Chef Brent Savage on cooking traditions Down Under, techniques that influence his food and being a guest on ‘Master Chef Australia'
Chef Brent Savage got bumped off his flight from Sydney. Stuck at the airport, he waited for another, finally wrangled a seat and reached Chennai a day late, exhausted. All because of cream charger. “But I didn't want to leave it behind,” he says earnestly. That's some dedication to whipped cream! Add his trusty thermomix machine, (it ‘crushes, grates, emulsifies') and you get an idea why the airport authorities decided to keep a sharp eye on him.
Contemporary cuisine requires all kinds of sacrifice!
In Chennai, to recreate some of his astonishing dishes at Sheraton Park Hotel & Towers' stylish ‘On The Rocks', Savage talks about the style of cooking that made him famous. His award-winning Sydney restaurant Bentley draws gourmets from around the world with its unique style of food, which is technically driven and studiously precise, persistently edgy and proudly local.
Drawing from Australia's multicultural heritage the menu embraces ideas from around the world, all honed with techniques rooted in molecular gastronomy and modern cuisine. The food's created with a range of sophisticated techniques such as sous-vide, smoking and dehydrating, which is why Savage is so particular about his equipment. The results? Dishes such as ‘Pork Belly with Wattle, Garlic Milk and Rhubarb'; ‘Roast Heirloom carrot and fennel with Macadamia and Wattle Seed Crumbs' and ‘Calamari with Squid Ink rice and green Chilli Salsa'. For dessert guests can try the ‘Peanut sponge with Banana, Lime and Condensed Milk Ice Cream' or ‘Milk Cake with Magnolia Ice Cream and White Chocolate.'
A regular guest on the popular ‘Master Chef Australia', Savage seems particularly proud of the fact that his education comes from kitchens rather than schools. “I learnt most of what I know through travelling. When I was 23 I went to Spain and then Paris, where I offered to work for free in various kitchens.” He adds, “I was very much a potato peeler. It was the culture that I learnt.” Although he did do some courses along the way, he confesses, “I'm not a great student. I can't follow rules.”
Savage began his career at Vulcans, in the Blue Mountains, where food was classic and determinedly slow. “They had a huge wood-fired 18th Century oven in which we would cook and serve roasts — it was a great experience. It taught me that the important thing is to be a good cook first. My life's goal is to be a perfectionist at cooking.”
When his first restaurant in Sydney opened in 2005 he decided to focus on contemporary food. “It was really ground breaking. Something I felt I was capable of doing — and with this style you keep learning as you go along.” Over the years this has become his forte, and in November he released a book: Bentley: Contemporary Cuisine. “It took 12 months to write. It's a collection of all the things we've been doing over the past five years. A running diary. It was never designed to make a statement — more to give people an insight into what we do and how we work.”
While contemporary food might seem proudly exotic, Savage insists that local, organic food is what's going to be popular this year. “I think food trends are about knowing where your produce has come from. Also food for free. What you can collect without going shopping.” A backlash of recession? “More like backlash of Noma!” he laughs, referring to Chef Rene Redzepi's restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, which displaced El Bulli as the World's Best Restaurant on San Pellegrino's influential list. At Noma, all ingredients have to be sourced in Denmark, and every chef is required to forage, cook and serve the food.
As for ‘Master Chef Australia', Savage has been on it for two seasons and is just about to go on again. “It's not something I'm naturally good at — but it's a great opportunity. And it's good to go outside your comfort zone. The best thing about it is that it's built such an interest in restaurants such as my own.”