8 Entrepreneurial Lessons I Learned from Ben Shewry - Chef's Table
Ben Shewry (Owner and award-winning head chef of Attica in Melbourne. Ranks No. 32 on the San Pellegrino World’s Best 50 Restaurants and Best Restaurant in Australia.)
Ben Shewry, from multi-award winning Melbourne restaurant, Attica, is one of Australia's most significant chefs. He draws inspiration for his exquisite dishes from his surroundings and pivotal moments and experiences in his life. Known for his foraging, Ben uses what the earth provides without exploiting its precious resources, and produces authentic food based on his core beliefs and values.
Here are the eight lessons I learned from Chef Shewry's story:
1. Do things that are true to yourself.
Backstory: "At Attica, we only want to do things that are true to ourselves. We are not trying to replicate our mother's cuisine, but there's something that's soulful and is fulfilling. That's what I am trying to get at. I am trying to take people back to those times in their life where people who loved them cooked for them in a way which was really meaningful, was really satisfying for them." Ben remarked. "This is an important part of our country's heritage. Australians should have a sense of pride in these ingredients, they should know what they taste like. Because the connection to your roots is really one of the most important things of all."
2. An unwavering passion will give you purpose and will fuel your hunger for success. If you find something you love enough to want to share it with others, that love will fuel and give you purpose.
Backstory: "When I am tasting things the first time, I am looking for something that I have never had before. For me, it's always about wanting to get better. There's a feeling of elation when you create something new. It's greater than almost any sensation in your life." Ben chirped. "Food shouldn't be some sort of artistic torture. It has to be something uplifting, fulfilling and delicious and it should invigorate people. People cannot create anything truly significant in food unless they are happy when they do it."
"If there's anything to describe what Ben is giving to the rest of the world, I think he is giving a lot of himself. There is a part of Ben that is in all those dishes. Eating there is like looking at somebody who has put his soul into the food." Tony Tan said by way of enthusiastic endorsement.
3. Tenacity matters.
Backstory: Ben described the challenges he faced in the beginning, "It took forever to build momentum because we were a two year old restaurant which everybody hated. So, we had to turn around that (situation). I was a young chef, had a young family, and we were struggling to make ends meet. And if you're a young chef, and you don't succeed the first time, it's hard to get a second chance."
4. A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat,determination and hard work.
Backstory: As Ben recounted how he started, "I applied for the job at Attica and got it. I probably thought it was going to be a little bit more glossy than it was in reality. I didn't actually realize the financial state of Attica at that point. We owed $150,000 to our suppliers. We had to get credit cards and max them out to pay for things and it didn't have any customers."
"We didn't have enough pots or pans. We would cook a table of four, we would use all the pots and then they would go into the sink and we'd have to quickly scrub them to cook the next round. After about eight months of putting my hands raw into the water, my fingers began to bleed under the nails."
I remember going to the doctor, and she said, "You've got to stop and have three months off." I said, "Three months?" I said, "I cannot even take three hours off." Ben later added, "Running a restaurant becomes your life. It is not a normal eight-hour shift. It is a 24-hour-a-day job."
5. Success doesn't happen overnight.
Backstory: Attica is a small restaurant. It's not an expensive restaurant. It is in a suburban part of Melbourne, on the wrong side of the world. It's small, it's dark. You kind of go, "Wait a second, this should not be a top 50 restaurant in the world." said Matt Preston, Judge of 2013 World's 50 Best Restaurant, "I think it's important to know that Ben didn't spring fully-formed from the womb as a super-chef. When he first started at Attica, it wasn't particularly auspicious. And the early Ben Shewry menus were a million miles from what he does now."
"In the early days, it was pretty intense because he was so focused. Work started at maybe 7:00 in the morning and we'd go hardcore all day, just to be ready by 6:00, and then doors were open, and no one would show up." said Jason Chong, Former Sous Chef of Attica.
"The first time we (Attica) ever came into World's 50 Best was just one of the craziest days ever. We had three phone lines and they were just jammed. The website crashed. It's such a funny situation tot find yourself in, when you went from having no customers to having far more than you would ever need."
6. Creativity and innovation are the keys to survival. You can’t operate in neutral. You’ve either got your foot on the accelerator or you’re going backwards. You have to have an adaptive instinct to keep moving ahead in business, to create innovative products, and to keep finding new things.
Backstory: "Tuesdays are different at Attica. It's an experimental day. It was conceived because, at the beginning, we didn't have a test kitchen, and we had to find a way to experiment so that we could develop our cuisine faster and more passionately." Ben stated, ""There's a romantic story that says people are just creative because that's what they like to do, and they just go around all the time creating. Which is ridiculous in a way. Sometimes people have to create out of pure necessity. If I didn't create stuff that was inspiring to people, and that people didn't like, we were going to go broke."
"Experimental Tuesdays have been a smart idea. You need to develop stuff up, and you need guinea pigs. So why not pick your quietest night of the week, and invite people in at a cheaper rate to see things in progress, to understand dishes?" Matt Preston commented. "And you'll see dishes that are disastrous and will never see the light of day, and you'll also see dishes that will become a signature on the menu."
7. Don't be afraid to fail - even if it doesn't lead to success at first.
"Forget about the consequences of failure. Failure is only a temporary change in direction to set you straight for your next success." -- Denis Waitley
Backstory: Around that first week, we had a table come in and have a look at the menu, and turned to the waiter after reading it and said, "Whoever wrote this crazy menu must be on speed." And I thought, "My God, what have I done?" "I've created some kind of monster which everybody's hating." That week, on a Saturday, we might have done 18. On a Tuesday, a table of eight, then the next night, a table of four. We sit 55, so we were going backwards.
8. Dreaming big is not only important -- It's required.
Backstory: "When I started at Attica, I didn't feel, at the point, that I had a culinary identity. Before the restaurant opened, I dreamed up of all the things that I would like to eat at a restaurant." Ben added, "When I am tasting things the first time, I am looking for something that I have never had before. For me, it's always about wanting to get better. There's a feeling of elation when you create something new. It's greater than almost any sensation in your life."
"If you are doing something unique, you are doing something wonderful, people will find out about it. I suppose there's a bit of fairy tale about it, isn't there?" Matt Preston remarked lastly.
“You shouldn’t focus on why you can’t do something, which is what most people do. You should focus on why perhaps you can, and be one of the exceptions.” - Steve Case, co-founder of AOL.
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