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Australian Chef of the Year goes to OTIS’ Damian Brabender

Calum Stenning

On Monday night, Executive Chef and owner of OTIS Dining Hall, Damian Brabender, won Australian Chef of the Year at the AHA National Awards for Excellence.

A veteran of the Canberra fine dining scene, Damian is thrilled with the accolade.

“I see it as an acknowledgment for sticking to my philosophy throughout my career and not changing with fads – not changing with the fickle market that is Australian hospitality,” he explains. “It’s sticking to what I honestly believe to be good food and following my principals of regional and seasonal and sustainable food.”

OTIS' Pepper Steak. Credit: Tim Bean Photography.

OTIS’ Pepper Steak. Credit: Tim Bean Photography.

Having stuck to his principals throughout his 17-year career, Damian intends to continue doing what he does best – cooking and serving good, simple, delicious food, made from high quality produce.

“Remember that hospitality is community, and community is important – we’re supporting small businesses, supporting local farmers and local produce, and only putting things on the plate that are in season, that are at their best, because that’s what customers do deserve, and that we don’t skimp on what the product is,” he says.

“I’ve maintained that the customer deserves the best, so we stick with our primary cuts of meat – we are using truffles, we are using fillet steak, we are using lobster and things like that – we’re making good food from good product, which I think is important.”

Credit: Tim Bean Photography.

Credit: Tim Bean Photography.

OTIS has received plenty of positive attention over the course of its young life (the restaurant turns one this weekend), and Brabender believes that a lot of their success comes down to honesty.

“We’re getting massive acknowledgements which is really good, but we’re getting acknowledged for just doing good food – we’re not being held under a light to say ‘look at these guys, they’re reinventing something’, they’re just saying ‘these are real chefs, they’re cooking real food’.”

“I’ve always thought it’s the job of a chef to cook, and the job of a chef is to know where a product comes from – anyone who’s not doing that is lying, and that’s what I honestly believe as well,” says Damian.

“The whole premise of “honesty in food” gets thrown around a lot, but I think if you’re not using regional and seasonal produce, then you’re not being honest.”

OTIS' interior.

OTIS’ interior.

Damian’s interest in the quality of produce started early, in the rural Victorian town he grew up in, and maintains ties with to this day.

“At the moment we’re using abalone fresh from Narrawong – from my home-town – from a mate of mine called Tim who’s got an abalone farm out there, and we get that airlifted up to us every two weeks,” Damian tells me. “I could buy abalone from anywhere, but I’d much rather buy it from someone I know, and know that farm and everything it as well – that’s the honesty in cooking.”

Damian and his team will continue doing the things that have been so successful for them. Honest, award-winning food.

You can find out more about OTIS here.

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Calum Stenning

Calum Stenning is Her Canberra’s newest and most male (read: only) intern. Three years spent living overseas has given him a renewed appreciation for Canberra life. Every day starts with coffee and the Sydney Morning Herald crossword at a favourite coffee haunt, as he is wary of the perils of dementia, and thinks crosswords are a viable safeguard. If he lives to a dementia-appropriate age (evidence says he won’t), he’ll let us know. More about the Author

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