Three things with Guillaume Brahimi: ‘You can tell a lot about a person by their knives’

Thirty years ago, French-born celebrity chef Guillaume Brahimi came to Australia on holiday and never left.

“But I’m very lucky, I go back to Paris a lot,” he says. “I’ve got the best of both worlds.”

In the three decades he’s been here, Brahimi has made a big mark on Australian food. In 2001, he launched the fine dining restaurant Guillaume at Bennelong, at the Sydney Opera House. He’s since opened Bistro Guillaume in Melbourne and Perth and authored three cookbooks, as well as embarking on a TV career. His latest small-screen venture – Guillaume’s Paris, which premieres on SBS on 22 September – will see the chef return to his home town to explore the French capital’s very best eats.

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“It’s about showcasing my Paris by arrondissement,” Brahimi says. He explains the show will go on a spiralling tour from the first through to the 20th, showing viewers “my favourite croissant in Paris, my favourite coffee, my favourite baguette, my favourite bircher”.

Brahimi’s cooking career began back in the French capital, where he trained under Michelin-starred chef Joël Robuchon. In Robuchon’s kitchen, one tool – a palette for cooking fish – was always by Brahimi’s side. It has since been misplaced, leaving a hole in the gastronomist’s heart. Here, he tells us about the sentimental appeal of that simple item, as well as the story of a few other important personal belongings.

What I’d save from my house in a fire

Three beautiful paintings that one of my daughters did. She gave them to me when I got this house, so they’re very special to me. One is an octopus, one is a crab, and one is a calamari. They are stunning. The paintings are the first thing I see when I come home and they remind me of how talented my children are.

My most useful object

I spend a lot of time cooking at home and I couldn’t do it without my Japanese knives. I’ve got a beautiful set of about eight – each with different uses. I bought these ones at the markets near the Emperor’s Palace in Kyoto.

I think knives are very, very important. You go to some amazing houses and look at their knives and it’s like, “oh my God”. There is no point in having the most beautiful stove if you don’t have the perfect knife. You can really tell a lot about a person, I think, by their knives. If a young chef comes into my kitchen and doesn’t have a sharp knife – the tool of our craft – well … But at home, it’s also just so much nicer to cook with a sharp knife. There is nothing more enjoyable than slicing a vegetable or a piece of fish when your knife is perfectly sharp.

The knife is the most important part of the kitchen. Next is the stove. I’ve been looking to get a stove by La Cornue. It’s a beautiful handcrafted French stove – they were built in the early 1900s. And I’m finally getting one for Christmas. Well, I put it on my wishlist. We’ll see how well I’ve been doing with Santa.

The item I most regret losing

I’m very good at not losing things and I hate getting rid of things. I keep everything: books, magazines, corks from special bottles of wine. I even love keeping empty bottles of wine. So I’m not very good at letting things go.

But I lost a palette, the long knife that you use to turn fish over in the pan. It was the palette I used when I was working at Robuchon in Paris. I’d kept it for ever, and I just lost it – I think in a move somewhere, but I’m not sure. I knew exactly how to take the fish and turn it gently with this palette. And there were just so many memories attached – it was amazing to cook with. It was my palette, you know. It was next to me all the time when I was cooking.