Award-winning Ben Bayly is leaving The Grove, the country’s top fine-dining restaurant, and making way for his mate and successor, Scott Denning.
After more than eight years at The Grove – and more recently sister restaurant Baduzzi – Bayly says he is ready for a change, taking time off to regroup, travel and spend time with family.
With big shoes to fill, his replacement Scott Denning is Auckland born and raised, but like Bayly, cut his teeth at revered Michelin star restaurants in London, including Le Gavroche, The Square and Pied à Terre.
Running his own restaurant Saison in Epsom for three years, Denning’s background also includes time on superyachts in the Caribbean and Mediterranean and in Russia where he helped set up and run various Western and Asian style restaurants in St Petersburg and Moscow.
It is this international influence, exposure to different cultures and experience in top European kitchens that Denning brings to The Grove.
Started in 2004 by owners Michael and Annette Dearth, The Grove has been home to an impressive roll-call of top New Zealand chefs including Michael Meredith from 2004, Sid Sahrawat from 2006 and Bayly from 2009 – receiving numerous accolades over the years including best fine dining restaurant in the Metro Restaurant of the Year Awards 2017 and three hats in the 2017 Cuisine Good Food Awards.
With similar backgrounds in top London kitchens and friends for some years, Bayly recommended Denning for the role, with Bayly himself put forward for the job by Sahrawat back in 2009.
Of his successor, Bayly believes Denning is up for the job. “He’s a bloody good cook. Personality wise he’s also a good match for Michael which is really important when you get to that level. He’s got some big gonads too and you need that. Plenty of others wouldn’t want the job, the pressure, the expectations.”
After eight and a half years at The Grove, Bayly concedes it’s a very emotional time. “I’m really sad to be leaving, The Grove has helped make me who I am today. But it’s time to step aside and give someone else the opportunity. The Grove has never been better and there’s nothing more for me to add.”
Bayly says one of Dearth’s greatest gifts is recognising talent and providing a platform for it.
“He’s not about controlling you, just about getting the best out of you and giving you the stage on which to shine. The Grove is the making of a chef, no-one really knew who I was when I started, or Michael (Meredith) or Sid. It’s up to Scott now to get on and do the job.”
Posting on social media, Bayly paid tribute to the Dearths – “Mr&MrsD” – and the teams at The Grove and Baduzzi, adding “Time to hand over to the talented @scottdenning32. Got heaps of stuff working in the pipeline and can’t wait to share it with you all in time. But for now my long suffering wife and beautiful kids need some love.”
Dearth describes Bayly as exceptionally talented. “He really has given it his all and treated the business like his own. He’s like a brother to me, we are close and he will always be part of the family.”
On what the future holds, Dearth acknowledges the talented team that have helped make The Grove what it is today. “We’ve always been lucky to have these amazing, talented people around us like Ben, Sid and Michael, but The Grove is also bigger than the individuals involved and has always been a bit of a chameleon, able to adapt to new chefs and opportunities.”
“Meeting Scott through Ben, we were lucky. They share a similar DNA. And with Scott’s background – having done time in Europe but also some interesting places like Russia and Asia – he is super talented and brings great technique, but he’s also a Kiwi, and now we have this unique opportunity to distil all that he’s seen and experienced on his travels on to a plate, so we’re looking forward to that.”
Pumped and ready for the challenge, the man of the hour Denning says he’s excited at what lies ahead. “You couldn’t ask for a better team. To be able to walk in to what Ben and Michael and the team have built, I just want to keep on building on that.”