After eight years at the helm of one of Auckland's favourite institutions, chef Ben Bayly is stepping aside, making way for a fresh, new culinary curator. Here, Dish catch up with chef Scott Denning, to discover what's on the horizon for the new-look The Grove.
Tell us a bit about how this opportunity came about?
Scott: "Ben (Bayly) and I are mates. We share similar backgrounds (in top London kitchens) and have been friends for years. I was back from overseas just before Christmas and Ben wondered if I’d be interested in the role. Naturally I was, so he recommended for me to Michael the owner. I gather Ben himself was put forward for the job by Sid (Sahrawat) back in 2009, so you could say it was a passing the torch scenario."
The Grove is an Auckland institution; does this bring an added element of pressure?
"Yes – though these are the sort of standards and pressure I’m accustomed to from my time in Europe. I’m pumped and super excited at what lies ahead. You really couldn’t ask for a better team, to be able to walk in to what Ben, Michael and the team have built, it’s an incredible opportunity and I just want to keep on building on that."
How did you get your start in the food industry?
"I started out in the industry after taking on holiday work, as a dishwasher, and became interested in the kitchen and cooking. After training my first job as a chef was at Sails restaurant in Auckland before heading to London where I was lucky enough to work at Michelin star restaurants Le Gavroche, The Square and Pied à Terre, for a number of years."
What do you think your appointment will bring to The Grove, moving forward?
"I think my time in Europe, the Caribbean and the Med, has really helped mould my style of cooking. It's these international influences that customers can expect to see come through in the menu. I’m also really excited to work with local producers here, particularly anything organic and sustainably farmed and fished. And I’m passionate about creating a supportive, learning environment for younger chefs and having a happy, productive team."
What advice would you offer a young chef who is just starting out?
"Know where you want to be in five years’ time, put your head down, work hard and write everything down that you learn. Don’t worry about the hours you are working or the money. Get excited and be passionate. Research the best places to work at and go and work at them. Most of all – enjoy the journey."
What do you think defines Auckland’s culinary scene?
"It’s very eclectic with some great restaurants to choose from, and second only to Melbourne in terms of Australasia in my opinion. Every great city in the world has equally good high end restaurants and Auckland is no different, and then we also have lots of great casual places serving well executed food and good local produce. There is so much to choose from here in Auckland and to a very high standard."
Best fine dining experience?
"My best fine dining restaurant experience would be at Le Louis XV, by chef Alain Ducasse in Monaco, about 10 years ago. The most amazing 17th century dining room, adjacent to the casino, in Monte Carlo, it’s one of Alain Ducasse’s flagship establishments and regularly features in lists of the world’s top restaurants. The food, presentation and service were impeccable."
What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?
"After working all week in the kitchen, I don’t like heavy rich food so what I cook at home is very basic, light and healthy. Something like a fresh piece of fish, grilled or steamed with seasonal vegetables and a salad."
Describe your approach to food in three simple words:
"Simple, elegant, fresh."
To learn more about The Grove Restaurant or to make a reservation, see their website here.