In 2018, Shane Delia’s esteemed Melbourne restaurant, Maha, marks a significant milestone: its 10th anniversary. Longevity is rare in the hospitality industry, which makes Maha’s achievement all the more remarkable.
To celebrate, Delia has planned a series of “Unrestricted” dinners featuring chefs from some of the country’s best restaurants. “We wanted to celebrate and give our customers some new experiences that didn’t have to be about us,” says Delia. “We wanted to throw a party that lasted 12 months.”
The theme of the series comes from Delia’s aversion to categorisation. We live “in a society that labels and brands everything, whether you want to be branded or not,” he says. If pressed, he calls Maha’s food “unrestricted Middle Eastern.”
He adds, “We wanted to call the series Unrestricted because we wanted it to embody what we’re about, and we wanted to bring people on board who embody that same philosophy.”
The initiative is in collaboration with luxury watch and jewellery retailer Kennedy, who share Maha’s passion for offering customers a truly exceptional experience. Each dinner in the series will present a bespoke menu that captures the chef's distinctive style, and will feature one dish inspired by Kennedy as creators of “Moments in Time”.
The series kicked off in May with Lachlan Colwill, head chef at Hentley Farm in the Barossa Valley, who Delia says served up some of the best food he’s ever eaten in his own venue.
“Lachlan and his chefs were hand delivering food to tables and explaining the regional aspects of the produce and why the dishes came together,” he says. “It was exactly what we wanted to achieve.”
Three more chefs are set to take over the Maha kitchen in 2018: Paul Carmichael, Dan Hong and Josh Niland. Delia says he was humbled when each accepted his invitation.
“I love my restaurant,” he says. “I’m handing the keys of my Mercedes-Benz to somebody else to drive – that means a lot to me. I want to make sure that we’re giving those keys to people who are going to respect us and who we respect. We’re going to create something special together.”
Paul Carmichael “doesn’t need his tyres pumped up too much,” says Delia with a laugh. “Hands down, he cooks some of Sydney’s most exciting food.”
Born in Barbados, Carmichael worked in some of New York’s most famous restaurants before David Chang, his boss at Má Pêche, offered him a job on the other side of the world in 2015: executive chef at Momofuku Seiōbo. Carmichael accepted the offer and wowed diners with a Caribbean-infused menu unlike anything else in Sydney.
The Barbadian chef has a strong connection with his cultural and culinary heritage. “He understands what it means to deliver really high levels of experience … his food personifies what he’s about,” says Delia. “The food will be exceptional.”
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Delia and Dan Hong, executive chef at Mr. Wong, have a lot in common. Both run high-profile restaurants in their respective cities. Both host popular cooking shows on television. Both love hip-hop, street fashion and sneakers. “People who are similar are drawn to each other,” says Delia. “We have a laugh together – he’s a funny guy.”
Delia admires more than Hong’s fashion sense. “He’s an amazing cook,” he says. “I love what he’s done to embrace his heritage and create something really exciting.”
Hong, the son of Sydney restaurateur Angie Hong, began his career at Longrain in the ’90s. He trained under Mark Best at Marque, and Wylie Dufresne at WD-50 in New York, but it was Momofuku chef David Chang’s influence that set him on the path to the restaurants that made his name in Sydney: Ms. G’s at Potts Point and Mr. Wong in the city.
“A true testament to Dan’s success is how busy the restaurants are,” says Delia. “When you eat his food, you understand who Dan is. He’s a guy who is deeply engaged with technique and has a deep-seated love for food and hospitality – not just Chinese and Asian food … but classical French cooking. The guy’s a serious cook.”
“Josh is the future,” says Delia. “He’s a young chef who is discovering who he is, discovering what he can be – he’s a visionary. I want to be around those kinds of people.”
One of Sydney’s most successful young chefs, Josh Niland began his career at Sydney restaurants such as Glass Brasserie and Est. He deepened his culinary knowledge on an extended tour of France and Spain and spent time as a stagiaire in Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck’s development kitchen before returning to Australia, where he worked at Fish Face and Café Nice before opening his own restaurant, with his wife Julie, in 2016.
At Saint Peter, an award-winning Paddington restaurant devoted to seafood, Niland has pioneered a “nose to scale” approach that sees very little of the fish wasted. He is one of the only chefs in the country serving fish offal in endlessly creative ways. “He’s a brilliant cook,” says Delia. “There’s nobody … else like him in Australia.”
Delia is excited to expose a new audience to Niland’s cooking. Saint Peter is a small restaurant in Sydney that many Melbourne diners may not have heard of, let alone had the opportunity to visit. “Once they’ve had Josh’s food,” Delia says, “they’ll understand his philosophy and the skill and the love and the passion of what he’s trying to achieve.”
This article was updated on August 11, 2018.
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