The Best of the Best

Celebrated chef Mark Best,who is on his first India tour,talks of his culinary odyssey that has turned him into one of Australia’s favourite cuisiniers

Written by Shantanu David | Published:September 29, 2013 4:54 am

These days,a Wikipedia page seems to be just everyone’s passport to prominence; never mind that anyone can create a page for their favourite celebrity,themselves,or their pet. Mark Best does not have a Wikipedia page,despite (insert gasp) being one of Australia’s premier chefs.

Before he became a chef,Best was employed in a relatively glamorous profession of being a ‘sparkie’ (read electrician) in one of the many gold mines Down Under. However,like Sydney,he harboured the dream of setting up a small cafe one day. “I didn’t want anything fancy,just a space which would serve a few dishes and coffee”,he says,seated at Olive Bar and Kitchen for a three course meal organised by the Australian High Comission,which he and fellow Aussie Ian Curley (head chef at The European in Melbourne) had designed along with Olive chef Vikram Khatri,on Friday. Best crafted the dessert,his reflection of the flavours of Australia by way of a coconut sorbet with Sichuan Peppers and Curry. Best and Curley are part of the international chefs’ delegation at a culinary summit,CSSG (Creative Services Support Group) 2013,.

Upon hearing of his ambitions of running a cafe,a chef friend of his recommended a stint at a restaurant to learn the tricks of the trade. “She warned me that the job is extremely arduous,but just the experience of feeding people and seeing their reaction to the food opened my eyes to how important food could be”,he says. Best soon found himself on a culinary odyssey through France,eating and experiencing the food he would eventually serve up in his own inimitable style at his celebrated restaurant Marque.

France provided another epiphany for Best. This was the time when he chanced upon the burnt-out remains of a food warehouse somewhere in the depths of the country. “They were selling whatever remained in the shell of that building and I came across a charred book,it’s cover completely ruined. I picked it up for a ridiculously low amount. When I opened it,the book turned out to be on regional French cooking by the legendary Roux brothers (who ran the epochal Le Gavroche in the UK). It ended up being one of the defining moments of my life. I was enamoured”,he said. His French sojourn also saw him apprenticing at L’Arpège,Alain Passard’s temple of gastronomy,which famously removed red meat from its menu in 2001 and concentrated on vegetable dishes in a move which flabbergasted the global culinary cognoscenti. Best’s passion has solidified into Marque in Sydney,one of the very few restaurants to achieve a coveted score of 19/20 in the Good Food Guide.

This is Best’s first visit to India. He says he was ‘lured’ to the country by a Bollywood celebrity. “This Bollywood actor,whose name I can’t recall,had come to the restaurant and after the meal said that I had to visit India. So I said invite me. Three months later I am here as part of the CSSG summit”,says Best,who also works with youngsters back home to help develop technical skills in the kitchen,apart from a lot of charity work. Best,along with Curley,will be delivering a mentoring session for chefs-in-training at Delhi’s PUSA Institute as well as working on a food-cum-design experience which will be showcased at the Leela Palace on Tuesday.

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