Meet the chefs behind Sydney's greatest restaurants

From left: chefs Paul Carmichael - Momofuku, Martin Benn - Sepia, Federico Zanellato - LuMi Bar & Dining, Peter Gilmore ...
From left: chefs Paul Carmichael - Momofuku, Martin Benn - Sepia, Federico Zanellato - LuMi Bar & Dining, Peter Gilmore - Quay and Dan Puskas - Sixpenny.  Photo: James Brickwood

The powerhouse

Peter Gilmore, Quay (Restaurant of the Year)

Sydney's reigning master of the rare and strange. With his seamless meshing of texture and beauty, packing more flavour on the tip of a needle than most can in an entire tasting menu, Peter Gilmore is operating on levels everyone will enjoy but few will understand. For Gilmore, it's all about respecting the value of raw produce, and building flavour around it. Gilmore first started learning about food and good taste the way a lot of people do – standing by his mum's side in the kitchen while she cooked. His biggest motivation? "Self-education and passion."

The innovator

Federico Zanellato, LuMi (Citi Chef of the Year)

Is this young Italian 2016's answer to Tetsuya Wakuda? It's not such a long bow, when you look at what he's putting on the plate. Innovative and original, with a distinctly Japanese aesthetic, his Italian food breaks rules in all sorts of delicious ways. It was Zanellato's grandparents who first taught him how to cook, from picking fruits and vegetables to slaughtering animals. While he says he's still learning every day, it was Roman chefs Francesco Apreda and Maurizio Morelli that first taught him to cook. It was Heinz Beck, though, who taught him to taste. "Ingredients that come through the kitchen change every day. So Beck taught me try everything from salad dressing to a pasta filling."    

The tastemaker

Paul Carmichael, Momofuku Seiobo​

The striking, dreadlocked Barbadian chef, apart from being catnip for photographers (seriously, the guy can't take a bad photo), he has electrified the menu at Momofuku Seiobo, taking it to the Caribbean. A lot of the flavours on display in the new-look menu at Seiobo are inspired by Carmichael's grandmother ("the purist/traditionalist") and mother ("more freestyle"). He reckons he cooked just as much as he played as a kid and many of his memories revolve around his family teaching him about ingredients. The majority of raw ingredients, he says, came from people the family knew. "Looking back I was blessed."

The sensei

Martin Benn, Sepia

Elegance, joy, seamless execution and some of the smartest service in the city. That's what diners have come to expect at restaurant manager Vicki Wild and chef Martin Benn's ultra-fine diner. The powerhouse couple's downtown CBD restaurant delivers theatre and spectacle along with texture and backbone. Benn's obsession with Japanese culture and seafood means a menu of perfect balance and razor-sharp technique. He credits that incredible skill to heavy hitters Jean-Michel Lorain, Marco Pierre White and Tetsuya Wakuda, who he's worked with over the years. But it's the rare Australian chef who can count Eric Ripert as a mentor ("great chef, great restaurateur, great human being and someone I aspire to"). The most important lesson, though, and the one thing he wishes he'd been told when he was first starting out as a chef is "to taste everything you cook".     

The prodigy

Daniel Puskas, Sixpenny

Quiet ease. Two words that apply as much to the chef as the unassuming little corner restaurant that takes up a small patch of Stanmore. The chef's constant push towards purity and simplicity, stripping dishes bare to get to their very essence, is a working project for Puskas – whether that's roasting the perfect duck or hand-making pasta. A chef who is obsessed as much with how to eat as feeding people, he's obsessed with simplicity. "We're here just to cook delicious food. I find in some fine dining restaurants that technique outweighs tastiness. And that's all I'm hooked on now. I understand this, but do I achieve it all the time? No. But am I trying to achieve it? Yeah."