Guillaume Brahimi. Photo: Nic WalkerThe Opera House chief executive Louise Herron and the chair of its trustees Kim Williams have denied he stormed out of his final board meeting ”in disgust” over her handling of a tender for the Bennelong restaurant.
They released a joint statement on Monday also denying Mr Williams told Ms Herron at the September 17 meeting: “I’m over you.”
A source, however, insisted the pair had fallen out and that others among the 10 trustees had concerns about Ms Herron.
The Herald reported on Monday on the controversy over the departure of French chef Guillaume Brahimi and his restaurant Guillaume at Bennelong from the coveted site.
It said Ms Herron had received two tenders, one from Bill Granger in association with John and Leon Fink’s hospitality empire, the other from the operators of the Stokehouse in Melbourne.
Fairfax Media understands some trustees were unhappy they were not consulted about the management push for a more accessible, bistro-style restaurant at ”the people’s House”.
Mr Brahimi opted not to compete in the tender because he did not want to move away from fine dining. A few months later, on September 2, he was awarded the ”legend” prize and his restaurant recovered its three hats in The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide Awards.
Following the joint response from Ms Herron and Mr Williams to the story, neither responded further when asked if there had been any conflict between them or if other trustees had concerns. Nor did they say if Mr Brahimi might be asked back to Bennelong, as the report suggested.
”The restaurant tender did not ‘force’ Guillaume Brahimi ‘from the building’,” they said. ”Mr Brahimi decided not to participate in a tender for Bennelong which did not specify fine dining.”
The trustees did not “implore” Ms Herron to “re-engage with” Mr Brahimi, they said. And Mr Brahimi and Ms Herron had not met “secretly” on Friday. Rather, a meeting had been held to discuss other matters and to ensure Mr Brahimi understood that the tender process was still in train.
They said it was ”inaccurate to say that only two tenders were received”, but they would not say how many.
”At no point prior to publication of the article were any of the facts or allegations raised … checked with the Opera House,” the statement said. Mr Williams referred the ”defamatory allegations” to his lawyers.
He had not resigned to Arts Minister George Souris after the September 17 meeting but to the Governor on September 6. He was going ”slightly early” – before the Opera House’s 40th anniversary celebration – so his successor John Symond would ”be better placed” for its renewal program that will run until the 50th anniversary.
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