Ben Sears has worked for some of the industry’s most revered chefs. Among his former bosses is Andrew McConnell, who Sears apprenticed for and worked with at McConnell’s Three, One, Two and again as part of the Cutler & Co opening team in 2009. Another is Simon Rogan, who he worked with at Rogan’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant L’Enclume in England, as well as chef Chui Lee Luk, who Sears worked under at Claude’s in Sydney.

At Claude’s he met his partner Eun Hee An, and the pair left to open Moon Park in Redfern, Sydney, before moving the restaurant to Potts Point and renaming it Paper Bird. Having closed Paper Bird at the beginning of the pandemic, the duo moved to Melbourne 18 months ago, where Sears helped Hee An open her beloved Korean- and Japanese-influenced cafe Moon Mart.

In November last year, he joined Public Wine Shop as head chef, taking over from Simon Ball-Smith. “The main brief for me at Public is just to remind and reaffirm that it’s a great place for a brilliant glass of wine and a tasty snack, but it’s also a really great place for a very satisfying dinner,” Sears tells Broadsheet. “We’re expanding the offering a little to make it easier to have a full meal there and we’re planning to use upstairs regularly as well for people who’d prefer a more traditional dining room vibe.” We took five minutes with the chef to hear what he has in store for the new gig.

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How would you describe your cooking?
I suppose we cook what we know, and my career has been quite eclectic in terms of where I’ve worked. Quite classical French training, modern European, some Asian restaurants as well.

What effect does the size or set-up of the kitchen at Public Wine Shop have on your creativity?
The kitchen set-up at Public is, I think, pretty famous for its minimalism. I wouldn’t say it negatively or positively affects creativity, it just requires lateral thinking sometimes. We have a proper combi oven upstairs now, so it’s maybe not quite as limited as it was in the past.

What are your ambitions for Public Wine Shop?
To not fuck it up! I’ve known Cam [Burton, owner] for years and when he asked me [to lead the kitchen] my main reticence was that I liked going there a lot.

The direction of the food will stay basically the same, I always liked the kind of generous bourgeois European thing that [former head chefs] Ali [Currey-Voumard] and Simon [Ball-Smith] were cooking, I think somewhat informed by that Simon Hopkinson and Richard Olney school of cooking for people – it feels a little unique compared to maybe what you see elsewhere in Melbourne. There will be some more Asian influences creeping into the food I’m sure, but I think it will be fairly restrained.

What dishes are you excited to introduce in the coming seasons?
There’s a little roast chicken wing that’s boned out and stuffed with a proper bread stuffing and served with a caper and parsley gravy, which is a cute snack that eats just like a really good roast chicken dinner. And we’re doing potted prawns, which you don’t see very often. Our potted prawns are seasoned with curry leaf and black pepper and it kind of tastes like a blessed union of a traditional potted shrimp from Morecambe Bay and Singaporean black pepper crab.

Who or what is inspiring your cooking at the moment?
As soon as I knew I was coming to Public I hit the books pretty hard – especially some of the older European stuff I haven’t dusted off for a while. The aforementioned Hopkinson and Olney and a lot of the older nouvelle stuff – Roger Vergé’s Entertaining in the French Style is a cracking book.

We also eat out a little more than we should. I think Rosheen [Kaul]’s cooking at Etta is consistently inspired, and we took a trip out to Chae recently. The more you open yourself up to what’s happening around you, the more inspired you become.

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