A good journey to fine dining

Source: The West Australian

He’s cooked for some big names, and now Oliver Buenviaje is a star in his own right

Born in the Philippines into a family of farmers, 41-year-old Oliver “Oli” Buenviaje grew up without a fridge.

Learning not to take privileges for granted, a young Buenviaje found his passion for food through his hardworking grandfather.

“My grandfather sustained his family through feeding from his farm,” Buenviaje said.

“He had goats, poultry, a fish pond, a coconut plantation and a rice plantation.

“He taught me fishing . . . and I learnt how to cook rice.”

Buenviaje often reminisces about the generosity of his family’s patriarch, who would cook for the family every Sunday.

But it was his grandfather’s extended invitation that really struck a chord.

He would invite his workers to join the family for dinner, living by the motto “You work five days for me, I will serve you on the sixth”.

With the celebration of food such a strong part of Buenviaje’s culture, he understands why he had such an urge to follow culinary pursuits.

His journey has seen him travel the world, meeting industry legends such as the late Jock Zonfrillo and cooking for stars such as Jay-Z, Roger Federer, Robert De Niro and Oprah Winfrey — something the father of two says was a “privilege”.

And it’s all led him to discover what he truly wants to achieve.

The founder of luxury catering company Olio’s Fine Food, Buenviaje says his goal is one day to have a flagship high-end restaurant in Perth.

Arriving in WA at age 16 to study engineering, Buenviaje lived with his two aunties.

“I was falling asleep at school,” he said.

Realising his study path wasn’t “going anywhere”, the young student started looking at other options, worried about what his “strict” parents would think.

He came across a magazine with French-born chef Alain Ducasse of Monaco, admiring the culinary champion’s “beautiful” creations.

“I was really hungry and driven,” Buenviaje said.

“I looked at staying in Perth, but Perth was dead.”

His culinary dream led him to Paris in the early 2000s and he was trained by Ducasse, to whom he was introduced by a “friend and mentor”.

Buenviaje said learning his trade at three-star Michelin restaurant Le Meurice invigorated his passion and highlighted his “big dreams”.

At 18, the aspiring chef was working for Ducasse. And he worked hard.

“The shift would start about 9.30am and finish around 10pm,” he said.

“I got paid for 36 hours, worked about 110 . . . I was grinding — I wanted to be a sous-chef.”

Laughing, Buenviaje said he would “party hard” at shift’s end to relieve stress.

The determined 21-year-old’s skills were quickly sought by Saudi Arabian sheikhs.

With Ducasse’s blessing, Buenviaje flew to Dubai, where he worked for almost two years.

After his run at Al Mahara, he headed to Asia with stints in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Macau.

At 26, Buenviaje became chef de cuisine, or head chef, at two outlets.

He said returning to Melbourne in 2011 to work for Crown as head chef and executive sous-chef, with 15 restaurants under his wing, taught him resilience.

But possibly his proudest achievement was the birth of his own catering company.

“A lot of people can cook, but what I experienced in France, with Alain — he’s not selling food to you, he’s selling experience. That was missing in Perth,” Buenviaje said.

Today, Olio’s Fine Food is described as a lavish provider for its high-end customers.

The western suburbs quickly became the chef’s hotspot as he built relationships with the likes of BGC managing director Julian Ambrose and property giant Paul Blackburne.

He slowly built up his clientele to include Kerry Stokes, Nigel and Denise Satterley, Mark McGowan and Julie Bishop.

“I would drive across the western suburbs and point to which houses I wanted to cater for,” Buenviaje said.

“After three years, every single house I pointed to, I catered.”

The father said his actual babies had been his biggest motivator.

He credits wife Joyce, son Enzo and daughter Blu for enabling him to do what he does — which hasn’t come without sacrifice.

When Buenviaje started catering in Perth, they shared one car.

“She was keeping three jobs in order for us to survive,” he said.

“I admire this lady.”