Header image: San Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 winner Mitch Lienhard, Brett Graham, Peter Gilmore, Dominique Crenn and Massimo Bottura at Sydney Opera House
In the run-up to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, four of the most influential chefs on the planet took to the stage for a special sell-out edition at the Sydney Opera House of #50BestTalks, sponsored by San Pellegrino & Acqua Panna.
In a line-up presented by journalist and commentator Annabel Crabb, 50 Best superstars Massimo Bottura, Dominique Crenn, Brett Graham and Peter Gilmore spoke about their passions, careers and responsibilities as cooks at the top of their game. Here are a few of the highlights.
On the matter of authenticity and the road to success
Being a great chef, it seems, is not only about the love for food, but also about the choice to be authentic against all odds. Osteria Francescana owner Massimo Bottura, referring to his signature Parmegiano Reggiano dish, now a pillar of Italian cuisine, gave this advice to all young chefs: “If you have a good idea, before or after, you are going to be recognised, so you have to keep going, believe in yourself, and do it.”
Bottura also shared the story of his time with Alain Ducasse. At the end of an experience that had seen Bottura drop everything to train with the legendary French cook, Ducasse asked the young chef for his notebook, then promptly proceeded to rip up the notes. “I was ready to kill him,” Bottura said. “But then he said “you are ready to walk on your own feet – now walk.” I think that was the most important experience of my life.”
Bottura takes centre stage, with Brett Graham (left), Dominique Crenn and Peter Gilmore
For Brett Graham, owner of The Ledbury in London, cooking is also a matter of nature: “What separates great chefs from good chefs is instinct.” For Peter Gilmore of Quay in Sydney, it’s about discovering your own identity: “You need to find a voice or style, follow your own. You’ve got to find what speaks to you, which for me is produce.”
Dominique Crenn, owner of Atelier Crenn and Petit Crenn in San Francisco, said it wasn’t always her intention to open a restaurant – she needed to find her own path first. “I didn’t go to San Francisco to open a restaurant. I wanted to be a ballerina but it didn’t work out. If you really want to be a chef, you have to have your own story, and if you don’t have your own story, what are you doing?”
Girls on Fire
Honouring the Alicia Keys song that she picked for her walk-up onto the stage – Girl on Fire – Crenn took the opportunity to call for a change in the conversation around female chefs and their presence within the restaurant industry. She pointed out that over half of all global culinary students are female and that the discussion around female cooks at the top of the industry needs to involve male voices too.
When asked by an audience member whether she regretted prioritising her career over being a mother, Crenn was quick to reply that she, in fact, has twins. “First, ask me if I’m a mother,” she said. “You have to make choices in life – it doesn't matter if you are male or female.” She was met with applause from the audience.
Bottura used his moment in the global spotlight to raise a topic that’s core to the current generation of chefs – sustainability. “We need to open the eyes of the world. 33% of all food is wasted – this is not possible”. He shared news of his travelling soup kitchen project, which is soon to open in London.
The Ledbury’s Brett Graham highlighted the need for chefs to take direct action instead of just talking about sustainability: ‘We don’t serve tuna; we don’t serve grain-fed beef, no question – if grass-fed is not available, we don’t use it.”
Brett Graham speaking on stage at the packed Sydney Opera House
Discover The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 list, hear from The World’s Best Restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, and stay tuned for highlights from the Melbourne edition of #50BestTalks, sponsored by San Pellegrino & Acqua Panna.