Retirement and re-invigoration: Melbourne's restaurant scene comes full circle

Jacques Reymond's anointed successors at his celebrated Prahran restaurant may be excited about his impending retirement, but wife Kathy Reymond is less so.

At last night's Good Food Guide awards the legendary Melbourne chef, whose eponymous restaurant was honoured with the guide's highest accolade for the 17th time, announced he was selling up to his long-time deputies Hayden McFarland and Thomas Woods. As the 60-year-old Reymond made his way to the stage friends and admirers from within the Victorian restaurant industry stood and clapped, with many sensing what was to come.

"Thank you all for the wonderful fraternity you have given me and my family for the past 30 years in this wonderful country," said the French-born Reymond, who began his culinary career in his parents' restaurant aged 14, and who burst onto Melbourne's dining scene in 1983 when he settled here with his Australian wife.

But following her husband's announcement Kathy Reymond admitted to being apprehensive about his decision to step away from the pots and pans. "I've never had him home every night for dinner and I don't want it to start happening now," Mrs Reymond said with a smile. "When you're married to a chef you get used to having the house to yourself... to watching the television programs you like."

On a more positive note Kathy Reymond said her husband was not retiring in the proper sense, but would continue working in the industry as a consultant and would be kept busy with regular appearances on the food festival circuit. All's well then, and at any rate, the Reymonds have been putting the wheels in motion for some time, having raised succession plans with Woods and McFarland over a year ago.

Mrs Reymond conceded there was no stopping the march of time. "He is 60... He is working in the kitchen with people less than half his age and comes home tired... He often does not get home until midnight but because his name is above the door (of the restaurant) he can't let it go..."

But all that will change come Christmas when Woods and McFarland will put their names in that place (Woodland House) at the restaurant that has racked up 80 Good Food Guide hats since first opening its doors in 1989.

It was an emotional night too for those behind another Melbourne culinary institution, Flower Drum, which picked up three hats for the first time since 2006. Manager Jason Lui, father and chef Anthony Lui and their business partner Patricia Fung were carried to the stage on a wave of applause to accept the accolade. Following the ceremony Jason Lui was "speechless" at what he called the "big honour". "My father took over from Gilbert Lau just over 13 years ago and I took over as manager about five years ago... I don't know what we can put it down to; just a lot of hard work I suppose."

Meanwhile Attica's Ben Shewry wore his renowned humility to the hilt, describing his success at taking out the night's top honours (best chef and best restaurant) as being more meaningful than his impressive showing earlier this year at international awards the World's 50 Best Restaurants (where Attica was "highest new entrant" at position 21).


Speaking alongside Attica co-owner David Maccora, Shewry said being recognised in your own town was special, and never got old. Shewry said he didn't care if the Michelin Guide reviewers never made their way to the antipodes. "The Good Food Guide has such a history here... Sure in some ways we might be better off if we were based in London or Paris, but this is where we live, where our families are..."

Asked how Attica could get better Shewry, who first took out the best chef award in 2011, said the secret was in never allowing the desire to improve let up. "Every day the staff (at Attica) get together and question what we're doing, what we can do better. We ask whether we're sourcing the best possible ingredients, whether we could be making better bread... It's those little five percenters."

Shewry is working on new dishes; those who've not yet tried the famous "potato cooked in earth" better get in quick as once a dish goes off the menu at Attica, "it's not coming back" Maccora said.

More wise words came from industry veteran Alla Wolf-Tasker of Lake House who was charged with awarding Stokehouse's Oliver Gould the Young Chef of the Year plaque. Wolf-Tasker said it was a difficult time for the hospitality industry with 1500 closures having taken place over the past 12 months. Many young chefs were being forced to pump out "quantity not quality" and it was up to the industry's leaders to tip the balance back the other way.

Joe Grbac from best new restaurant Saint Crispin (Collingwood) was well-positioned to thumb his nose at doom-sayers. His two-month old restaurant made its debut in The Good Food Guide with a hat and was recognised for having energised a weary eating public. "You just never know until you put your balls on the line..." Grbac said young chefs could spend their whole life wondering if they never took the initiative to go it alone. "For almost 20 years I've been cooking you're always thinking, 'Is it time, is it time?' We took a massive gamble with Saint Crispin... We sold our car and re-mortgaged our house but without taking the chance you never know." The gamble has so far paid off for Grbac and business partner Scott Pickett. "Tonight is the first chance we've had to stop and actually look at what we've done... We've just been so busy."