the youngest chef to be awarded a Chef ‘s Hat in 2004 during his time at Bowral’s The Schoolhouse Restaurant in his early 20s. Viles has made appearances on TV including 7 Network’s Weekend Sunrise and Sydney Weekender, and Channel Nine’s Fresh. Viles has worked internationally as executive chef at The Chedi Muscat, GHM Hotels at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Dubai, alongside two-star Michelin chef Hans Haas and Alain Ducasse.

Your earliest food memory: Making gravy with my grandma from pan juices and vegemite.

Personal favourite: It would have to be a pork fat custard.

Top ingredients: Persimmon, quince, milk and acidic leaves.

Favourite chefs: Marc Veyrant, Michel Bras and Dan Barber.

Your style of cooking: Honest, pure and restrained.

An artist or a chef? I would consider myself a cook. We cook food for people. This is our responsibility.

Favourite junk food: Soft tacos with lots of leaves, pickles and spiced meat.

Dream destination for a culinary tour: Nepal and South America; deep, rich and vibrant.

If you weren’t a chef…I would like to fly fighter jets.

Top five sources of inspiration: People, mother nature and family.

Biggest challenge: Reality TV shows and society wanting more and more. We should focus on less and less.

Food innovation or mere gimmickry: We will start to see a movement towards origins and localism in the future.

Vegetarian-only restaurants: I love vegetarian restaurants. Meat should be treated as a luxury.

Jason Atherton

Kensington Street Social, Australia

Rooted to recreate: Polite and engaging, Jason Atherton is a man of balance whether it comes to work or spices. Owner of 18 restaurants across the globe, Kensington Street Social, Australia is the latest feather in his cap. Earlier, he was the executive chef at Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin starred Maze in London until 2010. He co-hosted the Sky Living TV series My Kitchen Rules in 2014. Atherton has worked with chefs that include Pierre Koffmann, Nico Ladenis, and Marco Pierre White.

Your earliest food memory: Eating sardines on toast with my stepfather when I was six years old. It was delicious.

Personal favourite: English breakfast.

Top ingredients: The basics are important. Garlic, olive oil and my larder to cook from.

Favourite chefs: Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller and Alain Ducasse.

Your style of cooking: Global, but deep-rooted in modern British cuisine.

Artist or a chef: A chef by far.

Dream destination for a culinary tour: Italy; Tuscany for sure.

Top five sources of inspiration: Fans of my cookbook, Internet, travelling, my team; chefs who inspire me. If I’m allowed a sixth, my wife and family.

Food innovation or mere gimmickry: It’s vital to continue to be creative and inspiring. Take Dali with his images or Heston with his cooking, it pushes boundaries; it makes us think and it inspires. Although sometimes, it might not work or people might not find it acceptable, but I think it’s subjective.

Is farm to table the way food will be in the future: This is media rubbish. It’s always been like that. This really infuriates me. Where do people think chefs get their fresh food from? It has always been ground to kitchen.

Vegetarian-only restaurants: I think it’s a great thing. In Shanghai, there is a vegan restaurant which is simply amazing. I love it.

Peter Gilmore, 47

Bennelong, Sydney

Craft to finish: Food inspired by nature is the best way to describe Peter Gilmore’s cooking. Widely regarded as one of Australia’s best chefs, Gilmore works with traditional techniques giving them a new Australian interpretation. The Bennelong menu has been curated by Gilmore, stirred by intimate conversations with farmers, fishermen and breeders nationwide, showcasing mostly Australian ingredients in wholesome yet original form.

Your earliest food memory…Picking a mandarin from a tree in my backyard.

Top ingredients: Seafood like quality shellfish and heirloom vegetables are my favourites.

Your top three favourite chefs: Andoni Luis Aduriz, Michel Bras and Dan Barber.

Your style of cooking…Innovative, textural and respectful.

An artist or a chef: I think a chef is both a craftsman and an artist.

Dream destination for a culinary tour: Japan

If you weren’t a chef…I would have been a horticulturalist or a landscape artist.

Biggest challenge: Finding the next perfect marriage of flavours.

Food innovation or mere gimmickry: There are all sorts of approaches to innovation; there are some innovations that use old techniques and simply making them modern again.

Vegetarian only restaurants: I think the way forward is having a greater ratio of vegetables over protein but I still feel protein elements are important within my cuisine.

Brent Savage

Yellow, Bowral, Australia

Local goes global: Cooking became a creative process for Brent Savage rather early in life. He usually opts for simple pleasures and co-owns Yellow, one of Sydney’s best restaurants, inspired by European dining that looks at contemporary food and wine served in an informal atmosphere at competitive prices. Savage loves cooking with vegetables and has a solely vegetable-driven menu at Yellow, focusing on interesting and heirloom wine varietals, grown by local suppliers. I also like collaborating with local growers to plant new products that are rare such as broad bean shoots and Mexican cucumbers.

Your earliest food memory…My grandmother taking me foraging for blackberries and mushrooms.

Personal favourite food: The Bentley Chocolate Bar would have to be right up there given that it’s been on the menu since day one.

Top ingredients: It depends on the season. Right now, I’m enjoying working with root vegetables like celeriac and Jerusalem artichoke. I also like collaborating with local growers to plant new products that are rare such as broad bean shoots and Mexican cucumbers.

Favourite chefs: Ferran Adria and Michel Bras.

An artist or a chef: Neither! I consider cooking to be a craft.

Dream destination for a culinary tour: I’m cooking in Burgundy, France next year.

Top five sources of inspiration: People who work for me, the producers at our local growers markets and the fast paced food environment around us.

Biggest challenge: The cost of food is one of the biggest challenges, although for that reason you have to be more creative.

Food innovation or mere gimmickry: No, I think food innovation, like all trends is circular. At the moment we are seeing a lot of pickling, salting and curing which are all ancient methods of preservation.

Vegetarian only restaurants: Given that we have just transformed Yellow into a vegetarian restaurant at the beginning of the year, I am very much in favour of them. As long as they are approached with the same consideration and quality as every other restaurant, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be as successful or popular.

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