Born: Blue Mountains
History: At a young age I was cooking at Vulcans in Blackheath with Phillip Searle, a time of great realization when cooking became a creative process rather than a task. Phillip showed me the importance of discipline and dedication; working in his kitchen was a huge learning curve, where the standards were extremely high. Everything we did at Vulcans was about intensity of flavour, sourcing ingredients such as foraged mushrooms, garden herbs and local produce. At Vulcans being a chef became more than a job and Phillip's inspiration infused me with the confidence to think freely and concentrate on flavour.
Following that, as a Head Chef at Andrew McConnell’s Mrs Jones in Melbourne, I became a leader in the kitchen and those are skills I draw upon to this day at Bentley. Our menu changed daily so I was thrown into the fire and learnt at a totally different capacity. I covered a lot of ground in a short period of time as I was there for just over a year. Andrew and I do keep in touch and his restaurant designer, Pascale Gomes-McNabb, designed the new Bentley and may be our consultant in my next restaurant.
Bentley Restaurant & Bar has been an incredible journey that began a year after I was awarded the title SMH 2005 Chef of the Year. I returned from Europe in 2006 and launched Bentley with expert sommelier Nick Hildebrandt on a tight budget, styled with a Spanish bar atmosphere in mind. Since starting up we'd put all our earnings back into the company and then two years ago we finally had enough money to finance the restaurant overall, transitioning Bentley into a proper fine dining establishment.
Describe the natural evolution of Bentley.
Our major renovation was in 2010 and I released my first cookbook “Bentley Contemporary Cuisine” through Murdoch Books around the same. We never felt restricted by our original chipwood environment but implementing our new design was definitely part of a natural progression, allowing us to evolve. At Bentley our commitment is, and always has been, to offering exciting food at good value and we manage to maintain this objective by combining professional cooking techniques and quality produce.
How would you define Bentley as it exists today?
We were originally armed with passion and creativity, and have kept that spirit alive after Bentley's facelift. We've always been consciously heading in the right direction for our establishment, and have now become dining oriented whereas we used to offer more of a bar experience. The Bentley experience has been progressive and we’ve matured into the restaurant and bar we are now by keeping things in perspective and not trying to do it all too early. Bentley is very original in concept food and wine and was the first in Sydney to do fine dining in a really casual environment where those extra time consuming pretentious bits that are traditionally required are unnecessary.
In your cookbook “Bentley Contemporary Cuisine”, you elaborate on your style of cooking:
Rather than creating a style, cooking is about creating an experience. When people eat my food, I want it to be a simple pleasure. I want people to experience something unique, but the food should not be so complicated that it takes away from the occasion. When creating new dishes, there are many factors to consider - there are the obvious aspects such as seasonality, taste, texture and the balance of each dish but no matter what the cooking technique, the food should, above all, taste great.
What is one of the defining features of your food?
Our food has a general lightness to it all year round; we don’t use a lot of butter and fat, opting for olive oil the majority of times.
What do you love about this business?
There’s a reason this is called the hospitality industry; the people you meet are amazingly generous. The nature of people in this business is to stick together – someone’s always giving compared to the norm when someone’s always taking.
Obsessive compulsive about?
An ingredient you can’t live without?
My favourite vegetable when it’s around is Jerusalem artichokes.
Most “eyebrow raising” menu item?
None of my food is “eyebrow raising”. I don’t go out of my way to be eyebrow raising - that’s not what drives the next dish. Everything has to make sense and taste good and that’s what it all boils down to. There’s a perception that our food is eyebrow raising and I don’t see it that way. I think there are other restaurants out there making crazy food combinations, but that’s not what we’re about.
Signature Dish: Smoked eel parfait with white soy, kombu & seaweed. Another version is written in “Bentley Contemporary Cuisine” with celery jelly so anyone who buys our book is welcome to try it out at home.
You can read more about Brent Savage and his first book "Bentley Contemporary Cuisine" in the AGFG blog.