Ben Shewry — Drowning. Chef’s Table, V.1 E.5
I very much enjoyed the last Chef’s Table episode, which featured Japanese-American chef Niki Nakayama. This episode was also enjoyable, in a different way. It features New Zealand-born chef Ben Shewry, who cooks with zero pretension at his Melbourne restaurant Attica.
Ben draws inspiration for his dishes from his childhood. For that reason, I titled the episode “Drowning,” after his most vivid childhood experience — a near-death experience at a New Zealand beach where his family was collecting shellfish for a meal.
BEN’S CHILDHOOD HERO
As a child, Ben’s hero was his father. His father was also the one who saved his life on that fateful day at the beach. All the same, he didn’t necessarily recognize the sacrifices his father made to raise him and his siblings until he had children of his own.
As a young man, Ben worked in the kitchen. But his paycheck couldn’t support his burgeoning family, so he sought a head chef position. He got it at Attica, which was at that time under water financially. Ben worked to save the restaurant.
At first, Ben’s efforts seemed fruitless. Critics hated his menus, which were confusing and overwrought. But then he decided that he would base his dishes around his memories and the food he loved from his childhood.
Guests began telling Ben that he should keep being himself — no matter what. They were enjoying the food, and Attica won several awards in quick succession, keeping the dining room filled. Meanwhile, a new issue emerged in Ben’s life: work-home balance.
Above: Several dishes created by Ben Shewry at his Melbourne restaurant Attica, including his “Sea Tastes” (first image) inspired by his near-death drowning experience.
Pushing himself to the limit, Ben neglected his duties as a parent.
He worked long hours. During his rare time at home, he was so exhausted that he couldn’t interact with his children. His relationship with his wife suffered.
This is an aspect of the culinary career that hasn’t been brought up in previous Chef’s Table episodes, and I appreciated its inclusion here. Balancing a high-powered career with family life isn’t an easy task — this episode made that clear enough. For Ben, family life eventually won out. Today, he coaches his son’s basketball team and regularly cooks at large gatherings that include his family. At the same time, he’s still an award-winning chef whose cooking draws food lovers from across the world.
I liked this episode. If you’re interested in learning more about Ben Shewry and his restaurant Attica, check out this article from Eater.
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