Ben Shewry’s Attica is ranked #32 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and it’s Restaurant of the Year in the first national Good Food Guide – but according to his son Kobe, Attica is “not bad” for a restaurant that doesn’t have a burger on the menu.
Many years before Ben gained international acclaim for Attica’s uniquely Australian dishes (from his inventive take on avocado on toast to a savoury pavlova), he was shaping margarine sculptures for hotel buffets and cooking New Zealand’s biggest nachos for drunk students.
While living in New Zealand, he met his wife Natalia over scones and they eventually moved to Australia together. After a memorable honeymoon in Sydney (a highlight was Janni Kyrsitis’s “punk” dessert at MG Garage), he worked in Melbourne before eventually becoming head chef at Attica in Ripponlea.
“When I took over, the restaurant owed $250,000,” he says. “It was just in a dreadful situation. We had nothing.”
He was only 27 and a new dad – and starkly aware of the restaurant’s debts, the need to make the restaurant viable and provide for his family.
“That’ll make you do crazy things. It really will. It’ll make you do things that you never thought you were capable of. Good things as well,” he says.
The next five years involved “having no customers, having wolves at the door all the time, taking out all of the credit cards under the sun to pay people”.
Some key things turned around the restaurant’s fate – Ben’s determination and invention as a chef, endorsements by influential people such as David Chang and Rene Redzepi and Attica landing on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants longlist.
“Man, did it have an impact,” he says of the moment that Attica appeared in the 51-100 rankings.
“That was the moment from when it went from being a little neighbourhood restaurant in Ripponlea to this global thing.”
The runaway appetite for Attica reservations meant that bookings were filled for nine months out.
It took me 14 hours to edit this podcast, and I spent most of that time with a smile on my face because Ben is so enthusiastic, inspiring and full of life. He shares so many fascinating stories about his career’s highlights and true lowlights – and how they’ve emphatically shaped him.
You can listen to this episode on iTunes or download it via RSS or directly. You can even find it on Stitcher nowadays. And thanks to everyone who has dropped nice reviews or comments in the iTunes Store (aka Apple Podcasts) or just spread the word about this podcast – it means a hell of a lot. Especially a listener called Charles Ramone, who left a super kind review in the iTunes Store.
Photography courtesy of Attica (restaurant photos) and Mia Mala McDonald (portrait of Ben Shewry and Danny Bowien).