Sepia – Martin Benn & Vicki Wild, Murdoch Books, 2014, 292 pages, RRP $60
The long-awaited book of Martin Benn’s (chef of the year 2011) three-hat Sydney restaurant Sepia is a knock-out.
Content | Sepia is a tell-tale book about the Sydney restaurant; its food inspiration and wine philosophy with a very concise telling of Benn’s training and chef experiences through the ranks in various fine-dining restaurants in his birth country (the UK) and here in Sydney.
The book is consists of an Introduction (which is just about long enough) and 5 menus, which are a representation of Sepia’s degustation throughout the years since its 2009 opening. This book has the perfect mix of informational restaurant history and philosophy.
The only let-down (which is not a let-down at all) is that the recipes, particularly the mains with a strong Tetsuya influence, are so beautifully photographed and the intriguing, you feel as though you wan
t to skip the content pages between the menus to get to the next lot of recipes. The book is an interesting read, although the story highs and lows are not out of the ordinary, but the recipes for me, are an absolute stand-out.
Photography/Layout/Design | The design of this book is smart. Sepia-toned hues, gold-foiled accents, modern-patterned material bound cover. Photographs cover entire pages and are positioned adjacent to the page which has the largest bulk of recipe instructional material.
The photography is cleverly done; classic motion-blurred B&W stills slotted in between the pages give off an almost jazz-bar feel, which is affluent but at the same time very low-key – Sepia’s intended restaurant atmosphere.
There are 67 recipes; a fair good effort for a book that’s main focus is explaining the backstory of Benn, Wild and the restaurant itself. For this reason, the recipe to content ratio is evenly balanced.
The food styling of the recipes is almost flawless, the only flaw is that some elements, in one or two of the recipes are unable to be seen in the photographs (i.e: custard covered by other ingredients in top-down shots). Although for aesthetic purposes I understand and as Benn and Wild styled these photos, that is them, a very-refined, modern essence on the plate.
Recipes/functionality | In every recipe, there will be at least 2 ingredients you will not be able to buy from an everyday supermarket. In some recipes you will be required to have scales that go below 1g. The recipe instructions are straight forward and easy to follow, although the technique required for certain elements (i.e: creating mannitol egg shells or slow-poached butter egg yolk) are going to require some practice, knife skills and delicate fingers.
As Benn’s latter cooking career had been heavily influenced by his time at Tetsuya’s, this has clearly transferred to Sepia and thus the primary proteins featured in this book are of seafood.
The dessert recipes look insane. One thing that sets this book apart from other restaurant books is that the dessert recipes go beyond the ‘deconstructed’, featuring new and exciting creations from “Japanese Stones”(pg 264) to “Chocolate Forest Floor” (pg 258) with 12 constructable elements.
Creation and new-unfounded flavors produced from any three-hat restaurant should be the main overarching criteria for pastry critique. This certainly delivers on creativity.