Imagine being a 16-year-old working in a Western Australian gold mine. This was Mark Best's life, straight after high school. It was a tough way to earn money as an electrician, so he eventually left. “I arrived in Sydney and found myself unqualified for above-ground work.”
He ended up even deeper underground, claustrophobic and covered in fibreglass and varnish, trying to install battery packs on submarines at Cockatoo Island. “I literally will die if I don’t do something with my life,” he told himself.
So he decided to cook professionally.
Not long after this career path detour, he won the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year award. In 1999, he opened Marque, where he maintained three chef’s hats for 10 consecutive years and was honoured with a Breakthrough Award by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. By the time of Marque's final dinner in 2016, many impressive people had worked in Mark's kitchen: Isaac McHale (now running The Clove Club in London) and Mette Søberg (current research chef at Copenhagen's Noma) spent formative periods there. Of the talented locals (Victor Liong, Daniel Pepperell, Brent Savage, Adam Wolfers, Pasi Petanen, Hanz Gueco, to name a few), three would win the Young Chef of the Year award: Dan Hong, Daniel Puskas and Lauren Eldridge.
We talk about "The Pesto Years" of the 1990s, how travelling throughout France inspired Marque's beginning, the history of his calamari risotto dish, trying times in the kitchen ("I may have held a sausage to someone’s head"), the memorable last dinner at Marque and why he chose to close the restaurant.
We also cover: his current role as a World Restaurant Awards judge, what it's like developing menus for cruiseships (which he does for his Bistro by Mark Best business) and his appearance on The Final Table, Netflix's cooking contest. After getting hate mail from doctors while on Masterchef, he decided to take a different onscreen approach on The Final Table (SPOILER WARNING: we talk about that show's ending, from 53:15 to 58:12 on the podcast). It was also surreal to discover his fellow competitors owned his cookbooks. (Turns out he's quite qualified for above-ground work after all.)