17 March 2024

PODCAST: Now You Know Damien Brabender, Otis Dining Hall

| Lucy Ridge
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Damien wears a chefs jacket and sits at a restaurant table, seasoning a salad.

Now You Know Damien Brabender, Otis Dining Hall. Photo: Megan Evans.

The latest episode of Now You Know features Otis Dining Hall chef and owner Damien Brabender, chatting about the quality of Australian produce, his great love of truffles, and his adventures as a chef abroad in London.

Regular host Phillip Jones takes a break this episode and Region’s resident food writer Lucy Ridge joins Janette Wojtaszak to chat with Damien.

Damien, one of 12 siblings, had a sporty childhood, and he says cooking for his family was a brilliant foundation for his later career.

“Google reviews are one thing, but when you’re a teenage boy and your brother doesn’t like mashed potato … that review will really hit home!” he jokes.

His first professional gig was an apprenticeship at a classic corner pub bistro, but soon after, he took off to London. It was a big change for a boy from a small country town who’d never even spent more than 24 hours in Melbourne.

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Damien worked doing ‘stages’ – essentially work experience – at a number of London restaurants to get a feel for the industry before taking up a position with Australian Chef Peter Dore-Smith at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

And yes, he did get to meet the Queen … although his fib about completing the etiquette training didn’t hold water for long!

It couldn’t have been too bad, as he landed a stint as Head Chef at the Royal Opera House not long after (he says Her Maj put in a good word for him).

READ ALSO PODCAST: Now You Know Tim Kirk, Clonakilla Wines

But Australia’s produce (and the weather!) was calling him home.

“When you’re overseas, the culture and architecture is amazing … but the food is always a little short just because of the produce,” he said.

“When I was back in Australia, I thought, ‘This is unreal; this is better seafood than I was serving the royal family!'”

These days, Damien is the head chef and owner of Otis Dining Hall in Kingston. He says that hiring the right people to build the best team is the most important part of nurturing a good kitchen culture.

READ ALSO Beltana Farm opens in Pialligo with a farmhouse-style menu of simple, seasonal dishes

Truffles have been a bit part of Damien’s menu at Otis. Damien uses local truffles from the Canberra region, and the warmth of wood-panelled Otis is especially comforting during a Canberra winter. There’s definitely plenty to know about truffles!

Much of Otis’s menu is designed to offer high-quality food for large groups of people, perhaps inspired by Damien’s large family. He recommends getting a group of friends and having a pepper steak with sides and plenty of great wines to share. Sounds pretty good to us!

Now You Know appears fortnightly on Region and wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple and Spotify. Have a listen, tell us what you think and rate us.

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