Guillaume Brahimi spent 12 years looking after the restaurant Bennelong at Sydney Opera House from 2001 and now runs three bistros around Australia, as well as being a partner in the Four in Hand, Paddington. The 49-year-old chatted to me about the best and worst parts of being a chef, the secret to having a top restaurant, and why he doesn’t want his daughter to follow in his footsteps.
What’s a day in the life of you?
I am up around 5.30, I normally go for a swim. I come home, take the kids to school. The school run – that’s my pleasure because I travel a lot, so if I’m not in Perth or Melbourne, when I’m in Sydney I do the kids run. After that I go straight to the restaurants to George Street to Bistro Guillaume … I give them help in the kitchen then do the lunch service. I try to go to the gym between lunch and dinner and after that I go back to the restaurant.
You’re involved in Taste of Sydney. Tell me about the festival.
I think Taste of Sydney is a great way to showcase the trend of Sydney dining and, being in Centennial Park, it’s amazing … The idea is spending an evening or an afternoon with friends and being able to taste lots of different food … with a couple of glasses of wine.
What is Sydney food to you?
Delicious … I think Sydney, we are becoming a destination … We used to be a place when you’re saying, “I am going to New York, I am going to Milan, Paris, London to see the trend.” Let me tell you, we keep going there because it’s nothing wrong going to Paris or New York or London, but you come back to Sydney and you’re saying, “We’re right up there.”
How do you think Sydney restaurants compete on a world stage?
Yes they are up there, and better! We’ve got the produce, we’ve got the talent, we’ve got the city. There is no doubt Sydney is the destination of food, wine and talent.
It is an end of a chapter with the closure of your Paddington restaurant. How do you feel about this?
Very simple: the lease was finished and I wanted to concentrate on my bistros … So it was a very simple commercial decision [to close].
What do you enjoy the most about being a chef?
Well, eating [laughs]! No, what I enjoy the most is make people happy. Everybody thinks running a kitchen and being a chef is stressful but I enjoy the service. But there is no better satisfaction for me seeing an empty plate coming in my kitchen.
What’s the worst aspect of being a chef?
Seeing a plate coming back full! You have one complaint and that will ruin your day. I think we are perfectionists, we want so much – we are here to make people happy.
How do you deal with tricky customers?
I send them to other restaurants [laughs]! No, no, there is nothing more satisfying than when you see somebody who arrives cranky and you can turn them around, and they leave happy.
What is the secret to having a top restaurant?
I’m still looking for it, but I think never compromise.
What do you never compromise on?
On quality of the produce, never compromise on your ethic, like the love of the work well done. We say in French: l’amour du travail bien fait; never take that away from the moment you get up and the moment you go to work. I want to be a perfectionist and respect the produce. And never sleep on yesterday, always try to get better, always try to get better and lead by example. You are as good as your weakest person in the kitchen.
Do you miss operating Guillaume at Bennelong?
I will be crazy to say I don’t miss it. I did not for few years – it took me time when I wanted to have a break, but it was such a special building.
What are some of the favourite Sydney restaurants besides your own?
We are so lucky, we’ve got so many great restaurants … I love Sean’s Panorama in North Bondi. I think a perfect afternoon is lunch at Sean’s Panorama. We love going to Bistro Moncur, but if I have a night off, I love cooking at home.
What is your go-to dish when cooking at home?
If I was just listening to my kids, it would be just pasta and cheese and burgers! But I just like simple things: beautiful salad, piece of fish, roasted chicken. And it’s good because why I love cooking at home is I have a glass of wine, I’ve got the produce on the table and I just relax, I am in my zone, I am happy. It’s a luxury time.
Do you think any of your children will follow in your footsteps?
My eldest – she is a very good cook … She is turning 17 and she has got it. But I don’t want her to cook.
You don’t want her to go into the industry?
It’s a hard industry. But I get great pleasure of seeing her buying produce, cooking food and all of that. It’s amazing.
What’s next for you?
I think in 2017 – we just opened the bistro in the city. I want to focus with all my endorsements, I want to focus with my three bistros – Perth, Melbourne, Sydney – and I think that is enough on the travelling side. And I want to focus with Four In Hand and just making sure I am there for my team when they need me.
What are your plans for the new Bistro Guillaume Sydney?
To make it successful [laughs] …
Do you have plans to open more venues?
Not for the moment, I have enough on my hands.
As a chef, how do you keep getting better?
Just by being excited and always challenging yourself and listening to your team.
If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing?
Firstly I would have loved to be a rugby player, but I would have loved to be in emergency as an ER doctor.
When did you realise that you wanted to become a chef?
At 14 – school was quiet difficult. I’m dyslexic and it was just hard. I don’t have one good memory of school … It was horrible. I was not doing well at school and it was just hard and it was not because I wasn’t trying, so that was the frustrating part of it. So when I decided to be a chef, my parents straight away said, “Great.”
Where did your love of food come from?
My family, always good food at home. But no chefs in my family, just love for food. We’re a French family.
What is the number one people-pleaser dish?
I think I do pretty good roast chicken with a beautiful salad.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Still doing what I love but just finding a bit more time for my children. I definitely want to spend more time with my children … balanced family life, balanced relationship, balance at work, it is very complicated … Being balanced, I think, it’s the hardest thing, and the day you can say that you’re balanced is the day you are content. I think that’s for everyone.
Taste of Sydney is on March 9 to 12 in Centennial Park.
WE WENT TO Four in Hand, Paddington.
WE ATE Marinated Bermigui octopus with broccolini, yuzu mayonnaise and nori; Lamb cutlets with eggplant, fregola, miso and sorrel; Grilled South Australian sardines and pickles.
WE DRANK Sparkling mineral water.
GUILLAUME WORE James Perse t-shirt and pants and Golden Goose sneakers.