“I dreamt this dream that was the most intense dream of bees and beehives,” recalls internationally renowned chef Ben Shewry, when The Power Index quizzes him on where he finds inspiration for his delicately balanced dishes that resemble mini art works.
After yawning down the highway from his home in Ocean Grove to his restaurant Attica in Ripponlea, Melbourne, Shewry pulled over for a power nap. “I remember waking up, really abruptly, with this notion in my head that I must create a dessert inside a beehive,” says Shewry. “We attempted this dish at least 80 different ways and I gave up on it.”
But as The Power Index discovered in its chat with Shewry at his unassuming restaurant on a suburban strip, this obsessive overachiever doesn’t give up on anything. His restaurant Attica — he’s a partner along with David and Helen Maccora, but has complete creative control — is ranked 63 in the prestigious San Pellegrino World’s Best 100 Restaurants. That makes Attica the third ranked Australian restaurant, after Peter Gilmore’s Quay and Mark Best’s Marque.
So why is Shewry on our list and not them? “Out of all the top guys, Ben is probably the best connected internationally and has certainly been asked to participate in more international events than anybody else,” says Sharlee Gibb, gastronomy program manager at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. Shewry was the first Victorian to ever speak at Spain’s highly acclaimed Madrid Fusion and the first Australian to present at Copenhagen’s MAD FoodCamp and France’s Omnivore food festival.
His international cred makes him worthy of a power ranking, even if he’s not a household name. He’s no celebrity TV chef, but Aussies should expect to start hearing more about him. “Ben Shewry is so much a part of the brotherhood — the ‘Chosen Ones’ I call them — he has the power to be more influential in the future,” food writer Jill Dupleix says.
The “Chosen Ones” are the chef darlings who dominate the international food media with their dishes created from sustainable and local produce, often foraged. Denmark is their spiritual home and Rene Redzepi — whose restaurant Noma in Copenhagen is ranked No.1 in the world — their cult leader. Think of Shewry as our local disciple.
Dinner at Attica currently includes onions foraged from the nearby train line, a plethora of herbs grown in its Ripponlea Estate kitchen garden, wallaby and a plate of native Australian fruits The Power Index had never heard of (among them quandong, desert lime and lemon aspen).
Close mate Redzepi even nominated Shewry as a potential challenger to his top spot during his Melbourne visit last year. “He embarrassed me. He humbled me when he said that,” says Shewry.
The Kiwi-born chef uses the word “humble” often, which encapsulates his whole demeanor. He looks younger than his 35 years, but his thoughtful answers and big serious eyes make him seem older.
Shewry grew up as the son of a sheep and cattle farmer in an isolated backwater on New Zealand’s north island. It was so remote that only seven kids attended his local primary school in Waitotara, with his sister making up two of the students and his mother serving as principal and sole teacher.
The Shewry family didn’t have much cash, but their knowledge of the land meant food was plentiful. ”We always had cattle, we always had sheep, my father hunted for a lot of pigs, we foraged for berries, for edible plants, we dived for a massive array of shellfish and my mother had a really big vegetable garden and provided all sorts of things,” he explains.