Ben Devlin, executive chef, Paper Daisy
The only way we can continue to grow is to think more creatively and sustainably about our whole process, so our environment can grow, our producers can grow and our talented staff can grow ...
Chef Ben Devlin was exposed to food early on in life, but little did he know at the time that those initial influences would see him go from being a would-be surfboard shaper to an internationally renowned culinary identity. Back in the day, Ben would grill oysters and hand-churn ice-cream at the beach with his family. In a sense, not much has changed in his approach – the highly awarded Paper Daisy executive chef is all about simplicity and connecting with his surroundings. From his beachside kitchen within the grounds of Cabarita’s Halcyon House, Ben has some of the country’s best produce on his doorstep and he makes a conscious effort to connect with producers and growers to not only ensure seasonality and quality across his menus, but to also ensure that the industry continues to grow in a sustainable manner, from the ground up. We caught up with Ben to chat about where it all began, being terrible at karaoke (aren’t we all) and future-proofing the industry.
Were you always destined for a career as a chef? When was the light-bulb moment you knew this is what you wanted to do?
I originally wanted to shape surfboards, but I got a weekend job washing dishes by the beach in Byron bay. The atmosphere in the kitchen and the fun I had with those people helped me start the path, but when I started I figured I wanted to go as far with this life as I could.
What’s your earliest memory of cooking?
I have grandparents, an uncle and cousins that have worked as chefs, so I’m lucky enough to have a range of early exposures to good food. Great memories of barbecue-grilling oysters and using a wooden hand churn to make ice-cream at the beach.
Being at the helm of Paper Daisy, a renowned and highly awarded restaurant, certainly means expectations are high. Where do you draw most of your inspiration from and how do you remain so innovative season after season?
I try to keep an open mind when I look at ingredients or methods, to not keep myself locked into a way of thinking, so that I can hopefully make different links between ingredients and techniques. A lot of it comes from making connections with the people involved in my food chain, they all have knowledge on different aspects of the process, and adding all of those pieces of information together helps to make a more colourful picture.
How would you best describe your personal philosophy on food?
I hope to make happiness the driving factor on everything I do, I want to make my guests happy, my staff happy and I want to be happy. So we think about ingredients as what makes you happy about this product, and try not to lose sight of that.
Spring is here! What ingredients do you love to work with right now?
There are great beans, broad beans and lettuces coming through now. As well as tropical fruits like sapote and canistel as well as mulberries, mulberries are always something to look forward to.
What is best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Under promise, over deliver. I take that to be doing the simple things well, and putting as much thought as possible into every part of the process, from sourcing to serving and beyond.
What kitchen gadget could you not live without?
A pasta machine. Although when I don’t have one I make a pretty good papardelle pasta using a wine bottle.
Any hidden talents outside of the kitchen we should know about?
I’m a reasonable surfer, a pretty average boxer, a rubbish fisherman and a terrible karaoke singer.
There’s no doubt that the dining scenes across northern NSW, the Gold Coast and Brisbane have each seen incredible growth and development over recent years. What are your thoughts on the industry’s current state and what do you think the future holds for these regions?
The growth in the dining scene in our region has been exciting to see, from my perspective it’s been great to see so many businesses make a point of connecting to their community by using products, infrastructure and equipment that help our whole supply system grow. But I think the only way we can continue to grow is to think more creatively and sustainably about our whole process, so our environment can grow, our producers can grow and our talented staff can grow.
Finally, what are your three key ingredients for a weekend well spent? That is, if you actually get a weekend!
A relaxing surf, an adventure somewhere new (to me) and a good meal with family (even if I have to cook it).
Image credit: Kara Rosenlund.