McMullin & co. has collaborated with Joel Bennetts to co-create a platter perfect for hosting and displaying your home creations.
Joel Bennetts is an inspiring creative. Joel's work is a journey into his life of food, travel, photography & uncommon experiences. Joel shares a bit more with us about himself and influences that help him create his delicious recipes.
Starting with your background inspiration, what is the earliest memory of food being in the kitchen?
There’s multiple, I think one of the first ones was engaging in my grandfather’s kitchen. He used to grow these amazing apple cucumbers which is like an orange but with white flesh. He used to pick them from the garden, slice and put them on a plate with white vinegar. I just remember it was so hot up there every Christmas, and the crunch, the juice, the flavour and just the simplicity of it has always been such a distinctive memory for me.
Did your childhood growing up next to Maroubra Beach influence your food now?
I think so for sure. Again, another memory from my other late Grandfather, he and my dad lived up on the Central coast and I have core memories of going up there with my brother and spending time on the pier, crabbing, smashing oysters, and slurping them down in the middle of summer, so I think there has always been that salty brine taste ingrained in me. Dad threw us into the ocean as soon as we could walk basically, and here I am 25 years later still loving the ocean, obsessed with how it works and how different it is every single day; it’s in the blood.
The first restaurant I got my first gig at was a 3-hat restaurant – so for the first three and half years of my career that’s all I knew. I was essentially starting at the bottom of the best. There was so much talk about this place ‘Pierre’. I was scrubbing 30 dozen oysters a day, scaling and gutting and cleaning up to 50 fish a day, there was a list on the door each morning. There’s 15-year-old me, a drop out, it was an exciting new era for me and that’s where I learnt my craft.
What else influences your creativity to food and life in general?
It can come from anywhere… whether it’s being in a waterfall and seeing the water ricochet off a rock – to then thinking about how a sauce could almost translate that scene. Or how green moss is under a grey light of a storm – it’s these vivid scenes that catch my eye and get me thinking about my next dish…
Colour for me is massive, I love deep greens, I love deep reds – which also comes back to techniques that allow deep colours to be retained or enhanced, as simply as using tomato paste or whether it’s heating herbs to a certain temperature – you’re able to extract the chlorophyll, which gives you the ultimate green, almost greener than the herb itself.
What inspires your plate ware?
I love walking into Vinnie’s, a lot of the plates I use at home are from there. There's something beautiful about having a bespoke vintage piece of tableware that you can bring out and can almost start a conversation.
There's almost been this re-emergence back to simple recipes, done really well, with quality ingredients… what’s driving this?
Having started cooking 16 years ago, in a gastronomic restaurant that was trying to push the boundaries of textures, colours, and shapes through jellification, etc… and really playing on the ethereal unknown. I think it comes back to flavour and food in its rawest, most honest form that appeals most to people.
The dish that I cooked today was known as ‘peasant food’ in Italy, but again, what it comes back to – is food that uses hyper-local ingredients and is cooked for the collective not the individual.
How do you cook for yourself?
I’m a fucking simple guy. I buy what is essential. Whether its food or clothing, like my fridge, is bare – and I cook simply, how I want to eat and as a reflection of how I want to feel. If I cook with heaps of cream and butter, I’ll feel sluggish. If I cook with olive oil, lemon juice and herbs, I know I’ll feel good.
There's a rise of chefs without restaurants, what is driving that?
Personally, I think it’s a fear of starting a business, committing, or going out on your own. The creativity of chefs doesn’t have to be restricted to the kitchen… I spent 15 years being on the grind, working nights and crazy hours – which while it taught me what I know today – I sacrificed a lot in terms of relationships, spending time in nature, surfing…
Now, that I’ve taken the jump to work on my own terms across so many different creative mediums, whether it’s private dining or this new co-lab with McMullin & co, to my new cookbook - I can do this without doing a 70-hour week, and I get my weekends back… I realised how much I missed that.
So, no Restaurant Joel on the cards?
I still eventually want my own place, but I’ve got a completely new lens on what that means for me now – I want to be on the floor, designing menus while giving the opportunity to young and passionate chefs who are ready to learn and make their mark.
Tell us about your cookbook?
I always wanted to create a cookbook that wasn’t entirely about the food, for me it was almost part journal, part travel diary from my time in Japan, China, India, the Maldives, and part spiritual. My book is an art piece, it’s an interpretation of how I live my life, how I view my life, what I’ve seen…
It’s entrenched in this ideal that I think is a metaphor for life, in that, you have to experiment… and don’t be restricted by exact measurements, how you were brought up, or be influenced by what other people are doing.
You said your home, like your food, is a reflection of how you want to feel… so what’s your personal design aesthetic?
I love the grounded feeling that a natural wood grain evokes in your home. In contrast, I love clean line minimalism, whites, and bringing that into a natural light-filled space, with tonal textures from linen, clay and ceramics, and buying one off pieces that stand the test of time and are visually intriguing.
I also have an eclectic wall of art and photography that I’ve collected over many years, which has almost become a scrapbook for my life.
The McMullin & co collaboration has been a year in the making, what inspired your creative direction on the platter?
I first met the team and we sat around a table with some blank paper and pencils. I drew some initial designs – which is funny, because even after working through some other iterations we each decided to come back to the original drawing. It just felt more authentic.
I also wanted to create a platter as our first piece, because I think it really signifies how I think food is best eaten – by being shared. Platters are also universal, you can plate up a whole fresh snapper, or a beautiful plate of lemons, to a tomato carpaccio.
I was also drawn to the Italian coastline, and plates that I had seen there in the past – beautiful hand drawn elements. It’s a piece that is timeless that can be used all year round.
How does tableware complement the eating experience?
It’s one of the first things I look at when I eat out. For me it’s all about not letting the food get lost on the plate. So, clean lines, natural and whites are important to let the food be the hero. I love to buy vintage or interesting, unique pieces – something I am proud to serve my food on – because at the end of the day, those little details are what brings everything together.