Treasured: Ben Shewry
Interview and Photos by Melanie Dunea / CPi / My Last Supper
Chef Ben Shewry of Australia's Attica, one of the World's 50 Best Restaurants: "Here in the restaurant, I treasure this knife that I made myself. It's constructed out of a piece of carbon steel and timber from the Canberra bush fires, which I used to make the handle. I left a piece of the burn on the wood as a reminder of the deadly fires."
I felt the burn was important to show because it’s really beautiful that the knife wasn't finished to a level of perfection. I feel like we are always seeking what we define as perfection as human beings, but really nature's idea of perfection is far more poignant than our own clumsy version of it.
"I learned knife-making from two bladesmiths through Tharwa Valley Forge school, Karim Haddad and his 11-year-old daughter, Leila. She has been making knives since she was 5. After I went, I sent nine of my kitchen staff to make three knives each, so out of the 62 artisan knives we have in the restaurant, about 30 of them were made by my cooks."
"When I visit another country, I always bring home a handmade knife from that place. Hunting knives, pocket knives, cooking knives, I collect all sorts of them. My father has a collection, too, but I don't know if he uses them. I've got some knives at home that would make your jaw drop!"
"It's fascinating to me when cooks harp on local ingredients and relationships with their suppliers, but then they are serving food on plates made in China or Germany or Spain and silverware made who knows where! There is no connection to the things that surround the food. The plate is the first most-overlooked thing, and then comes the knife. We've been serving our food on handmade and locally made pottery for seven or eight years before it was fashionable."
"I have always wanted to have knives that were handmade in Australia but wasn't able to afford it. When I met Karim, I thought it would be such a better story and experience to send the staff to him to learn how to make knives themselves. It's such an intimate thing for chefs, the knife. I've spent well over a thousand hours with a knife in my hand. I've been cooking since I was 10, and now I'm 37, and pretty much every week in that time I've had a knife in my hand for work. It's so intimate, and yet we don't really understand it that well."