One of Sydney’s finest restaurants, Marque, in Surry Hills, closes on Thursday, June 30, after 17 years.
It will be a bittersweet moment for chef Mark Best, a former electrician in the Kalgoorlie mines, who rose into the culinary stratosphere to see Marque named the 2010 “breakthrough restaurant” in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and restaurant of the year in the country’s top food guides.
If a measure of a restaurant’s success is how many up-and-coming young chefs want to namecheck that place on their CV, then Best has triumphed, as his final meal, cooked by 11 of Marque’s alumni and three of his current kitchen, attests.
It’s a small kitchen, with just six or seven people working together in a confined space that produced high-wire culinary acrobatics that wowed and dazzled. Best says he’s lost count, but estimates more than 100 people spent time working beside him.
“My only ambition was to get the doors open and run a smart little suburban bistro,” Best recalls. “It got a little bit out of control.”
Thursday’s line up is a demonstration of the talent he worked with.
Dan Pepperell’s now part of Sydney’s hottest new space, Hubert, Karl Firla’s Oscillate Wildly is like a nascent Marque – bargain-priced culinary fireworks in a bistro setting. Brent Savage runs the acclaimed Bentley, with Alex Munoz in charge of Savage’s side project, Monopol, and Adam Wolfers at another, Yellow.
Joachim Borenius still works with Best at Pei Modern at the Four Seasons. Dan Hong is the backbone of the Merivale empire’s food outlets, Daniel Puskas owns the acclaimed two hatter Sixpenny, Victor Liong runs Melbourne’s Le Ho Fook, Jake Davey is at est.
Marque’s pastry chef, Lauren Eldridge, is currently at the world’s best restaurant, Osteria Francescana in Italy. Long-time head chef Pasi Petanen is working on his next project after his “pop-up”, Cafe Paci, lasted long enough to receive two hats and see him named chef of the year last year – seven years after his former boss received the same accolade.
Nobu Lee is Marque’s current head chef, Frederik Vollmond the sous.
Not everyone can be there. Jowett Yu of is now in Hong Kong at Ho Lee Fook, Kirk Howarth is sous chef at the eponymous Sat Bains restaurant in the UK. There are many many more. The front of house are an equally impressive group now found in the nation’s best dining spots.
Best says he’s had “a pretty good strike rate” from the people he worked with.
“A lot of them came from very good kitchens, and I didn’t create them. But I like to think I made them look at their own work and taught them to be truly creative and think for themselves,” he said. “It’s nice to see when the little light comes on.”
The other thing working at Marque taught them was how to be an all-rounder.
“They had to do everything, not just the shaved radish garnish or sorbet section. You had to jump in and make the bread or butter, or even lugging tables and polishing plates. We have a small business mentality. It’s not about being a just chef, it’s about being a restaurateur,” Best said.
He says he’s humbled by how many great chefs said they wanted to be part of the alumni dinner and the dishes they’ve created for the meal.
“Food is pretty much like dogs and their owners, they end up looking like each other,” he quips.
The benchmark he set for others is also Best’s own highlight from time at Marque – getting to a point where he realised his food didn’t look like anyone else’s.
“That took a lot of time to come and endless frustration,” he said.
Among the toughest moments was “the struggle for recognition, which was long and frustrating”.
Business Insider fondly remembers when Marque was awarded three hats. Best took to the stage to accept the award and simply said “It’s about time”.
His other challenge has been running a small business.
“The amount of work required by the system is pretty difficult,” he said. “You find yourself working harder and harder for less and less, and it takes away from what you love to do, which is cooking, for administration instead”.
Now, after more than 5000 services, it’s not the end. On Friday Best will turn his attention full time to his other two restaurants, Pei Modern in Sydney and Melbourne.
“I have to keep reminding people I’m not yet dead or retired. It’s just a full stop on a great deal of endeavour by a great many people,” he said.
As for tomorrow night, even a chef notorious for a dry and sometimes cynical wit can’t help but feel the emotion.
“Even my old granite face might shed a tear,” he says. “It’s a particular moment in my career.”
Here’s the final menu at Marque:
Radish & Butter,
Potato & Mussels,
Pork Crackling with Beetroot & Rosella,
Baby Corn & Shellfish Butter,
Potato & Truffle,
White Chocolate & Porcini Egg,
Steamed Oyster with Ginger & Spring Onion,
Koji Cracker with Celeriac & Shark Fin Melon,
Artichoke Skin with Goat Curd & Radicchio,
Prawn wrapped in Yuba,
Smoked Eel with Turnip & Cured Egg,
Crispy Beetroot with Beetroot Oil & Ocean Trout Roe
Cauliflower with Blood Sausage & Prawn Custard
Rangers Valley Wagyu with Local Bull Kelp, Shiitake & Mushroom
Nightingale Persimmon & Butternut Pumpkin
Blue Mountains Wild Flower Honeycomb & Cultured Cream
– Mark Best, Nobu Lee, Frederik Vollmond and Lauren Eldridge
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