Ben Shewry's incredible year just got better. The quietly-spoken chef was tonight named Victoria's best at the the launch of The Age Good Food Guide 2014, while the Ripponlea restaurant he heads up, Attica, was likewise honoured.
Tonight's awards come after New Zealand-born Shewry shot to international attention in April when Attica was "highest new entrant" in the annual World's 50 Best Restaurants rankings, taking out position 21 on the coveted list. Good Food Guide co-editor Janne Apelgren said tonight that Shewry was at the top of his game, calling him one of the world's most exciting and original chefs whose cooking had only improved since first taking out the Good Food Guide best chef award three years ago.
Apelgren said Shewry's food was "beautiful to look at, and plain delicious too".
"He's now a global figure, respected by his peers, but happily, still cooking for Melburnians," she said.
The other big grinners on the local food scene tonight are Collingwood bar and eatery Saint Crispin (best new restaurant) and the Healesville Hotel (La Maison Du the' Regional restaurant of the year).
Saint Crispin was recognised for being one of the best exemplars of the year's biggest dining trend, the blurring of traditional lines between the restaurant and the bar. Guide co-editor Roslyn Grundy described Saint Crispin's ambience as "part funky bar, part notable restaurant" and said no new venture had Melbourne buzzing quite like it did in 2013, a year more memorable for restaurant closures.
Attica was among four restaurants awarded the Guide's highest honour, three hats. It was recognised alongside Vue de Monde, Jacques Reymond and Flower Drum. The latter, run by father-and-son team Anthony and Jason Lui, regained its three-hat status after an eight-year hiatus.
Speaking to The Age restaurant critic Larissa Dubecki recently, Jason Lui attributed 38-year-old Flower Drum's staying power to consistency: "My biggest asset is staff. The average guy in the kitchen has been there 20 years."
Meanwhile one of Melbourne's most legendary chefs Jacques Reymond chose tonight's awards, when his eponymous restaurant nabbed top-hat status for the 17th time in 24 years, to announce his retirement.
Reymond revealed he was handing the running of his restaurant to his two long-time sous chefs, Hayden McFarland and Thomas Woods. “At 60 it's time to step back and enjoy life,” he said. Reymond has managed to keep his succession plans a well-guarded secret. His four children all work in hospitality, three with their own restaurant, Bistro Gitan, but none is a chef.
Reymond told McFarland and Woods in February this year he planned to put the Prahran restaurant in their hands, and will step away from the stoves at Christmas. “The house is in good hands,” 60-year-old Reymond said.
It was a good night also for high-profile chefs Neil Perry and Guy Grossi, with Spice Temple and Grossi Florentino moving up from one to two-hat status.
The Royal Mail Hotel in Western Victoria, awarded three hats in the 2012 and 2013 editions of the Good Food Guide, was not scored in this year's Guide because of the recent departure of chef Dan Hunter, who is to open his own restaurant Brae in Birregurra in November.
There were mixed fortunes for Stokehouse; its head chef Oliver Gould was awarded the "KitchenAid Young Chef" of the year gong but the St Kilda restaurant slipped from two hats to one, alongside regional restaurant Tea Rooms of Yarck.
Gills Diner, the Italian Restaurant and Bar, the Long Table, Mercer's, Paladarr, River Grill, Shoya, Steer Bar & Grill and Town Hall Hotel all lost their hats in this year's Guide.
The Age Good Food Guide 2014 will be available for $10 with The Saturday Age this weekend from participating newsagents, Coles, Woolworths and 7-Eleven stores, while stocks last. It will also be on sale in bookshops and online at theageshop.com.au for $24.99 from Tuesday August 27th.