The lib­er­a­tion of mem­o­ries.

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Neue Lux­ury


Over the past decade Aus­tralia’s din­ing land­scape has changed be­yond the imag­in­able. Com­posed as a per­fect gas­tro­nomic dou­ble he­lix of sorts with ad­ven­tur­ous, ed­u­cated and de­mand­ing con­sumers form­ing one struc­ture while in­tel­li­gent, en­tre­pre­neur­ial and in­ven­tive Chefs pro­vide a dy­namic coun­ter­point. Bind­ing the two are grow­ing teams of sen­sory nu­cleo­tides such as ar­chi­tects, ad­ver­tis­ers and mar­keters. Neue Lux­ury spoke to Chef Shan­non Ben­nett (Vue de Monde) and Ar­chi­tect, Cal­lum Fraser (Elen­berg Fraser) about the evo­lu­tion of Vue de Monde and their new the­atre of ex­pe­ri­ence. To bor­row from the French, it would ap­pear that ‘bonne renom­mée vaut mieux que cein­ture dorée’ (A good rep­u­ta­tion is bet­ter than riches). NEUE LUX­URY: Let’s rewind a lit­tle to be­gin with, how did the re­la­tion­ship be­tween your­self and Cal­lum be­gin? SHAN­NON BEN­NETT: Cal­lum was din­ing in Vue de Monde and came up and asked for a dis­count. No, Cal­lum came in and dined. That’s how it all started. NL: Ob­vi­ously the vi­sion for Vue de Monde has changed over the years, so what was the brief for this par­tic­u­lar site? SB: I started out by ask­ing Cal­lum to visit, that we have some­thing that could be very tacky. The view is some­thing that makes it pretty tacky, but at the same time, it’s one of the rea­sons we wanted to be here. We wanted Vue de Monde to fi­nally have a view. The next phase of that would be look­ing back­wards ac­tu­ally, look­ing back in his­tory. NL: Ob­vi­ously for you Cal­lum, the no­tion of site and place was im­por­tant? CAL­LUM FRASER: This is ob­vi­ously the sec­ond restau­rant with Shan­non. We’ve also com­pleted a cou­ple of cafes over the past ten years. We’ve come to an un­der­stand­ing about what Vue de Monde is and how it’s much big­ger that just a restau­rant. This place is an idea. It has many con­no­ta­tions and many as­pects to it, which are dif­fi­cult to de­fine. The en­gage­ment with con­tem­po­rary art, with sin­gle sourced very spe­cific sup­pli­ers. The in­stances of how this restau­rant comes to­gether in an at­mo­spheric sense is very dif­fer­ent to most other restau­rants where you know ex­actly what you’re go­ing to get when you turn up at the door. The idea at Vue de Monde is sort of the re­verse if you like. You never get the same thing. You al­ways have a new and dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. So we came to the project with that un­der­stand­ing. It seemed to me that this is a log­i­cal des­ti­na­tion for the restau­rant as its name means ‘view of the world’. NL: How did you rec­on­cile the ideas found within the food, the place and the ar­chi­tec­ture? CF: Well, place is in­escapable in all things. When Shan­non talks about the his­tory of food and din­ing and do­ing new things with old tech­niques, I think we tried to find a sim­i­lar role for the ar­chi­tec­ture within the restau­rant. The first thing we came to was ex­actly where we are, which is pre-civ­i­liza­tion. The Yarra River is a kind of log­jam di­rectly out the front of the restau­rant, which sep­a­rates the salt wa­ter and the fresh wa­ter. It’s a very im­por­tant spir­i­tual place and it’s a place peo­ple come to catch their food, to eat their food, to cel­e­brate to­gether. We try to bring some­thing of that back in a con­tem­po­rary sense. Us­ing what it was in pre-civ­i­liza­tion to try to lib­er­ate the themes of the restau­rant to­day. That’s why it looks very closely at the river es­tu­ary, its ma­te­ri­al­ity and its ritual. For in­stance, when we come up through the lifts and break through the reeds we ap­pear at the bil­l­abong and then move through to the grass­lands. It puts to­gether an un­der­stand­ing of land­scape and place within an or­ches­trated, rit­u­al­is­tic com­po­si­tion. NL: A the­atre of ex­pe­ri­ence? CF: Well, that, and how you take some­one through that jour­ney. It’s one thing from an ar­chi­tec­tural point of view to try and im­bue those no­tions, to make them some­times vis­i­ble and some­times not. It’s one thing to have ar­chi­tec­tural in­tent and then an­other to trans­fer that in­tent down to the cus­tomer. SB: It’s im­por­tant that we don’t force feed peo­ple knowl­edge. The ar­chi­tec­ture al­ways had an in­tent. It has sev­eral dif­fer­ent lay­ers to it and we wanted cus­tomers to dis­cover it. If they want more knowl­edge be­hind the scenes all our team are trained ex­ten­sively. I re­mem­ber in the fi­nal pre­sen­ta­tion be­fore we went into con­struc­tion draw­ings our man­age­ment team had a pre­sen­ta­tion within Cal­lum’s of­fice. It was im­por­tant for the whole team to be there so they knew the phi­los­o­phy from day one. NL: So it’s re­ally about a serendip­i­tous ex­change of knowl­edge?

SB: Well, for the first time you come here, I think it’s all about the view. And when you come here for the sec­ond time, it’s all about what’s in­side. The first time, you don’t want to over­whelm peo­ple. They come here, they en­joy them­selves, they may only come for the bar. They only see a small part of what we’ve done. You just need them to be con­sumed by the whole at­mos­phere. CF: The other thing that we’re all con­scious of, is a lot of re­cent restau­rant de­sign has put de­sign in the way of the ex­pe­ri­ence and we re­ally tried to avoid that and take quite a dif­fer­ent path. Our cue was ac­tu­ally the sen­sory na­ture of the food that’s pre­sented and the way that it af­fects the palate. It’s very in­ter­ac­tive and en­gag­ing with the chefs de­liv­er­ing the food and ex­plain­ing what they’re do­ing and where things are from. But over­whelm­ingly for me, what was at stake was this idea of sen­sory din­ing. So if the restau­rant could ac­tu­ally am­plify these ideas, re­ally make you ready to re­ceive the mes­sage of the food, then it would com­ple­ment what the restau­rant is rather than get­ting in the way of the restau­rant. NL: So did the menu change along the way as a re­sult of the de­sign process? SB: The menu con­tin­u­ously changed through­out the process. Like the de­sign of the ta­ble changed from say­ing, ‘No, ac­tu­ally, we’ve got some­thing there that we may want to do in the fu­ture. Where we may plate a dessert straight up on the ta­ble.’ NL: It sounds like there’s a back-story there? SB: There’s many lit­tle things like that, but we also wanted the din­ing room and the bar to have a sense of her­itage with­out hav­ing to force it on peo­ple. If a cus­tomer wanted to in­quire about a de­tail we’re more than happy to sit there for 15 min­utes and tell them about our ideas. The de­sign is be­ing cre­ated in such a way that we can ac­tu­ally add to what we’re do­ing over time. NL: Have you wit­nessed a change in the cus­tomer in re­cent times? In terms of their level of knowl­edge and what they’re ex­pect­ing from a din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence? SB: I think every time you dine in a restau­rant, your sec­ond ex­pe­ri­ence is al­ways go­ing to be much more dif­fi­cult to meet ex­pec­ta­tions. NL: Like a sec­ond date? SB: A sec­ond date with a su­per­model. NL: Lux­ury has al­ways had a re­la­tion­ship to ma­te­ri­als and I’m cu­ri­ous about how the cu­ra­tion of ma­te­ri­als, whether it be the raw brick or the kan­ga­roo hide or… CF: Or the Ch­ester­field la­tex…

NL: Or the Ch­ester­field la­tex… How have you man­aged that re­la­tion­ship be­tween ma­te­ri­als? CF: When I think about what lux­ury is per­son­ally, it’s ac­tu­ally about the ex­pe­ri­ence and in­ter­ac­tion. I think we’re try­ing to am­plify the sen­sory na­ture of de­sign and the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. SB: I think the other com­po­nent to lux­ury is unique­ness. Lux­ury no longer is some­thing ma­te­ri­al­is­tic. It’s got to be some­thing that’s com­pletely unique. We have tried to achieve that unique­ness through de­sign ma­te­ri­al­ity. Our mis­sion state­ment for Vue de Monde is to al­ways try to cre­ate some­thing you can­not cre­ate at home. That’s a con­tin­u­ously shift­ing bar, and de­sign is some­thing, like us­ing kan­ga­roo leather, that cre­ates a sense of lux­ury. NL: It sounds like you are lib­er­at­ing the fine din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence from its his­tor­i­cal shack­les. SB: In a sense it is. Fine din­ing and the basics of fine din­ing have not changed in so long, I think it’s about time it does. Why do we re­ally have a table­cloth? In cer­tain eras there were prac­ti­cal rea­sons for hav­ing ta­ble clothes, ta­bles were used in dif­fer­ent func­tions. Ob­vi­ously they’re all scuffed and marked up and used for one pur­pose dur­ing the day, and then at night they were used for din­ing. We don’t need that any­more. We’ve got peo­ple who care for our ta­bles, boot mak­ers who make and ser­vice our ta­bles for us. They make our ta­bles feel or­ganic and lux­u­ri­ous. You look at them and you say, ‘What are they? Why isn’t the leather just one stretched piece across the top? There were these lit­tle cu­ri­ous de­sign prob­lems that in the end re­vealed a unique set of lux­u­ries. NL: What about the no­tion of time? Ob­vi­ously, time plays a crit­i­cal fac­tor in the read­ing and the de­liv­ery of the ex­pe­ri­ence. How have you man­aged that no­tion of time in the restau­rant? SB: We want you to be lost in the mo­ment and to not think about time. NL: Was that some­thing for you Cal­lum in terms of the nar­ra­tive and de­sign of the space? CF: Yes, def­i­nitely. I think the restau­rant is not a sin­gle, one-shot ges­ture. It’s ac­tu­ally some­thing that lay­ers up and is ac­ti­vated by the peo­ple within it. Upon ar­rival, you’re taken through a very ar­ranged ritual to get to your ta­ble, it doesn’t stop when you ac­tu­ally ar­rive there. Things un­fold around you, and the room takes on many dif­fer­ent as­pects through­out the night, which is the great thing about restau­rants, isn’t it? Pure phe­nom­e­non. Pure ritual. NL: Did you work on the ex­pe­ri­ence to­gether? SB: When Cal­lum de­signed the last space, we al­ways had that in mind. NL: So it’s al­most an ac­cu­mu­la­tive process, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween ar­chi­tect and restau­ra­teur? SB: Ab­so­lutely. That’s why it baf­fles me when a restau­ra­teur will use a dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tect on each new restau­rant that they es­tab­lish. Your ar­chi­tect can only progress with the knowl­edge they have ac­cu­mu­lated over time. It should be an evo­lu­tion. NL: Al­most episo­dal? SB: Pretty much – you don’t know where the fu­ture lies, but you look at where we are now and I al­ways felt that the space Vue de Monde oc­cu­pied in Nor­manby Cham­bers was only ever a step­ping-stone. It was avail­able at the time and it served the pur­pose. But we al­ways fought against a lack of space in that de­sign. CF: I think that’s key, be­cause when peo­ple work to­gether in a se­rial re­la­tion­ship, it can sort of go two ways. They can ei­ther pre­dict what they think the other per­son is ac­tu­ally af­ter, con­tin­u­ing the same kind of lan­guage and story, or it can be a gen­uine in­ter­ac­tion. I think with this place, it re­quired a sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief to be­gin with be­cause when you ar­rived in the old ob­ser­va­tion deck, it was a night­mare. There are many sto­ries of restau­rants go­ing to the tops of the world and be­come tacky, touristy ex­pe­ri­ences. So hav­ing sus­pended be­lief ac­tu­ally gave us the op­por­tu­nity to rein­vent some­thing from first prin­ci­ples. I think what you see here in the restau­rant is un­like any other restau­rant. It’s a brand new pal­ette and com­pletely dif­fer­ent method of ser­vice and de­liv­ery. The restau­rant’s been thinned out to 48 seats. It got smaller, not big­ger. There are a whole se­ries of crazy in­ver­sions. NL: Shan­non, in terms of the evo­lu­tion of Vue de Monde is it as im­por­tant to dis­card ex­pe­ri­ences as much as it is to ac­cu­mu­late them? SB: There are lay­ers of the old restau­rant in here, and that’s one of the things about time, you just learn. We made mis­takes in the last de­sign and there are mis­takes you live with, but at the time they weren’t mis­takes. It’s very hard to give an ar­chi­tect a brief, every­thing is al­ways re­lated back to pro­duce, plates, scream­ing at other chefs. NL: You ob­vi­ously re­ally en­joy the process though? SB: I en­joy the learn­ing process. It’s al­ways a new ex­pe­ri­ence, de­sign­ing some­thing. And you get bet­ter at cer­tain points of it, but one thing about de­sign is it never stops. There’s al­ways some­thing new, some­thing new to learn. It can get very, very ad­dic­tive. Vue de Monde will con­tinue to evolve. There will be el­e­ments that will be­come stronger the longer we stay here and some parts of the de­sign will no doubt speak to us and say, ‘don’t ever change’. NL: What is it that you hope peo­ple will take away from an ex­change with Vue de Monde? SB: Well, hope­fully they get the story. In the end ig­nore the view, look at what’s on the ta­ble, look at what’s around you and ask your­self if you get a sense of place and oc­ca­sion, of be­ing in Melbourne. If you don’t get that then it’s back to the draw­ing board.

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