Beyond the Menu: The Westin Brisbane's executive chef Shannon Batten talks cooking for Neil Young and the secrets to hotel hospitality

Beyond the Menu: The Westin Brisbane’s executive chef Shannon Batten talks cooking for Neil Young and the secrets to hotel hospitality

It’s one thing to run a single kitchen at a restaurant, but looking after a whole hotel’s dining program is a whole other kettle of fish. The Westin Brisbane’s executive chef Shannon Batten is the man responsible for overseeing the hotel’s plethora of dining options, from Nautilus Pool Bar and The Charles, to multi-award winning restaurant Settimo. We caught up with Shannon to talk about the ins and outs of hotel hospitality and also find out more about the chef’s interesting career.

To start, we’d love to know where your career began. Was there a pivotal moment that sparked your love of food, cooking and hospitality?
I was 16 when I had my first part-time job in a kitchen. I was making salads and washing dishes and the job paid for my brand new surfboard. Then I started doing work experience at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers in Auckland – it was the best hotel in New Zealand at the time. It was full of European chefs, swearing and screaming at each other because of the amount of passion in the room. I knew then and there I wanted to be a chef. I moved to Auckland after my course six months later and worked there for three-and-a-half years before moving overseas.

Did you have any culinary mentors who were crucial in shaping the way you look at food?
Yes, actually! The German-born executive sous chef at Sheraton Hotel & Towers named Helmut taught me speed, multitasking and cleanliness – three essential fundamentals you need to begin your career as a chef. That, and tough love!

What drew you to the world of hotel and resort-based hospitality, as opposed to working in stand-alone restaurant kitchens?
When I was 19, I set a goal to be a five-star hotel executive chef by the age of 34. Hotels give you a variety of venues to work in. I could work in fine dining, handle 800-person banquets and be the breakfast chef making omelettes all in the same week.

Can you give us a glimpse into what a normal day in the life as an executive chef of The Westin Brisbane entails?
After a 6:45 am start, I take a walk through The Westin Brisbane and Four Points by Sheraton (also part of The Westin Brisbane), connecting with the chefs and F&B team. Then I follow up on the emails from the evening before, then I go through the day’s events with my sous chefs, sit in on morning management meetings, keep an eye on lunch service in The Charles’ bar, Settimo and in-room dining outlets. Later in the day, there’s the chef’s daily afternoon meeting before ordering of all the venue’s produce, meat and seafood for the following day. There’s also developing menus for clients, guests and upcoming hotel offers, supporting the chefs in the kitchens, connecting with hotel guests and on some nights we have dinner events I attend. Before you know it, its 6:00 or 7:00 pm and its time to go home and see the family.

The Westin Brisbane has become one of the best spots in The City to dine right now. Can you tell us about some of the exciting culinary offerings available at The Westin Brisbane that foodies should come and experience?
The Westin Brisbane is most definitely having a moment and a dining destination to experience! You can spend your morning enjoying a traditional Amalfi colazione (breakfast) in Settimo, a seafood lunch poolside at Nautilus Pool Bar, a pre-dinner aperitif and small bite in The Charles’ Bar, before making your way back to Settimo for an evening of coastal flavours through the eyes of Guy Grossi.

We’ve just relaunched the menu at The Charles! Drawing on my Asian influences, the menu features small sharing dishes. I highly recommend the beef tataki, house-made prawn toast and Korean fried chicken. Settimo, Guy Grossi’s love letter to the Amalfi Coast has just won a Chef’s Hat for its beautiful food.

Nautilus, the hotel’s iconic pool with a swim-up bar features a fresh coastal seafood menu and until late-April, locals and hotel guests can experience Nautilus Beach Club: Maldives Moments, which features a modern take on traditional Maldivian cuisine inspired by my time spent in the Maldives.

When it comes to high-end hotel hospitality, what do you think is the secret to running a successful culinary program?
I have been a head/executive chef for 17 years now, so I can confidently answer this through trial and error. When it comes to recruitment, I would take personality and teamwork over the perfect resume, all day long. I always say, first and foremost, my job is to lead from the front and keep the team happy. There are many aspects to this, but I feel it’s about knowing all of your team professionally and personally – and them knowing they can come to me when they are not in a good headspace is so important.

I always promote in my team. The best way to build a team in my opinion is to invest in the young apprentices, commis and demi chefs. Always promote before looking outwards – this gives hunger and confidence that the opportunity of progression is real.

Your career has taken you from your home country of New Zealand to Scotland, Brisbane, Maldives, Singapore and back to Brisbane. What has been your favourite part of the world to work in so far, and is there one country you’ve yet to visit that you’d love to spend some time working in?
I loved working in each country – it’s really fun living out of your comfort zone. But, if I had to choose one, I would say the Maldives, as I really enjoyed the different culture experience. I worked with around 15–20 different nationalities, so it was a really enjoyable experience – not to mention an amazing place to swim, snorkel and learn to dive.

I would love to work in Japan. I had the opportunity a few years ago but it was not quite the right time. I think Japan would be a fascinating culture to experience long term. I love holidaying there.

You’ve also worked as a private chef for some big names! Can you tell us any stories about your time cooking for A-listers?
I remember cooking for a few in the past! I was working in a Michelin-star restaurant in Edinburgh and doing a private lunch for Rod Stewart, who was really friendly. Brad Pitt came in once and ordered an omelette, and I also cooked for a young princes William and Harry.

In Brisbane I’ve cooked for Neil Young after his concert and he and his band gave us a standing ovation. In the Maldives I cooked for Rodger Federer, Lang Lang (Chinese piano prodigy and one of the world’s top concert pianists), former British Prime Minister Tony Blair – there have been loads over the year and I’m most likely forgetting one or two!

What other Brisbane eateries and bars do you recommend for:
a) A cheap and cheerful feed? Half of my kitchen team is South Korean, so they love to take me to Sul Zip (underground Korean Restaurant) on Elizabeth Street. I loved the kimchi pancake and Soju bomb
b) A celebratory feast? These days anything kid friendly (with a playground) – Felons Brewing Co. and Jugar in West End.
c) Innovative eats? Phat Boy or Mr. Wabi. I love Asian street food!
d) A good drink? I would have to name drop The Charles’ Bar at The Westin.

Finally, what would you say are three essential pantry items one should always have on hand at home?
Dashi stock, noodles (udon and ramen), light soy, pasta and risotto, onion and garlic, and tomato paste. You can tie in most of the above with anything from your fridge and pantry.

The Stumble Guide is our comprehensive Brisbane dining guide with more than 2400 places to eat, drink, shop and play.


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