Masterchef S01 ep:1 Tony Bilson, Bilson Restaurant, [Sydney]

Interview with Tony Bilson

There are some absolutely mind opening experiences that one has in restaurants if you are interested in it. Some people just go along and go 'munch, munch, munch'. I go along and weep. The brilliant guys, like Guy Savoy in particular, have the ability - there is a lovely Ducasse saying,"to take something that is already really good and turn it in to something beautiful". I think one of the reasons why the great French chefs and the Japanese get on so well is that they recognize in the food that is on the plate, the relationship to seasons, to agriculture and to the history of the culture.


KM: What is Bilson?

It is a sort of sensual retreat I guess, all good restaurants I think are a
celebration of the agricultural but in the final analysis it is about good food and
good wine.

KM: Why cooking?


That is the reason basically, it is a book that was written and published in
1956. I like what happened in Paris in the....around the turn of the century. I
loved all that bohemian life, the Hemmingway stories, so for me going into
restaurants was actually being part of that arts community.

A couple of things were happening in my life, one I had been introduced to
Georges Mora who had a restaurant called Balzac, and a lot of artists worked
there. I mean Charles Blackman used to wash the dishes.

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

The first restaurant in Cambridge was the Blue Ball, which was like a local brasserie, then a
pub,which was very good food and then to a very good restaurant called mid- Summer House,
so that was a really lovely one. And then in Barbados, then when I came back to London and
worked for Gordon at the Opera chin. It is a , all the successes were really hard. I think people
always think, oh, we started off and just fell into all this success, it's been working out when we
were there, seven in the mornings, mid nights with us, you know, really push, push, push and
that was his job.18:44

When I started, didn't even have one stove. We got one stove like six weeks after I started. We
worked really hard, he was really inspirational, very demanding, very particular, but very
inspiring, you know, he really graphed with you, you know, made you want to think and really
fulfilled you, pushed you for ambition, which I thought was fantastic. 19:20

When I worked with Marcus and Patrice, then we did a cuneal together, went to Dubai for him,
so start with him, you know, all in all,seventeen years with loads of different restaurants.You
know I opened up a restaurant in Glascock with him and David, so we just did a lot of that
which was great and that's why I liked doing, so it was interesting.19:55

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

I mean Georges is very Parisianne and he ran a salon in Little Collins Street
where the arts community started to gather and out of that Salon grew the
museum of Contemporary Art and that included the very wealthy John Reid.
Georges' great skill was to bring together the money borgeois of Melbourne if
you like and put them together with the bohemian artists and those two
communities had a very long tradition.

I did a year of economics at Monash and then I joined a bank working in
foreign exchange and then my mother died. I realised that I did not want to do
this, I was just being a good Melbourne Grammer school boy so I went to
George and said I really want to be a chef so what do I do. He put me on to
Johnny Walker in Sydney and there were two very fine French chefs working
there - Paul Harveleu and John Enserion. John had had a 2 star restaurant in
France, Paul who was a boxer in his youth big guy he was caught in Sydney
during the war.

My early years were in a hotel in Sydney. My mother was a very good cook,
my grandmother had a pastry shop in Western Victoria so I guess all of those
influences came together but the thing that attracted me to the intellectual part
was actually the social life that one could create around the restaurant - that is
really what it was about.

Jewellery Theatre Elements

There is a real creativity in plating food - the visuals. The the same
way as a good painting does there are subconscious things that go along
within that. We are doing a dish at the moment, a lobster dish using an agar
agar jell. Now agar agar can be hot, it can also be used like a pasta, so we are
using it like lasagne but it is translucent so it is like looking through a piece of
glass, looking into something that is very beautiful underneath it.

There are some absolutely mind opening experiences that one has in
restaurants if you are interested in it - I mean other people just go along and
go.........I go along and weep. The brilliant guys, the guys that are really good -
Guy Savoir particularly has the ability, there is a lovely Alain Ducasse saying, "
To take something that is already really good and turn it in to something
beautiful". I think one of the reasons why the great French chefs and the
Japanese get on so well is that they recognise in the food that is on the plate,
the relationship to Seasons, to Agriculture, to the history of the culture
generally, there can be many references.

There is a dish a Gateau de Foie Gras with Curveau Curvois and Alain Chapel
dish he took a fairly stodgy local dish and transformed it into that was just
ethereally light and yet at the same time captured the essence of the area in
which he worked. So that is what great chefs do.

We have just done a series of Degustation Dinners called The Sensuality
which is the celebration of Sydney's summer, sex and all those things. I mean
I don't tell them what the reference of the food is,

KM: Oh this is not rude food?

There is some bold food, there is one bold dish, but it is up to them to work out
what is good about....

KM: Tony, Tony, Tony you artist you!

Jewellery Theatre Fairytales

KM: Who were your masters over those years and did you go to the
gastronomic hippie trail of France?

Very much so I was very lucky in about 1973 we had a waiter working for us
Alain Chenie, and Alain's father Jacque was in the resistance with Fernand
Point and they introduced us to Madame Point, her husband had died in 1956
and she introduce us to Paul Bocuse, Troisgros, Alain Chapel, Roger Verge,
Louis Outhier - brilliant contemporary cooking and we sort of brought that
aesthetic back with us straight away.

On of my favourite moment was James Haliday, a very famous wine writer,
James called up and said, look it is my 40th birthday and I have got a special
wine I want to bring (it was a 1928 Latour or something like that) O.k. we said
we can't match that so we said that is fine, bring it down. So he brought it
down a few days before and we stood it up and let the sediment fall and then
just before James came, the day before we got some flagon wine with a little
sugar and vinegar and things and we cooked that up and let it cool down.
James arrived on the day, we carefully eased the capsule off carefully took the
cork out decantered the wine refilled the bottle with the cask wine and vinegar
mixture we had made up the day before put the cork back in put the lead
capsule back on, presented it to the table, opened it at the table poured it into
the glasses, he tasted it and he said of ghee, oh no! We said what is the
matter James ‘oh it is fucked. It is completely fucked’. We said oh look don't
worry we have just opened ourselves of an old bottle of wine that Tony was
going to have with his lunch try that one. He said o.k. good so we gave him a
glass, he swished it around, Oh he said that is fantastic he said what is that.
Then the penny sort of dropped you know he said oh you bastards.

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