Published on October 16 2012.
Attica, Melbourne, Australia
Ben laid his first hangi at the age of ten and he channels that and other experiences of growing up on a farm in New Zealand’s hauntingly lovely north-west in the artful dishes he creates at his much lauded Melbourne restaurant. He’s also a dedicated crusader for ethical and sustainable ingredients.
Q. Who did you learn to cook from?
A. My mother Kaye taught me the basics and then gave me the freedom to experiment with food as a child. Those experiments mostly centred around variations of béchamel with peas and a kind of "back country stir-fry" with carrots. Riveting stuff.
Q. What grows in your backyard?
A. At the moment about 30 tomato plants are struggling with the concept of it being winter. They have self-sown and are growing with reckless abandon. Careless fools.
Q. Name the one ingredient you can't live without and how you would cook it?
A. There’s no ingredient I couldn't be without. I just like whatever is good, fair, tasty and preferably not grown in Timbuktu
Q. What's your favourite dish right now?
A. Literally right now I'm working on a new appetiser focused on a sorrel leaf from our garden, with a paste of wild garlic &dried egg yolk cured with a salty cheese. Generally I like the most recent additions to or menu.
Q. What do you do when you're not in the kitchen cooking?
A. Lately my spare energy has been going into the renovation of the building next door to Attica where our test kitchen/lab will be situated soon. Last week gutted and rebuilt an old toilet for the staff. It’s glamorous stuff this cooking life. Apart from building outhouses I like Sunday walks on the beach with my wife and playing basketball against my son.
Q. No 1 cooking tip for the amateur cook?
A. Failure is excellent. Personally I adore it. Don't be scared of it- it’s what keeps cooks humble. If you are making no mistakes then you are learning nothing.