Masterchef S02 ep10 : Mark Best, Marque Restaurant, [Sydney]

Interview with Mark Best

A disciple of Alain Passard, Best came to cooking quite late in life but seems to have made up for it with his talent for dishes with a zest of zen.


Best: We’re a small restaurant, we seat 50 people, we’re trying to give the best possible food and

Best: The Marques is a trademark in French of course, any trademark, but in English we would use
it more as a prestigious brand so I like that connotation as well.

Best: This is all about me, this place, the décor, the food, the style of service, it’s an expression I
think of my personality and character.

Best: A South Australian from Murray Bridge, moved to Western Australia with my parents when I
was 16, down the mines by 17, gold mines, in the gold fields.

Best: Yeah intimidating when you’re the junior member of the crew and you’re in the bottom of
the skip going down 4,000 metres with all the smelly minors above you, it was a fantastic
experience and character building. Having said that, at 21 I finished my apprenticeship and got on
the Indian Pacific and roared back to Sydney and never turned back. Went and worked on
Cockatoo Island refitting submarines.

Best: By now I’m 25, I’d already married by this stage. My wife, she was an English teacher, she
wanted to get out of teaching and I wanted to get out of an electrician and so we thought well, you
know a café you be the front of house, I’ll be the cook you know, let’s train you know in those
various areas, so Valerie went off to do a business course, I happened to live with a very good chef
of Maclay Street Bistro in Potts Point at that time which was sort of one of the first modern bistros
in Sydney and she said look, just come in and you know, it’s a hard job but come in and have a
look you know and I was, I had an epiphany.

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

Best: I started at 7.00am prepped all day, did 100 covers for lunch, Daniel Ganty is the owner of
the time, French, very ebullient French fellow, he sat everyone down in the traditional style, all the
staff sat around a round table talked about the lunch, the customers, we had wine, just good,
straight forward food and I thought, I needn’t look any further you know, I just was completely
struck by the whole thing. The hospitality bug you know sort of came upon me at that stage.

Best: It was just the buzz of the service it was the constant stream of orders coming in and this
massive amount of dockets and it almost seemed insurmountable and for some people they just
would you know hang their hat on the door and run out the back and for me, I was completely
taken, call me sick, but I think people who are in hospitality that’s just what they’re into.

Best: I think there’s this whole Zen component to it, meeting the produce coming through the door
in the morning, breaking it down you know that whole process, portioning it, getting your fridges
just so everything full, everything ready and then having that completely destroyed and then
starting all over again and knowing that this is, this repetition is what it’s all about and I think you
have to fall in love with that process.

Best: I was offered a job at the end of my first day as a first year apprentice so I went back to
basics, worked part time as an electrician on my days off and did another complete apprenticeship
and started all over again. Sold my cars, cashed in my superannuation.

What did your wife think of all this?

Best: She was fully supportive, otherwise I just couldn’t have done it.

Best: I worked my way up and in my final year I won the Josephine Pinulet award so that sort of
put me on the radar and … to the media and also gave me the sort of impetus to carry on.

Best: At that stage the bistro was sold and we decided we’d open our own bistro completely
naively which we did and ran very successfully for two years. Good critical acclaim and I wasn’t
going any further and I became very, very frustrated by that and had a lot of ideas, no ability to
execute them, and I was sort of constantly questioning what was the difference between what I was
doing and a three Michelin stars restaurant. In ’96 we’d been on a six week eating tour all around
France and we’d come across Arpege and just completely blown away and that experience that
dining experience had been stuck in my mind, it was sort of a shining star.

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

Best: His style of service was very different, I was into classicism at the time but he was also very
modern. You were given a roast rabbit, it was divided in two, both of us had it, even the skull was
split in two, the brain was given half and half, beautiful little roast carrots it was just, just say that
was the first time I had his … egg, was a revelation, and it still is you know it stands up, it’s a
modern cooking classic. And I did a tour of the kitchen and it was just another epiphany you know
how things could be done.

Best: He doesn’t say much, it’s just pure by example and osmosis. His passion is a sort of a quiet
burning passion which imbues the entire kitchen. He was breaking rules, he wasn’t loud about it,
but you know his confi tomato was 12 flavours caramelised tomato with a serve of … ice cream or
vanilla whatever version he was doing, treating tomato as a fruit and the way he cooked meat, the
meat never saw an oven, the duck was turned you know and rotisseried on a pan and you know
learning those techniques even today I can still draw on that experience, that six months that I
worked there.

Best: I went off to work for Raymond Blanc at Le Menwar Catsazon. Raymond is very interesting,
very charismatic guy, he interviewed me, gave me quite a noble speech about what it was to
become a chef in a two Michelin star establishment. He didn’t know what I’d been doing before,
he asked me to cook lunch for him, he said take all day, do whatever you want. I thought well what
am I going to do, and I’d just come from Passard, three Michelin star, I’ll cook one of Passard’s
dishes, I cooked the lamb rack with a little fondue of onions and mint and fresh dates which was
you know one of his famous dishes. Served it to Raymond, he ate it he says yes, the lamb is well
rested, nice fondue of onions, he said, a nice lunch Mark, but he said of course, this is a bistro dish,
you know this is, here is about fine dining and I didn’t tell him where the dish had come from and I
just, it clearly illustrated where English cuisine was, or English French cuisine and where modern
French cuisine was and how different they were.

Jewellery Theatre Elements

Best: I find them too robotic, they’re more interested in creating geometric shapes and making sure
that it’s the standards are kept rather than allowing the ingredients really to be expressed.

Best: Came back here and started off I think as you do emulating those dishes and still completely
inexperienced, just when I think I’ve sort of got it, that feeling vanishes and I feel that I have to
almost start all over again. I trust my palate and I have a repertoire and the cooking all happens in
my head and invariably it comes out so that took maybe you know five or six, seven years before
that started to happen.

Jewellery Theatre Fairytales

Best: The technique should be below the ingredient, it needs to lift the ingredient Pierre Ganier
famously said that he wants to bring ingredients to a point of unnatural expression and I think this
is a pithy sort of quote that you know really resonates for me.

Best: I always stay just slightly ahead of the audience, so I’m bringing them along for the ride. And
then we get people who come along who are not open minded who sort of get on at the end of the
journey and go what the, that can also be a fantastic thing when we have people who are very open
minded to new experiences and for them it’s just like where the hell did that come from, like with
no expectation whatsoever to be given a dining experience like that you know and that’s just a
wonderful moment.

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Mark Best, Marque Restaurant, [Sydney]