Ben O’Donoghue has cooked for some of the world’s most famous people, including Robert De Niro, Kylie Minogue and English football legend David Beckham and his wife, Victoria. But of all the celebrities he’s presented plates to, the Australian chef says no one compared to former US president Barack Obama.
The well-known celebrity chef served Obama and a host of other delegates, including former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his British counterpart former Prime Minister David Cameron, at the Brisbane G20 summit in 2014. The politicians dined on O’Donoghue’s Moreton Bay bugs with figs and pancetta as well as Mooloolaba king prawns and pavlova, and Obama liked the Australian-themed menu so much he even came back for seconds – the best complement anyone could give a chef.
While he’s undoubtedly skilled in the kitchen, the Brisbane-based restaurant owner, 48, didn’t plan on a life behind the chopping board, instead he envisioned a career in teaching. He fell into the hospitality industry over one summer break when he worked as a kitchen hand in a resort in Western Australia and hasn’t looked back since.
“I got a job working in a kitchen and I fell in love with it,” he told Starts at 60. However, it wasn’t until he learnt how to make bearnaise sauce that he truly envisioned a career in food.
“It was a light bulb moment … I was like ‘Wow, that’s so cool’ and from that moment on I wanted to be a chef,” he said.
Now, with a career spanning over two decades, he has cooked in some of the world’s best restaurants, including The River Café in London where he met his “great mate” Jamie Oliver.
“He was just a cheeky chap … I just remember he use to play the drums on the kitchen sink with the head chef,” he said. “We obviously hit it off and became great mates.”
When he returned to Australia, the father-of-three went straight into filming Surfing the Menu with celebrity chef Curtis Stone, which lasted for four very successful seasons.
Now, O’Donoghue runs three successful Brisbane restaurants –Billykart Kitchen, Billykart Westend and Billykart Bar — with his wife Dee, and children Ruby, Herb and Cash, who sometimes help out in the restaurants.
“It can be pretty full on, there’s no down time when you have your own businesses. It definitely tests your relationship and you learn to respect the strengths that each person brings to the table — Dee is really good front of house and I’m okay in the kitchen,” he said.
Feeling hungry? O’Donoghue shared with us a delicious recipe below — perfect for a light dinner option.