Review and recipe: Ben Shewry’s Attica, Melbourne

Raw Chestnuts, Salt-Baked Celeriac, Pyengana

Ben Shewry’s first book, Origin, is part recipe-book, part memoir. He describes his upbringing, his early traineeships in New Zealand and Australia, and of course the ups and downs of Attica – all with humour and humility. Such signature dishes as the “Simple Dish of Potato…” and the Native Australian Fruits dessert are given loving background descriptions, and Shewry’s interest in and concern for the environment is keenly felt throughout. He memorably describes making the almost unbearable decision to take all fin fish off Attica’s menu after he learned the truth about about dwindling fish stocks – as well as a terse phone call he had with his chocolate suppliers, who weren’t able to tell him whether the chocolate he was using was Fair Trade or not. (That’s why there weren’t any chocolate-based desserts on the menu at Attica for some time.)

Shewry’s great love of the world is matched in his love of cooking. The recipes are unabashedly elaborate, and several make use of recondite equipment found only in the most well-stocked of kitchens. Photographs by Colin Page depict not just the ravishing dishes, but forests, shorelines, gardens and meadows – and always Shewry among them, foraging, fishing, planting and picking, at home in all environments, doing what he loves.


Ben Shewry: “The Healey family have been making traditional cloth-bound cheddar in Pyengana in Tasmania’s far north-east for more than 100 years, making their cheddar the oldest specialist cheese in Australia. Cheesemaker and dairy farmer Jon Healey uses the knowledge passed down through three generations to produce my favourite Australian hard cheese. I believe it to be one of the very best ingredients we produce in Australia. It works well to give this dish the required depth of flavour, and it brings coherence to a group of disparate ingredients, including the amazing chestnuts produced by my friend and professional big-band leader Henry ‘The Chestnut Man’ Kovacevic. He farms two rare varieties – April Gold and George Sounds – on his two-acre (1 hectare) property at Glenlyon near Daylesford in Victoria. They are the best chestnuts I have ever eaten.”

600 g (1lb 5oz) fine salt
100 g (3½ oz) free-range eggwhite
5 g (⅛ oz) thyme leaves
1 large celeriac

There will be quite a bit of celeriac left over but the recipe will not work unless you cook the whole vegetable.

Preheat the oven to 185°C (365°F/Gas 4½).

Combine the salt, eggwhite and thyme in a bowl and thoroughly stir until a paste forms.

Trim the green top off and 5mm (¼ inch) of the base of the celeriac. Line a baking tray with two sheets of baking paper. Place a spoonful of the salt paste in the centre of the tray. Place the celeriac on top, then cover the celeriac completely with the salt paste, ensuring there are no gaps in the crust. Bake for 2½ hours.

Cool to room temperature before breaking open the salt crust. Dust off any excess salt and trim away the skin and any parts that have had direct contact with the salt crust. Portion the celeriac into 4 nice wedges.

When ready to serve, cover both cut sides of each wedge with baking paper, which will stop the celeriac drying out, and warm in the oven for 2 minutes.

125 g (4½ oz) unsalted butter, diced
90 g (3¼ oz) shallots, thinly sliced lengthways
250 g (9 oz) twice-peeled chestnuts (see Note), thinly sliced
table salt, to taste
50 ml (1¾ fl oz) white wine
325 ml (11 fl oz) water
2 ml lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, add the shallot, chestnuts and a pinch of salt and stir well. Gently cook without colouring for 30 minutes.

Add the wine and cook until evaporated. Add the water and simmer until the chestnuts are tender.

Place the mixture in an upright blender and blend on high speed for 6 minutes or until the purée is very smooth. Add the lemon juice and check the seasoning. Pass through a fine sieve. Place in an airtight container and cover with a piece of baking paper to prevent a skin forming.

Note: To peel chestnuts, first peel the husk off with a small knife, then gently peel the brown skin off with the tip of a turning knife.

250 g (9 oz) Pyengana cheddar (aged at least 18 months), finely grated
350 ml (12 fl oz) organic Jersey cow milk
400 ml (14 fl oz) organic Jersey cow cream (45% fat content)
table salt, to taste

Combine the cheese and milk in a saucepan and stir well. Gently heat until the mixture reaches 60°C (140°F). Set aside until cooled and the solids have set on the bottom. Pass through a sieve lined with muslin (cheesecloth) and discard the solids. Combine the strained mixture with the cream and check the seasoning. When ready to serve, heat the Pyengana cream to 80°C (176°F).

15 g (½ oz) garlic
20 g (¾ oz) organic raw almonds
125 g (4½ oz) salted butter
10g (⅓ oz) full-cream milk powder
table salt, to taste

Using a mortar and pestle, roughly crush the garlic and almonds together.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and add the milk powder, garlic mixture and a pinch of salt. Simmer until golden brown. Pass through a fine sieve, shaking well to remove the excess butter. Discard the hot liquid butter.

Spread the solids onto a large tray lined with paper towel. Shake the tray to remove any excess butter. Cool to room temperature and store in an airtight container.

4 free-range egg yolks
80 ml (2½ fl oz/⅓ cup) grape seed oil

When nearly ready to serve, carefully place each egg yolk in a separate dariole mould and cover with the oil. Cover each mould with plastic wrap. Place the moulds in a circulating water bath heated to 60°C (140°F) and leave for 20 minutes. Alternatively, fill a saucepan one-third full of water, place a heatproof bowl half-filled with water on top of the pan, and bring the pan of water to the simmer, then place the dariole moulds in the bowl of water and leave for 20 minutes.

30 g (1 oz) unsalted butter
4 spring onions (scallions), thinly sliced
table salt, to taste

When ready to serve, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, add the spring onion and sweat for 10 seconds. Season with salt and remove from the heat.

4 twice-peeled chestnuts (see Note above)
sea salt flakes, to taste
10 ml (⅓ fl oz) smoked oil (smoked over sawdust in a cold smoker at 2°C (36°F) for 2–4 hours then left to stand for an further 2 hours to infuse and cool)
2 ml lemon juice
40 lemon thyme leaves
Very thinly slice the chestnuts on a mandoline.

Warm the chestnut purée and place a dessertspoonful in the centre of each bowl.

Place a warm wedge of the salt-baked celeriac on half of the purée on each plate. Drain the egg yolks from the oil and season with sea salt. Place a yolk in front of each piece celeriac.

In a small bowl, dress the chestnut slices with the smoked oil, the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Place the chestnut slices on the cut side of the celeriac.

Sprinkle the garlic and brown butter crumbs around the egg yolks, add the spring onion, then scatter the lemon thyme leaves over the whole dish. Pour the hot Pyengana cream around the dish at the table.


Recipe and images taken from Origin by Ben Shewry, published by Murdoch Books, £40