After years of travelling the globe as personal chef to celebrity actors and rock stars, Brent Cressey has established a café in Maleny. Julie Shelton had a chat with him to find out just why he’s picked this region.
IT SOUNDS like a dream job: cooking for A-list performers, flying in private jets to exotic locations around the world, never quite knowing where you’re going to hang your towel next.
This was Brent Cressey’s life for three years and he still has to pinch himself that it happened. Now, however, his adrenalin is pumping for a different reason – he’s opening his first café and cooking school on the Hinterland, and life is chaotic with contractors and multiple trips to Brisbane and beyond.
Perhaps travelling is in his blood – he was born in Barbados (his American father was in the military, his mother is British) and the family later moved to New Zealand, where Brent has dual citizenship. After to-ing and fro-ing to Australia, Brent trained as a chef in Sydney and spent several years working in high-end restaurants. A move to the Blue Mountains exposed him to the developing food culture around Leura, Katoomba and Blackheath.
“I was there in the early days when the foodies started coming up from Sydney,” he reminisces.
“That’s what I love about up here (in the Hinterland) – it reminds me of the Blue Mountains and I was there when the food scene was just beginning. I can see it coming here.”
Brent believes that this region is already in the sights of key chefs and restaurateurs.
“A lot of people I’ve worked with have come from Sydney and are now setting up in Brisbane – people like Matt Moran, who is doing another Aria in Brisbane. He could have chosen to go to Melbourne but for him to choose Brisbane is a good indicator.”
Brent first arrived on the Sunshine Coast in the mid-90s, and worked with some now influential people who, back then, were putting lots of energy into developing Noosa’s fine food culture. During that decade, he worked at
Bistro C, Eats at Eumundi and Berardo’s, to name a few. After stints in 1770, Yeppoon, Townsville and Echuca,
Brent spent almost a year in London, where he worked at Gordon Ramsay’s Boxwood Café in Knightsbridge (now closed). On his return to Australia, a chance encounter got him a meeting with Russell Crowe’s team and a three- year contract between 2007 and 2009.
“The first three months working for Russell were the hardest months of my life,” he says, shaking his head.
“I remember getting off a plane in Dubai and during the first couple of days on set I was thinking, “What have I got myself into here!”
Travelling with the Crowe family, life became a blur of planes, hotel rooms, movie sets and various destinations, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Syria, Sydney, Coffs Harbour, London, across England and a lot of time in the U.S.A.
“I don’t think I stood still for a minute,” he recalls. “My role involved everything from hands on cooking, to helping out with the Rabbitohs, to managing cafés and restaurants.”
Brent catered for Russell’s entourage on the sets of Robin Hood and Body of Lies. His job included organising where the food had to be at certain stages of the day and how it was to get there – no mean feat in itself.
“Every set is totally different so it makes it very hard,” he explains. “I had to quickly hone my organisational skills!”
“And every day was different – if he was training, I’d spend a lot of time with Russell’s nutritionists and personal trainers, working out diets. On set, I had to have a handle on what stars, producers, managers, security and other members of his entourage were around and where they were all eating.”
On top of that, he had to make sure Russell’s wife, Danielle, and their children were catered for. It certainly wasn’t all glamour and celebrity. Firstly with the Crowes and later with Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty, Brent got to experience firsthand how little privacy A-list stars have, together with the complicated arrangements and time delays at every departure and arrival.
“Getting through customs and security can be difficult, especially in the Middle East,” he recalls.
“Private jets are targeted for special attention. And when you’re accompanying rock stars, you tend to get singled out.”
“I wouldn’t trade my life for theirs any day of the week. They don’t get enough credit for what they do.”
“It’s a big wheel that keeps turning and you can’t stop the wheel! There were times when I wanted to get out but couldn’t.”
“Yes, it was exciting and challenging but I realised that I had to stop if I was going to have any chance for a family life.”
Having just turned 40, Brent is looking forward to a quieter period, not that he’s showing any signs of slowing down just yet. His newest venture, Truffle & Co., will be offering a range of services from its Coral Street location.
Opening on the 12th of December, the BYO café will be doing relaxed meals six days a week from breakfast to late afternoon tea, then opening for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
“I want to cater for everybody – you’ll be able to come in on any budget. We’ll have a range of seating options, from an intimate table for two to a large family dining table, to a private room for 12 guests seated around one table under the chandelier.”
Starting in February, Brent will be offering cooking classes – everything from the very basics in the kitchen right the way through to fine dining techniques. He also has an off-site licence and can cater for any number, from two to 52 guests.
So, will Maleny provide Brent with enough stimulation and challenge?
“Absolutely! I’m excited to be here at this time,” he says enthusiastically.