O Tama Carey and Tracey Deep will create a feast for the senses around the theme of ‘herbs’ as part of Sydney Table 
Credit: Nikki To

Like many eventual collaborators before her who’ve come through the same kitchen, O Tama Carey first encountered Tracey Deep’s work during her time at Billy Kwong.

Deep, a celebrated floral sculptor, created centrepieces that punctuated the restaurant’s former dining room, but it was the one that sat on the pass – closest to the kitchen, naturally – that Carey remembers most fondly.

“The centrepiece was such a part of our daily kitchen life,” recalls the chef. “I would peg lists on it, admire it and also use it as a barrier to hide from the customers when needed.” Carey remembers Deep, who first trained as a florist and today is perhaps best known for her breathtaking installations of Australian native flora and found objects, as being part of the restaurant’s extended family – a “kind and happy and lovely” presence of the kind that’s just as keenly embodied in her sculptural works. “I love what she creates for its beauty and its uniqueness and its shape,” Carey tells GRAZIA. “And she also has a very excellent giggle.”

Fourteen years later, and Carey has been reunited with Deep’s giggle and generosity of spirit alike through their involvement in Sydney Table, a series of bespoke dining experiences staged over four nights, beginning June 14 until June 17, at The Clothing Store on site at Carriageworks as part of Vivid Sydney. Curated by Carriageworks Farmers Market Creative Director and chef Mike McEnearney and now in its second year after a sell-out first, Sydney Table brings together creatives working in disparate fields and pairs them with a culinary counterpart with whom they share a sense of synergy despite any ostensible differences. And while those partnerships might seem unusual at first, the results are anything but.

Take Automata’s Clayton Wells, who will showcase the possibilities of using exceptional produce in his singular brand of contemporary cuisine with dishes like pumpkin seed sorbet with freeze-dried mandarin squaring off against what Saskia Havekes of Grandiflora calls a “very architectural and simple [container] with strength [that is] Australian in style”. Havekes designed the container in collaboration with creative director Tony Assness, and Havekes tells GRAZIA she worked with “my Australian native grower to secure the Melaleuca preissiana from Western Australia.”

Ceramicist Keiko Matsui and chef Ben Sears will collaborate on a pan-Asian feast that traverses both their practices
Credit: Nikki To

Then there’s Ben Sears, the former Head Chef of Claude’s and the fantastic modern Korean Bistro Moon Park (which he co-owned and operated alongside his partner Eun Hee An) and soon to be of Potts Point eatery Paper Bird, who has worked with ceramicist Keiko Matsui on a collaboration that spans the breadth of their respective practices and meets squarely in the middle.

“Keiko and I know each other and respect each others’ process,” says Sears, who has known Matsui for years having first become aware of her work through a more general interest in Australian ceramics. “Keiko’s work will be highlighted in the table setting in a way that references my new restaurant Paper Bird: through specially made, bird shaped ceramic pourers and, quite literally, with hundreds of origami birds decorating the space. The night will conclude with a dessert featuring clay and gold, an attempt to recreate Keiko’s kintsugi [repairing broken ceramics with gold or silver] in edible form.”

For Sears, who says that he shares a similar aesthetic with Matsui as well as a respect for materials expressed through simplicity of design and craftsmanship, the experience has been an illuminating one, especially when it comes to his own methods. “She is much more organised than I am,” he laughs. “The time, preparation and forward planning that Keiko brings to her practice has been eye opening. I admire Keiko’s forthrightness. She’s not afraid to tell me when I’m wrong [laughs]. In her work, I admire both her dedication to her craft and her singular aesthetic vision. Nobody else is producing work that looks like hers, which is something I aspire to in my own practice.”

For Carey, formerly of Berta and currently of Lankan Filling Station, and her collaborator Deep, the feast won’t be a strictly visual one. Together, they’ve formulated an experience that’s heavily anchored in the theme of ‘herbs’ to accompany Carey’s herb-infused Italian menu (think duck ragu with thyme oil). Carey says she has been drying herbs to burn on the night to contribute an additional aroma to the otherwise straightforward food element; Deep too has added herbs and “wild, natural weeds to create patterns and playful shapes” in her sculptures so that their theme traverses most, if not all, of the senses. The experience has challenged the artist to think about “the art of edible nature and how to present it in a way [that] inspires and celebrates the incredible variety of edible plants and [their] visual beauty for all to enjoy.” Ultimately though, Deep says the greatest joy of the experience has been derived from a reunion not only between old friends, but kindred spirits.

“I admire O Tama’s passion and love of life, which she pours into her mouthwatering dishes for all to enjoy and [be inspired by]. I feel this is why O Tama is so brilliant at what she does, all heart and soul can only be a beacon of positivity and inspiration.”

Sydney Table begins tomorrow June 14 and concludes on June 17. Tickets for each of the dinners are available here.

Tile and cover image: Nikki To