With the sad passing of iconic Australian chef Tony Bilson on the 23rd of January, we thought we would reflect on the contributions he made to his restaurant during his time here at Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney, and how he has been remembered in the culinary world. I also chatted with our General Manager, Peter Tudehope, who recalls his conversations and memories with Tony from over the years.
After many of his business ventures within Melbourne and Sydney, Tony Bilson opened his esteemed eatery, Bilson’s Restaurant right here at Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney. It opened in 2004, with Bilson approaching Manu Feildel, a young worker he had mentored over the years, to open the restaurant as Head Chef.
Little did Manu know, his time here at the up-market French restaurant would help catapult him as one of Australia’s ‘hottest young chefs’, soon appearing on shows such as Ready, Steady, Cook and now MKR. Another young chef who also received great success after being mentored by Tony, is Miguel Maestre, a chef now well known for his appearance on his TV shows and The Living Room.
“When I first became General Manager of the Radisson Blu hotel in 2005, I was delighted that Tony Bilson’s restaurant was part of the hotel. Over the years, our careers had crossed paths but never came together. I had opened the InterContinental Hotel [Sydney] in 1985 but left just before Tony took over Treasury Restaurant there. I worked with Ted Wright at the Regent Hotel for 5 years before he left to set up Ampersand Restaurant with Tony in the late 90s. So, it was a real treat to end up in the same building in 2005. It was a sad day for the hotel when his restaurant finally closed”, recalled Mr. Tudehope.
“I used to have many discussions with Tony about the fact you can’t take your three hats to the bank.”
Bilson’s unfortunately closed in October 2011, after being named one of only five 3-hatted restaurants in Sydney at the time. His legacy remains to live on, as he is remembered as giving the Labor party ‘a sense of sophistication’. He encouraged kingpins such as Whitlam’s inner circle and George Negus to conduct business in Sydney’s fine restaurants. He is also regarded as the ‘godfather of Australian cuisine’, with the Sydney food scene being born thanks to Bilson’s prominence in French gastronomy.
Bilson has been noted by many in the culinary industry, considered a ‘mover and shaker’ of the Australian dining scene, especially during the 70s, 80s and 00s, inspiring the new generation of Australian chefs. Neil Perry and Luke Mangan, two well-known fellow Aussie chefs had also shown their public gratitude for Tony when the news surfaced of his passing, with Mangan going as far as saying “…your wisdom and skill guided me through my early days…[the] godfather of Australian cooking.”