"It was an old smashed-up pub that had no floor and no ceiling and no roof." It wasn't the greatest site, but Brent Savage and his business partner Nick Hildebrandt (somehow) transformed it into Bentley, the first restaurant they'd ever open together. 11 years later, they now run four acclaimed Sydney venues: Monopole, an award-winning wine bar; Yellow, a popular fine-dining vegetarian restaurant, and Cirrus, a well-reviewed seafood establishment.
Brent got his start in the kitchens of renowned chefs (such as Phillip Searle's Vulcans and Mark Best's Marque) before going solo and being named Chef of the Year in the 2005 and 2015 editions of the Good Food Guide. Even though he worked in "old-school" rough-going establishments, Brent has since instituted a "no shouting" rule in his kitchens and knows that there's more to a restaurant than what's on the plate. His collaborators include Hildebrandt, who surely must be the most awarded sommelier in Sydney (even if he hasn't carted all his honours home to put on his trophy shelf) and Phil Gandevia, whose experimental drinks at Bentley include strawberry champagne, Weetbix milk and a pretty excellent counterfeit beer.
Brent has also mentored many young chefs at his restaurants – including Adam Wolfers and Dan Hong (who met his wife when they were both working at Bentley).
Brent has always had a pro-vegetarian bent to his cooking – his wife Fleur is a third-generation vegetarian – and he talks about how he approaches serving eggplant like it's twice-cooked pork belly.
Bentley is the restaurant that inspired me to start my food blog, 10 years ago now, which is also what has led to this podcast – so it's nice to be able to chat to Brent about his career and achievements, and the fact he turned up to this interview, even though he'd suffered a hernia only five days earlier! But his high-pain threshold can probably be credited to his early days as a dishwasher, which taught him how to handle pretty much everything.