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The secret life of Australia’s top chef

Jun 2nd, 2015 by

Ben Shewry’s Melbourne restaurant Attica is admired all over the world – but success did not make him happy, and he nearly walked away from the kitchen. Until he was saved by a fisherman, his love for basketball and his family

Rundown tower blocks in an urban Melbourne wasteland, a young woman and her ravaged mother are drinking something sickly pink, thrusting the half-empty bottle at passing kids. Hip-hop thuds heavy on a basketball court. Ragged string hangs limply from hoops. It is raining. Leah is seven years old and she is crying. She tumbled on the slippery surface. She is shaken. “Stand up, Leah, you have to try again,” a voice calls kindly. Her team mates gather protectively around. The adult insists. Unsure, she slowly gets to her feet. Someone passes her the ball. Minutes later her fall is forgotten. She shoots, she scores, and soon after she scores again. Her smile lights up. Leah’s father was murdered recently. Being part of this game, this group, is one of the ways she copes.

At the other end of the court Ben Shewry is being effortlessly trounced by Akot, a talented tall young man with a South Sudanese background. Shewry, too, takes a fall. The head chef of revered Melbourne restaurant Attica is a key fundraiser and ambassador for the Helping Hoops basketball programme which offers mentoring to disadvantaged kids through sport. But the most important thing he gives is his time. “It was never going to be enough to raise money,” says Shewry, though he raised enough last year with his WAW Gathering weekend of some of the world’s top cooks to help keep the programme going through 2015. “I didn’t feel too good about the money, to be honest. It was too easy. It is harder and more rewarding to build relationships. These kids come from tough public housing estates, children surrounded by dealers, junkies, desperate people.

I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t admit it. I hid it. I didn’t want to burden my wife

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