Courtside cachet: Chef Joel Bennetts is an appetising match for the Australian Open

Eat & Drink

The new Courtside Bar is a hot ticket at this year’s Australian Open. It provides front-row open-air seats to Court 6 matches for one and all. Chef Joel Bennetts, who is behind the food on offer at the new Bar, talks to Forbes Australia about the power of serving up simplicity, how to dish up his spicy prawn roll, and the value of making food – and the Open – accessible.
A match made in heaven: Public access to courtside seats at the Australian Open, and a high-end chef focused on democratising accessible, fresh food. Source: Australian Open

Whether it’s basketball or tennis, sitting ‘courtside’ has long had a connotation of exclusivity. A new offering from the Australian Open aims to democratise courtside access and give everyday tennis fans a breezy taste of the Aussie summer.

The dynamic Sydney-sider behind the food at the new Australian Open Courtside Bar brings a young, fresh perspective to the Australian Open. Chef Joel Bennetts is treating tennis-goers to a slice of his Bondi Beach lifestyle.

“I’m doing a spicy prawn roll with fermented chilli mayonnaise and shredded lettuce on a toasted brioche bun. Just like a real summery prawn roll,” says Bennetts, the head chef at Fish Shop in Bondi Beach.

Seafood is a go-to for the 32-year-old who grew up on the NSW coast.

“I do prawns at Christmas,” says Bennetts, who surfs in his downtime, and loves cooking with his girlfriend and her family even when he’s off the clock. An orientation around the sea is second nature to the ‘boy wonder’ chef born in the coastal Sydney city of Maroubra.

“We grew up spearfishing, you know. Banging oysters off the rocks with screwdrivers with dad, picking sea urchin out on a full moon.”

“They were the hardest years of my life, but they were the three and a half years that shaped me as a chef.”

Bennetts started his career in a Sydney kitchen situated on a pier at 16, after quitting a job at KFC.

“I was wrapping burgers for three months after exiting school, and mum and dad said, well, that’s not going to cut it, you need to find a job. So I went and got a job. I worked for Grant King, Greg Doyle and Katrina Kanetani at Pier restaurant in Rose Bay, and it was hard.”

Pier restaurant is now closed, but those years in a fine dining restaurant in Sydney’s tony eastern suburbs were formative.

“They were the hardest years of my life, but they were the three and a half years that shaped me as a chef,” Bennetts says reflectively.

At 23, he was designing menus for Mercedes Benz and opening new establishments in China. From there he went to the Japanese Alps, and was at the helm of an exclusive nine-course vegan degustation menu for 16 people each night.

The new Courtside Bar next to Court 6 provides front-row seats to matches for one and all. Source: Australian Open

What those experiences culminated in, Bennetts says, is an uncomplicated understanding of food.

“I’ve worked in three hat restaurants. I worked with Jeremy Strode at Merivale. I’ve worked in dingy places. At the end of the day, without a nationality attached to a type of food – isn’t it just food? It is no cuisine, it is no style. It’s just food.”

Such an assessment is indicative of the essence of Bennetts as a human and as a chef. In person, he is grounded, relatable and fun. His vibe is unadorned simplicity, which he attributes to his active and outdoorsy lifestyle.

“I love being in nature. I go on road trips, love the snow, love being at the beach. I swim every day, every single day.”

Bennetts has 80-thousand Instagram followers that he takes along on the culinary and coastal journey of his day-to-day life.

He recently released a book that represents his straightforward, no-nonsense style in the kitchen. The title of the book is characteristically unembellished: ‘Food: A Chef’s Guide To Simply Stunning Cooking.’

The typeface on the spare black and white cover is uncomplicated. All of the photos in the cookbook are Bennetts’ originals. They portray authenticity, which is reflective of the recipes inside the book.

“Every single ingredient in there you can get from Aldi, Coles, IGA, Woolworths. There’s nothing in there that is complex — there are a maximum of 8 steps in the recipes. I was raised from humble beginnings. So I just want to make food that is accessible.”

Providing great food to folks from all walks of life and perspectives is important to the engaging chef and his partnership with the Australian Open enables him to do it. At the new Courtside Bar, Bennetts is offering a vegan option as well as his spicy prawn roll.

“A chipotle eggplant tostada. I’m baking the eggplant and then marinating the chipotle and putting it with green salsa, pickled red onion coriander and jalapenos. Really tasty and crunchy,” says Bennetts.

He spent last weekend at the opening of the Courtside Bar ensuring that the dishes he is offering are being executed on-site and served up to the public the way he would like them to be. The down-to-earth Aussie says the experience of cooking up a menu for the Open has been an honour, and beautifully encapsulates our summer style.

“It is great food, with champagne and cold drinks,” he says with a smile. “I love sitting here and having a prawn roll and a non-alcoholic beer. That’s me, done.”

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The Australian Open tennis is a summer highlight each year. Source: Australian Open

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