The Archetype Behind the Brand: Humble Ben Shewry
Credit: Ben Shewry / Attica
“You look at Ben (and) he’s not your celebrity chef. Your supermodel-dating, Ferrari-driving, leather jacket-wearing chef,” says Melbourne-based food critic, Matt Preston.
Ben Shewry, head chef and now owner at Attica restaurant defies these and many other stereotypes related to his profession. His Melbourne restaurant itself is almost a physical manifestation of the man and his food: low-key, down-to-earth, unassuming.
And yet he’s made it into the world’s top 35 restaurants again and again, even taking the cake as the best in Australasia.
In this fifth installment of Bang’s deep dive into the archetypes behind some of the world’s best chefs, we take a look at Shewry, a New Zealand native more than holding his own in the ultra-competitive world of haute cuisine (and featuring in Episode 5 of the Netflix hit series, Chef’s Table).
Behind his delicious cuisine, what is the defining character of the chef, that which sets his restaurant apart? As we’ve argued in our series on the importance of archetypes in telling a compelling brand story, it’s about much more than just the food.
Ironically, it is Shewry’s low-key nature that is the first differentiator for him and his restaurant in the theatrical, highly-strung world of cheffing.
A decent Everyman, Shewry comes across as humble, favouring equality, and genuinely intrigued to gain the input and feedback of all of his kitchen staff when developing new dishes.
Rather than full of self-importance, Shewry was shocked to get positive reviews, to go from being on the verge of “going broke”, to having “far more than you’d ever need.”
Similarly, just as the Everyman longs to feel a sense of belonging, Shewry hopes to inspire this in each of his restaurant visitors; a nostalgic return to a time when someone they loved cooked for them and made them feel at home. “I’m trying to take people back to those times in people’s lives when people who loved them cooked for them in a way that was really meaningful and satisfying for them,” he says.
In doing so, he draws on his own childhood and love of nature.
Or as Preston puts it: “You look at what makes Ben’s food special: there’s a history, there’s a story, there’s a relevance, there’s a sense of place.”
On the other hand, as an Explorer, Shewry treasures freedom - and this too comes out in his cooking. He waxes lyrical about his rustic childhood in New Zealand, where he and his family may not have been “rich in money” but were certainly rich in experiences.
On extended hikes into the bush with his sister they fed themselves with their knowledge of native vegetation and seafood. These discoveries - and even an early brush with death that came as he dived for mussels - would inspire his award-winning Melbourne menu in later years.
Having started at Attica without a “culinary identity” of his own, Shewry later determined that he must instead focus on “creating something that was meaningful to me”. Like an Explorer, he resourcefully discovers his own way to express himself authentically through the creative use of under-appreciated local Australian ingredients.
It has not gone unnoticed.
“Eating there is like looking at someone who put his soul into the food,” Tony Tan, food writer, Gourmet Traveller Australia, tells us in the show.
What do you think? Join the conversation by sharing and commenting.
Up next week: Notorious Nordic heavy metal fan and award-winning cook, Magnus Nilsson, featured chef in the finale of Chef’s Table.
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