Celebrity chef boils down art collection

Gabriella Coslovich, Australian Financial Review, 3 November 2021

Don’t be afraid to be the dumbest person in the room. That’s the advice of Shannon Bennett when it comes to collecting art. “Just keep learning and absorbing,” says the celebrity chef and founder of Melbourne’s fine dining powerhouse Vue de Monde.

It’s an attitude the chef has applied throughout a lengthy career in art collecting, one that will be tested at market when he aims to sell 13 works next week.

Shannon Bennett is selling 13 contemporary works after downsizing from four houses to two. 

“I loved being the dumbest person in the room when it came to art,” Bennett told Saleroom, from his home in Byron Bay. “And I’ve used that my whole life now, really. I always want to be the dumbest person in the room.”

These days Bennett is a “full-time father” to his six children, who range in age from 16 to seven-year-old twins, and are his “toughest critics”.

“Meatballs and spaghetti is their favourite dish that I cook, so I’ve gone full circle,” says Bennett, who is taking a well-earned breather from the tough restaurant trade.

“One day I’ll get back involved, but I’ve been cooking since I was 15, doing 15- to 18-hour days, and I’ve never had a break,” says Bennett, who did his apprenticeship at Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt.

Recently separated from actor Madeleine West, his long-time partner and mother of their children, Bennett has downsized from four houses to two, prompting the need to sell part of his contemporary art collection. In February, the couple sold their Toorak mansion for $24 million; three years ago, their historic South Yarra home sold for almost $10 million.

The works Bennett has consigned to Deutscher and Hackett’s Melbourne auction next Wednesday, reveal a taste for the playful, the provocative, the political, and, unsurprisingly, the food-themed. Like his revered dishes, which merged traditional French technique with Australian produce, Bennett has collected locally and internationally, with many of the biggest names in art represented, Tony Albert to David LaChapelle, Patricia Piccinini to Yinka Shonibare CBE.

Bennett started collecting art in 2000, when Vue de Monde was a little-known French bistro on the corner of Faraday and Drummond Streets in Melbourne’s inner-city suburb of Carlton. There was an art gallery next door and artists would drop in to Bennett’s restaurant. He got to know them, and then he got to know formidable Melbourne gallerist Anna Schwartz.