Five minutes with Damian Brabender, OTIS Dining Hall

Lottie Twyford 12 November 2021
Damian Brabender

Meet OTIS Dining Hall owner and chef Damian Brabender. Photo: Megan Evans Photography.

Who is Damian Brabender? I’m the executive chef and owner of OTIS Dining Hall in Kingston.

Best recent dining experience: Too many to pick from! Since lockdown has ended, I’ve been out to lots of places – both casual and fine dining.

If I had to pick one, it would be on the more casual size – Zaab in Braddon. Uncle (the chef) is a wizard, and his Lao sausage is seriously awesome. In fact, the entire experience there is so wholesome and flavour driven.

Damian pouring sauce on a steak

Damian working his magic with his pepper steak dish. Photo: Megan Evans Photography.

Most embarrassing pantry item: I have more than 40 cans of sardines. I went through a phase of eating them daily on toast with a fried egg and horseradish. I mean, there is nothing embarrassing about sardines, but there were over 40 cans in the cupboard for a while.

And another quick tip – don’t order sardines online after one too many glasses of wine over dinner.

Must-buy ingredient: Not really an ingredient but kitchen scales. Honestly, so many people mess up the simplest recipes by not weighing out ingredients correctly. It is a small investment really, but you will thank me later.

Next big thing: Cook-at-home experiences. The ability to get everything for a recipe ready to go and paired with instructional videos or recipes is becoming more and more popular.

I think it’s the convenience of having all the hard work done, so just the fun part is left to do.

Oh, and stay tuned for something interactive and fun in 2022 …

Zaab restaurant Fried Egg Tofu

For casual dining, Damian reckons you can’t go past a meal at Zaab. Photo: Zaab.

Favourite place for breakfast in the ACT: Breakfast is so hit and miss for obvious reasons. Not all chefs want to be up super early to prepare the most important meal of the day, but those who do, really care a lot.

Who gets up earlier than breakfast chefs? Bakers. So my current favourite breakfast spot is Silo Bakery + Cafe in Kingston.

The eggs and bacon are just supporting roles to the incredible sourdough bread. The service is impeccable, the pastries on display make you want to lie to your PT, and the coffee is always spot on.

I think I have been in six times since the lockdown ended.

My Canberra food secret: W Patisserie (its working title, I think) from pastry chef Kotesh Khandala. I’ve seen it firsthand, and it will soon be popping up at the markets and other foodie events. Think ‘dessert jars’, macarons, and very, very funky éclairs.

Eggs and bacon on test

Breakfast is served. Photo: Silo Bakery + Cafe.

Biggest culinary influence: I’m heavily influenced by everyone when it comes to food. Sometimes I’ll spend half an hour chatting to guests about their favourite recipes, dishes and foodie destinations and then I’ll go off and learn more about whatever they’ve said.

Food is so socially driven, and I believe there’s inspiration to be found in every meal and dining experience – even if sometimes you might learn ‘what not to do’.

Favourite cookbook: I can’t choose just one, so my top two would be Memories of Gascony by Pierre Koffmann and Pasta by Antonio Carluccio.

Pierre’s book is such a fantastic piece of culinary history. I’ll always cherish the time I spent working with Pierre at his namesake restaurant in London and at the Royal Opera House.

As for Pasta, I was first given a copy of this book by Antonio as a gift after an event we hosted at Wolgan Valley. The book shares some really personal stories and traditional techniques of the often downplayed art of pasta making.

Our egg-yolk-filled ravioli at OTIS is actually based on a recipe from this amazing book.


READ ALSO: Hot In the City: Tenkomori Ramen House dishes up mountains of ramen


Who I admire on the Canberra food and wine scene: While Canberra is spoilt for choice with so many talented people in the industry, my top choices would be our own head chef Adam Wilson who constantly pushes boundaries, achieves goals, reinvents and elevates; and our sommelier/manager James Barker, who has taken the service style and beverage offering at OTIS to a new level.

Adam Wilson, Damian Brabender and James Barker

OTIS Head Chef Adam Wilson, owner Damian Brabender and sommelier James Barker. Photo: Megan Evans Photography.

What’s on the menu this week: With our new menu in full swing, we are loving being able to celebrate all of the wonderful produce that spring and early summer can give. The real star of the menu, though, is the OTIS pepper steak which is inspired by the classic French dish steak au poivre but given an Australian twist and local beef.

I recently spoke to a guest who has dined with us a couple of times a month since opening and still has yet to order anything off the menu but the OTIS pepper steak. That is commitment.

Raku kitchen

Damian loves RAKU because of how well it does the simple stuff. Photo: RAKU.

Where I’m going next: RAKU. It’s been too long since I was last there. I simply love sitting at the sushi bar and watching the amazing work of Chef Hao, which I think is like theatre. They showcase how good simple food can be by respecting great ingredients for what they are.

Death row meal: KFC Zinger Box with Oscietra caviar served with a death row pardon. Oh, and a Mountain Dew to drink, obviously.


READ ALSO: Alina Piloiu preserves a life she was forced to leave behind


My COVID-19 response: We made more pivots than in a netball game, and through it all, I’m proud to say we lost no staff. Our OTIS AT HOME packs and take home cocktail range were both huge hits – so much so we’ve now continued the packs post-lockdown.

We also cooked up some cool collabs with some great people like CHEZ FREDS.

My really simple recipe tip: Spend a couple of extra dollars on buying good produce, and don’t make up your mind about what you’re going to cook until you see what’s on offer.

On a side note, now that you’re able to head out again, please be nice to the staff working in the venues you’re visiting. They are just following the rules. Buy an extra glass of wine and support local in the easiest way possible.

OTIS Dining Hall is open for dinner Wednesday through to Sunday from 6 pm until late. It’s located at 29 Jardine St, Kingston.


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