Current Issue #488

Benjamin Cooper:
The people’s chef

Benjamin Cooper

Heading to Adelaide for the first time in a decade is a chef whose influence can be felt across the country – Benjamin Cooper.

As Group Executive Chef of the Lucas Group, Benjamin Cooper (who is Adelaide-bound as part of Tasting Australia) is the number one chef of a restaurant empire that includes some of Melbourne’s hippest names: Chin Chin, Kong, Baby, the latest addition Hawker Hall, and a Sydney Chin Chin to come.

Chin Chin shook up Melbourne and this country’s dining scene with its zeitgeist capturing casual Thai-twist vibe. With no bookings allowed and line-ups spilling onto the street, it has the appearance of entering an ‘it bar’ rather than a restaurant.

Called the “people’s restaurant”, Chin Chin kicked off the cool-casual blueprint that you see in restaurants across the country, including Adelaide. “I think Chin Chin struck a chord with guests when it opened because we challenged the status quo of the dining scene at a point in time when people were ready for a change,” Cooper says.

Cooper joined restaurateur Chris Lucas to turn Chin Chin into a Melbourne institution after three years as Executive Chef at St Ali. Cooper’s career has seen him spend time in London at Nobu and work with Australia’s best-known Thai chef, David Thompson at Nahm. Lucas and Cooper followed Chin Chin’s success with Korean joint Kong, café and pizzeria Baby and their latest venture Hawker Hall, which is guided by chef Damian Snell and offers diners a Singapore-style hawker hall experience.

“Chris Lucas has incredible knack for opening restaurants ‘of the moment’,” Cooper says. “Hawker Hall is no different and has hit the ground running.”

After five years of working with Lucas, Cooper says he is the “most passionate and driven restaurateur” that he’s met. “He is acutely aware of what he wants to achieve with each new venture but at the same time employs talented people and allows them to do their jobs.

“One of Chris’ guiding philosophies references restaurants as an entire experience and, as such, he has a very talented team that takes their time to develop each element of that experience – right through from guest service and interior design to food and beverage.”

This now includes the upcoming Sydney Chin Chin, which Cooper believes will allow them to “evolve the Chin Chin experience”. “We get lots of guests from NSW and while the opportunity to deliver them something new is exciting, we also want to deliver something that they’re connected with.”

With his upcoming Tasting Australia gig, Cooper will cook a five-course lunch (which will feature matching wines) with the team at Africola. “I haven’t been to Adelaide for over 10 years and am super excited to come back for Tasting Australia,” Cooper says. “The last time I was there was actually for Tasting Australia event.

“I am looking forward to visiting Africola and Magill Estate – catching up with Duncan Welgemoed [Africola] and Scott Huggins [Magill Estate]. Duncan is a chef I have been following and talking to for several years; his food is inspirational as is his willingness to push the boundaries and challenge his guests. I am also looking forward to catching up with Scott, who was sous chef for me nearly 10 years ago.

“Duncan and I have had several excited conversations around the produce available in South Australia and how we can bring together our different styles in unique way. We are both looking forward to collaborating on a lunch menu that is specific to the day.

“Both Adelaide and the Tasting Australia event provides me not only the opportunity to work with local, high-quality ingredients from South Australia’s passionate producers but also the chance to cook alongside an incredibly diverse mix of local and global talent.”

Lunch in the Company of Benjamin Cooper at Africola
Sunday, May 8 12.30pm
Africola, 4 East Tce

David Knight

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