7 May 2024

Five minutes with Ben Jarrett, Contentious Character

| Claire Sams
Man sits in tractor

Contentious Character’s Ben Jarrett chose to follow his passion. Photo: Contentious Character.

Who are you?

I’m Ben Jarrett. I founded Contentious Character with my partner and two friends in 2016, and I am the managing director.

What are three ways you would describe yourself?

As an individual, I guess I’m quite creative but also analytical. I’m also quite diligent in my work, so I tend to live more for working than for leisure – to my own detriment sometimes. But I can be quite spontaneous, and I like doing things off the cuff when it comes to my personal life.

How did you get involved in the hospitality industry?

I come from a retail and property background, where I worked for larger shopping centre groups. We just really fell into this business through our passion for food and wine.

Jeremy [Wilson, chief winemaker and director] and I spent a lot of time with the previous owners, Steve and Ruth Lambert. It developed from there.

Wine glasses 'cheers' with cheeseboard in background.

Contentious Character has a new venue, taking its offerings from Wamboin in NSW to the Canberra suburb of Fyshwick. Photo: Contentious Character.

What is your winemaking philosophy?

We take a very minimal approach to our winemaking. We grow across six different locations around NSW, all cool to moderate-climate vineyards, and we typically use lower-yielding vines. They have a lovely intensity of fruit but then a really nice acid and structure to the grape.

We don’t certify all our wines as organic, but we take a fairly organic or natural approach to our wines. It starts when we take a sustainable approach to our growing and being environmentally conscious.

What is your favourite or must-use ingredient when cooking?

Good herbs and spices are staples. At the moment, spices like cinnamon are really great for ‘winter warmer’ dishes. I love having those paired with something fresh that counters the heaviness of what those spices can sometimes bring.

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What is your venue?

We have the vineyard, but our customer-facing side of the business is now in Fyshwick and done through our urban winery.

The urban winery is designed to bring our products to a more convenient location. It’s where you can come in and have a tailored experience around wine tastings, or we can pair food to the wines. In the tastings, you can have that learning experience with our cool climate wines or come for a three-course dinner. The flip side is that people can just come and hang out with friends in our courtyard and have a glass of wine.

Where are you travelling next?

We don’t have anything planned yet, but I’ve got some very good friends in Milan, The Hague and Copenhagen. I’m hoping to visit all three on my next trip.

What kind of food are you always making?

I tend to love fresher flavours, so I’m inspired by whatever is in season, and I often cook with a bit of an Asian influence.

Glasses of wine and cheeseboard on wine barrels.

Contentious Character’s Ben Jarrett hasn’t looked back since founding the winery in 2016. Photo: Contentious Character.

What was your best dining experience in Canberra?

If we’re looking at Canberra, I really enjoy Inka — the flavours are lovely. One of my favourite restaurants is Josh Niland’s Fish Butchery in Paddington, Sydney. It’s all about those creative fusions of flavours, which I love about both those restaurants.

Who is your biggest culinary influence?

If you look at Otto Lenghi, he is probably someone that I would say is quite influential [to me] in the way that he brings flavours together. That said, I hadn’t really thought about that one before. I think that’s probably more about having a fusion of flavours and a fusion of cultures at our restaurant. It is about how it all comes together rather than having one person or culture that stands out.

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What was your dream job as a kid?

I grew up on a farm – it was a sheep and cropping farm – and I always loved getting out and working on the property. But I was actually going to study biomedical engineering.

I was on work experience at a hospital in Sydney, and I looked at the people working in this particular department. I thought, I can’t imagine this being my life. That sort of opened my eyes and made me reconsider if that was really for me. I went in a completely, completely different direction, and ended up in fields that were nothing like that.

An easy one to finish – what’s your go-to coffee order?

Typically, a latte is my go-to drink from a coffee perspective. Otherwise, I love a nice, rich red wine or a gin and tonic. As a hobby, I collect a lot of different gins and we have quite a large personal wine cellar.

Contentious Character’s Canberra venue is located at Building 4, 1 Dairy Road in Fyshwick. It is open seven days a week, 7 am to 7 pm from Monday to Wednesday and Sunday, and 7 am to 11:30 pm from Thursday to Saturday.

Original Article published by Claire Sams on Riotact.

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