How did you feel about joining MasterChef as a guest judge this season?
I felt the same way Ricky Gervais did when he did that Optus ad. But then when I got there, I realised how lovely everyone was, and what an asset a program like MasterChef is to the industry. It’s been pivotal in encouraging people to cook more at home, experiment, and, most importantly to me, show people that any career dream is within their reach if they work hard for it.
I think it’s a great platform to raise awareness about important industry issues [like] food wastage, for instance. People at home look to TV chefs for advice about how to run their home kitchen, so if we can help them to be more thoughtful with how they use and cook their food, I think it can have a really positive impact. So as long as it’s more than just people shouting at each other, it’s fine.
What did you enjoy most about your experience?
Hair and make-up. I never realised what you could do with that stuff, as if all you other exhausted chefs with bags under your eyes don’t know what I’m talking about! My girlfriend wants me to wear it all the time now. Thanks, guys.
How would you describe the calibre of the contestants?
I was actually very impressed by the skill level the contestants demonstrated. In the era before MasterChef, and the whole culture of reality TV or cooking shows, you had to spend years and years training, getting yelled at, and working up the ranks to even come close to competency. But the younger generation I’m seeing now are already so much more advanced, it’s quite a shock to the system to realise that they know so much! It’s scary and it’s exciting.
You host a Pressure Test where contestants have to replicate your dish, Pearl on the Ocean Floor. Without revealing too much, can you explain how this dish will test the contestants?
We prepare at least 50 of these [dishes] per night at Lûmé [Quade's restaurant], and my own kitchen staff cry at the thought of even prepping it. So, in reality I didn’t expect the contestants to ever pull it off. But that’s the thing, I don’t really care if they do it well or not. What I was looking for was the consideration and the process that they took. How they coped under stress. How they dealt with setbacks and failure, and pivoted from it. Those are the qualities I look for in a chef in our restaurant, so that’s what I decided to test.
Pearl on the Ocean Floor, as well as others on the menu at your restaurant, Lûmé, is visually breathtaking. Talk us through the process of creating these incredible dishes.
For me, the creative process stems from a darker place. It’s no secret that I’ve struggled with mental health issues throughout my career. But the funny side effect of that is it’s benefited my creative output. I don’t think I’d have these ideas if I were just content and stable all of the time. I think that sometimes you have to be a little crazy and obsessive in order to create.
So, I try to embrace those ‘obstacles’ and channel them into something positive, which for me is cooking. This is nothing unique. A lot of us in the [food] industry have these issues, but for some reason it’s not okay to talk about [it]. I’m happy to start the conversation.
The Lûmé websites states that it is, “a restaurant that doesn't just serve food, rather, it creates experiences best enjoyed by curious minds.” How would you describe these particular experiences, and why is it important to you to provide diners with these experiences?
We call ourselves a restaurant because it’s a convenient term and it’s easily understood. To be honest though, it’s not the best description for what we do. We take a multi-sensory approach to dining, which means we believe that food is about more than taste alone. In fact, it involves all of the senses, whether it be sight, sound, or touch.
We focus on how we can make the meal an experience, rather than just another dinner. The team use every tool in their arsenal to make that happen. Sometimes that means hiring musicians, actors or artists to work behind the scenes. Or scientists, engineers, psychologists or hypnotists. We’ve even started working with these guys from Ballarat who create dystopian animatronics. Point is, I think that to keep the fine dining concept fresh, you’ve got to be constantly thinking of ways to surprise people and excite them. So while we hope good food and drink underpins everything we do, we aim to build these multi-sensory layers upon that.
Who or what keeps you inspired?
My partner Veronica is a constant source of inspiration for me, in fact her business card may or may not state her position as, ‘Ideas Man’.
What are the new food trends that have yet to take off in Australia?
If you were a contestant this season, what would be your signature style or dish, and why?
It would be something designed specifically for sharing on social media. I’ve fought it for so long, but at this point in my career I can see how much popularity some restaurants get simply by focusing on the visual impression a dish makes on Instagram. At first I thought that it was a depressing development, and to a certain extent I still do, but I can also see that the world changes, and the savvy ones change with it in their own unique way.
What advice do you have for our contestants or any aspiring chefs out there?
Think outside the box. Hustle. Nothing is impossible, keep an open mind and learn from anyone you can.
Do restaurants need to be as “outside the box” as Lûmé?
I hope not. The industry out there is massive. There’s room for all of us.
What do you say to people that might find what Lûmé does too unusual for their tastes?
Lûmé isn’t for everyone, that’s one thing. But here’s another: we have so many customers that love having a dining experience unlike any they’ve had before. People love going beyond their comfort zone. Some people might find it unusual, but that’s a good thing in my opinion.
What exciting new projects do you have on the boil that you can share with us?
I’ve been working behind the scenes for a while now with an immersive dining events company called WeNeverSleep. It all came about because my partner Veronica, whose background is in psychology and economics and mentalist techniques, has been working with us on some more non-traditional aspects of dining [such as] subliminal messaging, hypnosis, colour and light perception, things that are not thought of as typical to a restaurant meal.
Over time we saw how much interest there was in this and, you know, how fun it was to do. So decided to set up WeNeverSleep and hold these experiential events, using our cast of creatives. My favourite event so far was the virtual reality experience we did last year, which was not an easy feat! But we can proudly claim the title of being the first fine dining restaurant in Australia to use VR [virtual reality], and for it not to suck.
More on Shaun and Lûmé at restaurantlume.com