Masterchef S02 ep7 : Shannon Bennett, Vue De Monde Restaurant, [Melbourne]

Interview with Shannon Bennett

Already a Melbourne institution, Bennett studied many years under London masters before applying his craft.


VuedeMonde: VuedeMonde basically is view of the world and it’s a view of the world in my own

VuedeMonde: It’s not obviously spelled correctly, in French and we did cop a lot of flack over that
for, off, mostly people who didn’t even speak French, but it was actually a printing error and I
went with it because it had the sort of the little signature of this Melbournian cooking French food
and really it shouldn’t be spelled correctly because I’m not French.

VuedeMonde: I was, grew up, went to Essendon Grammar which was a boys’ school and we had a
girls sister school down the road and they would run the home economics class, so I said fantastic
you know, this is a great way to meet girls so that was in Year 8 and so I used to get the bus down
and there was only two of us actually on the bus, it was I an Curtis Stone actually, went straight
down there and we had a great time and we actually got distracted at first by all the attention and
then all of a sudden realised God this is fantastic, I love food.

VuedeMonde: Born in Melbourne but my mum is Irish so we used to go back every second year
back to the UK. Uncle Tom, who was a chef in London, I suppose that’s where I picked up my
instinct for food, he used to take me to the Ritz dining room and places like that and when, I
actually wasn’t a very good eater, I was actually born anaemic and so Uncle Tom had this exciting
life you know, fantastic 22 year old girlfriend, here he is he’s in his mid 40’s and he’s a chef and
the lifestyle he had was great so for me, that’s when I suppose I picked up the instinct and
excitement of cooking.

VuedeMonde: After home economics at about the age of 14 or 15, I then started to cook at
McDonald’s and that was just for money but I did start to learn discipline and cleanliness and
kitchen organisation and so at that stage then I realised money, travel and cooking all go together.
Plan in my head started to go well okay, I’ll get myself an apprenticeship and then I’m going to go
straight overseas.

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

VuedeMonde: I started at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne with Roger Linehard who was a big
influence on me, he was very disciplined and he was probably the only guy I was ever scared of at
that age and you know he used to come clambering up with his clogs up to the kitchen and I was
like, here’s trouble, every time I would meet him there was never any, any friendliness but there
was definitely a mutual respect and I used to get a great buzz out of that, even though he was
giving me a bollocking, I knew it was for a reason.

VuedeMonde: All apprentices had to cooperate with it, every single manner was apprenticeship
life, so we had to do competitions, we had to go to meetings every month and that’s where I found
a love through competitions and creating food and art on a plate, every month we’d have to do at
least three or four hours on how to aspect something perfectly, how to make the most beautiful
green cl… filled sauce and all those skills I got a real buzz out of.

VuedeMonde: From there I was encouraged to go to Europe and I didn’t even know what Michelin
stars were. And I thought well I’ll start in the UK and John Burton Race’s name came up as a place
that you could get a job L’Ortolan in Redding.

VuedeMonde: L’Ortolan basically means a little bird, they hold him in high esteem in France,
because you actually eat the bird by sucking out all the brain and the eyes through the beak and so
traditionally you do it under a napkin at the table. And also it’s a bit I suppose prestige, because
people then realise well, he’s eating an l’ortolan.

VuedeMonde: So then I started thinking about L’Ortolan, thinking about other restaurants, so I
wrote to about a dozen restaurants overseas and only two replied to me, Gordon Ramsay sent me a
job offer as a chef de pardi, I knew that I wasn’t able to handle a chef de pardi position, so John
Burton Race offered me a commie position, I took that and within three months my new life had
begun because I got over there and my first day no one wanted to know who I was, they just
basically said here, prepare the mange tout, I didn’t even know what mange tout was, I had to learn
everything again.

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

VuedeMonde: I learnt to be flamboyant at the same time being very disciplined and the chef is the
chef and you respect everything he does and you have to you know basically follow his line no
matter what and he has such an instinct for natural cooking juices and you cook a piece of john
dory and he can make the sauce from a piece of pan fried john dory or a pol.. john dory when no
one else, no other chef can, he can extract flavours and waste nothing. If we had a pan with a tiny
bit of juice in it, it was, he would be diving for the pan before it hits the sink. Through him also I
learnt how to eat, we were all encouraged on quiet days to actually go and eat in the restaurant.

VuedeMonde: Well then after that I knocked on Marco’s door and there was a bit of rivalry
between he and John Burton Race and so I got the job instantly and I unbeknownst to me at the
time, there was another two chefs there from John Burton Race’s already so I knew the kitchen
team and they were a really tough kitchen team.

VuedeMonde: The way Marco structures his kitchen, you manage that section like a miniature
restaurant. The menu very rarely changed and everything had to be perfect, it was sort of very
different to John’s food, it didn’t matter in John’s kitchen if there was one extra turn in the carrot.
At Marco Pierre White’s was basically every carrot had to be turned perfectly.

Where did you go to do your star with?

VuedeMonde: Mark Barrar, Alan Ducas which taught me a lot. Where I gathered a passion there
was for great ingredients and a lot of ingredients you didn’t see in London and small amounts of
ingredients, so being able to realise that still in a very good commercial restaurant you could use
fantastic small quantities of great produce and then from there I went back to work for the Roux
Brothers, I was lacking in pastry, big time. And so I went back and I learnt how to make a lemon
tart, it was 2000 by then and I came back and opened VuedeMonde which was a very, very small
little Italian restaurant in Carlton.

Jewellery Theatre Elements

VuedeMonde: A good mate of my dad’s, family friend George, I went to him, I didn’t have, I had
limited funds and I said I need 70 grand for a restaurant and everyone, I’d been to about five other
people and I thought I don’t want to ask family, and George straight away, just wrote me a cheque,
didn’t even ask any questions and two weeks later I was sleeping in my car out the front waiting
for possession of the restaurant at seven o’clock that morning, went in there with two young
apprentices. The first day I opened I had 14 booked for lunch and we cooked, opened, I had to
open that day so I just had a limited menu of I think it was two entrées and three main courses and
one dessert and I opened, served the food, served the wine that I’d already bought the stock from
and from that day I had enough funds to just keep going and I just slowly, slowly, any money I
made I basically I just put straight back into the restaurant and that was two years of hard slog
before I started to gain a real reputation amongst my customers for good food.

VuedeMonde: You look at maybe five elements that you know that would go well with a plate and
you then maybe would only pick two of those five elements and it’s about the combination of
those two that will work really well with the dish. And it is about restraint, knowing when enough
is enough on a plate.

VuedeMonde: I don’t really have any rules on ingredients, as long as I understand the ingredient,
so for me I’m still learning, like if I find a great spice, I’m trying to get simple with that, I’m not
trying to blend all the spices I will try and just make that spice speak with something that really
does sit well with it. And also picking up knowledge from other chefs now working for me. I’ve
got a blend of chefs that have, from all around the world now, and learning from those chefs has
been very interesting. They may not be able to design me a complete dish on a plate, but they can
contribute in some comment about a particular ingredient or know someone who may know
someone who produces something.

VuedeMonde: My palate is getting more experienced, I’m becoming more simple in the way I like
to present dishes but at the same time it goes against my philosophy of then producing a dish that
you can't produce at home. So how do you make something look wow, and also wow on the
palate? So theatre is really important, the plate that you may use, the portion size that you may use
and also the vehicle that you may deliver the plate with, so I suppose a good idea is the boui…
where we had a 1960’s Kona that we had purchased with a group of bits and pieces on the internet
from ebay and none of us had an idea what the Kona was, it was cracked on the bottom and we
were thinking God, no information on the internet, nowhere. So then we googled Kona and we
found a chef in Spain doing a soup very, very similar to what we decide, we thought okay well, he
was doing something with cockles or something like that, we thought well we’ll give this a go with
dried mushrooms and we’ll give it a go with boui… and see if we can get the staranese and all
those sorts of things to work with the philosophy of the Kona which was to keep the coffee really
fresh and to keep the aroma of beautiful arabica beans, freshly crushed straight inside. And it
works really well and it works on the table really well with the theatre aspect of it. And so it’s a
really simple dish, it’s basically mussel juice with crayfish, crushed crayfish bones and loads of
different spices and very, very simple and all the aromatics of those fresh spices comes through
because it only takes 30 seconds for that soup to be made.

Jewellery Theatre Fairytales

VuedeMonde: We did a bit of promotion about four years ago in Carlton where the restaurant
wasn’t doing that well on a Tuesday and Wednesday lunch. How I wanted to promote it was you
get $150 hamburger on a Tuesday or a Wednesday for lunch and a friend of mine basically said, no
you should just promote the hamburger non-stop and we’ll see if you can get it in the paper, so we
actually got front page on the Herald Sun, $150 hamburger and they were sort of, Bob Hart was
drumming it up big time. Next minute we had 10 Hells Angels guys turn up wanting a $150
hamburger and we’d also advertised what wine does it go with and we all said oh, Grange you
know at $600 a bottle, it’s fantastic, just as a joke, so they all turned up and asked for a hamburger
each and a bottle of Grange, take away. They paid cash, it was about, I think it was about $800
each. They would then turn up again every month. They even turned up, we opened Christmas Day
about four years ago and three of them turned up again, didn’t want the hamburger.

Did you say Hells Angels?

VuedeMonde: Hells Angels and they didn’t want the burger this time, they just wanted the Grange
again, said if they were on their way to a party and they said can we get another bottle of Grange
off you? And then they did turn up to the new restaurant about a year ago and Brian, my maitre’d
who is very prim and proper and has a great reputation for being as such, they turned up smoking
joints at the front door so I instructed Brian to go out and get them to extinguish their joints before
they were allowed into the restaurant. And they basically said to Brian, Brian anyone else, we
would kill them, but because it’s you, no problem. And they just stubbied out the joints and in they

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Shannon Bennett, Vue De Monde Restaurant, [Melbourne]