Award-winning Ben Bayly is leaving The Grove, the country’s top fine-dining restaurant, and making way for his mate and successor, Scott Denning. After more than eight years at The Grove – and more recently sister restaurant Baduzzi – Bayly says he is ready for a change, taking time off to regroup, travel and spend time with family.

With big shoes to fill, his replacement Scott Denning is Auckland born and raised, but like Bayly, cut his teeth at revered Michelin star restaurants in London, including Le Gavroche, The Square and Pied à Terre. Running his own restaurant Saison in Epsom for three years, Denning’s background also includes time on superyachts in the Caribbean and Mediterranean and in Russia where he helped set up and run various Western and Asian style restaurants in St Petersburg and Moscow.

It is this international influence, exposure to different cultures and experience in top European kitchens that Denning brought to The Grove when he took over the kitchen on Saturday.

Started in 2004 by owners Michael and Annette Dearth, The Grove has been home to an impressive roll-call of top New Zealand chefs including Michael Meredith from 2004, Sid Sahrawat from 2006 and Bayly from 2009 – receiving numerous accolades over the years. With similar backgrounds in top London kitchens and friends for some years, Bayly recommended Denning for the role, with Bayly himself put forward for the job by Sahrawat back in 2009.

Bayly believes Denning is up for the job. “He’s a bloody good cook. Personality wise he’s also a good match for Michael which is really important when you get to that level. He’s got some big gonads too and you need that. Plenty of others wouldn’t want the job, the pressure, the expectations.”

Bayly said one of Dearth’s greatest gifts is recognising talent and providing a platform for it.

“He’s not about controlling you, just about getting the best out of you and giving you the stage on which to shine. The Grove is the making of a chef, no-one really knew who I was when I started, or Michael (Meredith) or Sid. It’s up to Scott now to get on and do the job.”

Pumped and ready for the challenge, the man of the hour Denning said he’s excited at what lies ahead. “You couldn’t ask for a better team. To be able to walk in to what Ben and Michael and the team have built, I just want to keep on building on that.”