As a teenager, Ben Greeno was drawn to the most difficult recipes in his mother’s cookbooks. “The hardest recipes always looked the best,” says Greeno. “But I wonder how many teenagers were out there trying to make choux pastry.”
The practice paid off. At 15, Greeno landed his first part-time kitchen gig in his hometown of Newcastle, England, making salads and starring melons. His boss became his first mentor.
“I worked for a grumpy old Frenchman,” says Greeno. “He was definitely somebody who always pushed me to be better.” It worked. Greeno is now executive chef at The Paddington on Oxford Street in Sydney. “He recently made a stop-off in Sydney on his way home from New Zealand especially to see me,” says Greeno. “That meant a lot.”
It’s a similar story to Greeno’s own junior and mentee, pastry-chef Rosie Eastwood. Also from Northern England, Eastwood grew up in York as the daughter of a chef, and became accustomed to cooking impromptu sweets for the guests at her parents’ bed and breakfast.
“I’d always make the dessert, and I’d always get good feedback,” says Eastwood. “So becoming a chef was a very natural progression for me.”
Three years ago, Eastwood moved to Australia and landed a job at Momofuku Seiobo, where Greeno was executive chef. As she transitioned to a new culture and workplace, Greeno helped her understand the differences between British and Australian kitchens, produce and equipment.
“Ben was the one who convinced me to stay here,” she says. “He knows what it’s like to work here and in England and he knew here was a better fit for me.”
When Greeno left Momofuku to head up The Paddington, he asked Eastwood to join him as his pastry chef. Having her around has helped the self-confessed former grump stop taking things too seriously.
“It doesn’t matter how your day has gone, when you walk in and see Rosie you can’t help but smile,” says Greeno. “She’s the most cheerful person I’ve ever met. Sometimes we need a lot of cheering up.”
Adds Rosie: “He smiles now. Well, now and then.”
While there’s plenty of fun and laughter at work, there’s also a steep learning curve. Eastwood credits Greeno for keeping her on her toes and teaching her how to use her initiative.
“He pushes me and makes me care more,” she says. “I put more effort into what I do because of him, and out of respect for him. I want to meet the high standard he sets for everyone.”
Greeno thinks this drive for success stems from his most defining career moment – when he landed what he calls his “first serious job”. It was in 2000, at Michelin-starred Sat Bains in Nottingham. “It changed the way I saw restaurants,” says Greeno, whose resume also includes sous chef at Sydney’s Noma. “Suddenly there was a real attention to detail.”
As executive chef at The Paddington, his role is to oversee the kitchen. That doesn’t stop at the meals. As his skillset has developed, Greeno’s gained an understanding of how the role encapsulates not just how his kitchen is run, but also how guests enjoy their experience. But as a mentor to Eastwood, his role extends far beyond a dutiful side.
“I make sure Rosie knows she needs to take care of herself because sometimes she doesn’t stop,” he says. “I know she’s not going to stay here forever – and I’m going to be there to help her if she wants to move on – but we have to look after everyone now, so that maybe one day they’ll come back.”
Although she’s new to the industry, Eastwood has learnt that a positive attitude can get her through her long days – the days her father, a former chef, warned her about.
“There’s the long hours, and the sore feet,” she says. “But you push through. You can’t just give up and go home.”
She encourages other aspiring chefs to adopt a similar approach. “It’s not about skill level. You can learn anything,” she says. “The right approach is what helps you and everyone else get through the day.”
As for Greeno, he says there’s no secret to a chef’s success, just good old-fashioned hard work.
“A lot of the younger guys now want to do this for the money and the fame, but it’s important to be prepared for the incredibly hard work ahead,” he says. “Keep working, keep your head down and good things will come to you.”