"I completely understand why artists can spend weeks in a studio solo." For chef Joel Bennetts, his journey with cooking started at home, and it's still where he find the most peace in his practice. Inspired by dinner time with his mother, he has carried the sentiment throughout his career. Pausing in the moments where he is back home, with the sun dipping below the horizon, and the possibility of exploration in the kitchen. Now, he has found the balance between work and life that so many of us are trying to strike. Helming the kitchen at Bondi's Fish Shop, Bennetts has learnt that he is happiest when he can spend time working with food that doesn't cost him his health and wellbeing. We caught up with Bennetts, below, to chat inspiration in lockdown, his ethos around food, and what it took to be one of Australia's notable chefs on the rise.
Tell us about your journey with food...
I was taught first off by my mother from the age of about 13. I'd rush home from school to the surf/skatepark.. stay there until it was almost dark then rush home and cook dinner my mum.
When I was almost 16 I decided to leave school. Cooking made sense to me. I went to seven of the best restaurants in Sydney at the time for interviews, having zero experience in a commercial kitchen I was turned down by the first six. The last interview was with Grant King, who was the executive chef at the then PIER in Rose Bay. It was he whom first took me on, completely green and took me under his wing so-to-speak. I spent the majority of my apprenticeship there, which is just incredible. Extreme and hard but incredible.
From there, I approached the late Jeremy Strode, he became like a second father to me, everything about him amazed me. His award winning Bistrode is where I spent the next year, learning some more classic British techniques. I also worked with Jeremy at Merivale's then called Fishshop. I did my time with the café group Three Blue Ducks, which was when I realise how important work life balance was. I would work 6am – 4ish and surf all afternoon. I really love sunsets and cooking dinner at home so that was a beautiful part of my career which I reflect on often.
At the age of 23 I ran my first kitchen, Henry Deane at hotel palisade. There, I was able to refine my style and work closely with incredible seafood with one of the best kitchen views in the world. I tried my hand at consulting, doing a 6-month stint in China, opening a few venues, which was both a blessing and a curse. I felt so isolated over there, not speaking the language, not having any loved ones close by, but I would not change a thing, that trip shaped me in so many ways as a chef and gave me so much appreciation for the art of patience.
Is it sentimental for you?
Cooking is extremely sentimental to me, I lost my mother when I 18. There is not a day that goes by without thinking about her. I will carry her legacy for the rest of my life.
How have you been staying inspired with food during lockdown?
I've been doing my best to! Io recently took 2 weeks off in which I cooked every day. I find cooking so therapeutic especially when I'm on my own. No one to judge or watch. I completely understand why artists can spend weeks in a studio solo.
What is your favourite thing to cook?
Its got to be PASTA! I am so intrigued by starch and the magic powers it has when creating a sauce.
What are your favourite ingredients to work with?
Garlic, olive oil, seaweed, parsley.
If you were cooking for friends right now, what would you be making?
How do you source inspiration for the Fish Shop menu?
Honestly I'm not really sure. I don’t read many cookbooks. I guess social media can really play a big role, especially as you get to see what amazing chefs are doing on the other side of the world so easily. I love speaking to my chefs about food, we often bounce ideas off each other until we have a refined dish.
What has the most important moment of your career been thus far?
Do you live by a food ethos?
I am a firm believer in simplicity. So keep it simple.
Are you looking forward to anything?
I'm looking forward to one day doing my own restaurant.