When British Masterchef judge John Torode visited his nephew chef Ben at his Maitland workplace, the kitchen staff waited with bated breath to see what he would order.
Crumbed lamb cutlets was the choice and according to Ben there was a very good reason for that. “Lamb is about $100 a kilo in the UK, too expensive to buy so whenever he comes here he always orders it,” Ben said.
Ben, 24, works as The George Tavern’s Sous chef, following in his famous uncle’s footsteps. He is keen to get over to the UK for some lessons and hone his skills further with a little help from the family expert.
His Uncle John was in the Hunter Valley earlier this year. After moving to England in 1991, he became an international television celebrity.
In 2005 he and his partner in crime Gregg Wallace took over as the front men of MasterChef on UK television, and 11 years later they’re still going strong.
He has written nine cookbooks, and for several years was the celebrity chef of choice on British morning television.
He has had a number of highly regarded restaurants in London, although at the moment he is out of the business.
While nephew Ben is originally from Melbourne, his father Andrew and John were raised in Maitland. Ben moved here seven years ago.
But it wasn’t Ben’s uncle who inspired him to cook, in fact it was his mum, Leanne Whalebone. “I always enjoyed cooking at home with her and I thought I really should give it a go. I’ve loved it ever since,” he said.
While Ben didn’t want to use the family name to get ahead, he plotted his own path in the culinary world starting his apprenticeship at The Union Club Hotel in Wagga when he finished Year 10.
When he moved to Maitland he started working at The George Tavern before taking on a position at Morpeth’s River Royal Inn. When it closed after last year’s super storm he snared a job at The Junction Hotel in Newcastle before taking up his current job back at The George.
Ben has been nominated for the Australian Hotel Association Rising Star award and will travel to Sydney this week for the announcement.