Sunday, September 29, 2013

Kim Williams stormed out over Guillaume

Guillaume Brahimi.

Guillaume Brahimi, head chef of restaurant Guillaume at Bennelong. Photo: Nic Walker

Outgoing Sydney Opera House chairman Kim Williams stormed out of his final board meeting in disgust at chief executive Louise Herron's management of the restaurant tender that forced Guillaume Brahimi from the building.

The tender process was on the agenda at a meeting of the Opera House Trustees on September 17.

Ms Herron gave an impassioned defence of her actions, and those of her management team, during which an irate Mr Williams rose and told her "I'm over you", before walking out of the room. He tendered his resignation to Arts Minister George Souris shortly afterwards.

Kim Williams with Louise Herron.

Food fight: Kim Williams with Louise Herron. Photo: Peter Rae

Following Mr Williams' departure, the trustees implored Ms Herron to re-engage with Brahimi in the hope he could be persuaded to keep his restaurant, Guillaume at Bennelong, in its current form. The pair met secretly on Friday.

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The Opera House has not formally asked Brahimi to stay beyond the expiry of his lease on December 31, but the request is expected to be made shortly.

After a publicised global search, only two tenders were received by Ms Herron - one from breakfast cook Bill Granger in association with John and Leon Fink's hospitality empire, and the other from the operators of the Stokehouse in Melbourne's St Kilda.

At the AFL grand final on Saturday, Leon Fink defended his bid, saying that Granger "isn't just scrambled eggs. He's got the support of [Quay chef] Peter Gilmore".

Ms Herron also attracted criticism from the board after engaging consultants from global junk and pet food conglomerate Mars Group. Last year she appointed Opera House commercial director David Watson, who was previously a senior lawyer at Mars' dog food business in Hong Kong.

One trustee bemoaned the tender process being run by accountants who "wouldn't know a pork chop from a chow mein". Another argued that Ms Herron had reasonably wanted to cut the generous margins Brahimi had built into his monopoly in-house catering.

On top of Mr Williams' departure, the Opera House management is in flux with three other trustees' terms expiring this year - Robert Leece and arts figures Leo Schofield and Renata Kaldor. Aussie Home Loans founder John Symond was appointed chairman on Friday.

Joe Aston writes The Australian Financial Review's Rear Window column.

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