How a chef fired up her search for salvation and inspired an acclaimed doco

Bente Grysbæk said the smells and sounds of an open fire are comforting and cathartic.

Bente Grysbæk said the smells and sounds of an open fire are comforting and cathartic.

Burnt – How Fire Saved My Life is a short film which tells how Danish-born chef Bente Grysbæk rebuilt her life after a massive anxiety attack from years of cooking in restaurants. She did it by returning to the most primal instinct – building a fire in the bush and cooking simply.

The short film was a collaboration between first-time film-makers, food writer Wendy Hargreaves and chef-turned-photographer Dean Cambray.

“We wanted to tell a story,” Hargreaves said of the short film.

And tell a story they did, set in the Australian bush with the perfect central character in Grysbæk who, like a phoenix, has risen from the ashes.

But the story behind the story reads like a Hollywood script. 

Cambray and Hargreaves produced the short film and thought that was it. A satisfying job well done for their first attempt.

Cut to Hargreaves on a plane from Melbourne to Los Angeles.  By chance she sits next to a man called Stan. They get chatting. 

As it turns out Stan Harrington is an award-winning producer, director and actor who runs the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood.

Next thing, Harrington has taken the film to an international film festival where 600 other films where shown. 

Burnt picks up two gongs in two categories and is nominated for another at the Hollywood Dreamz International Film Festival and the Action on Film International Film Festival. That was two weeks ago. And now the short film is being entered into another film festival.

debut filmmaker wins award for short film on Danish chef

Producer Stan Harrington with debut filmmaker Wendy Hargreaves at the Dreamz International Film Festival in Las Vegas in August. Photo: Wendy Hargreaves

(Back story: Harrington was flying home to LA from Melbourne, where he had shot a six-episode TV series called LEGENDS about Melbourne in 1980.)

“It’s been such a whirlwind for us all,” Hargreaves said from her Melbourne office. “It really hasn’t sunk in.  But none of this would be possible without Bente, who had the courage to tell a deeply personal story in a very public way.”

Food and fire transcend all cultures and creeds, so it’s no wonder the film has resonated so strongly. Indeed, for Grysbæk, like many of us, the smells and sounds of an open fire are comforting and cathartic. 

Her earliest memories are cooking nettle soup (“it tasted disgusting!”) on an open fire at her parents’ farm in western Denmark with the neighbouring kids. She’s improved her cooking since then.

Now after years of cooking in world-class restaurants, and working as the personal chef to Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark, Grysbæk has the biggest kitchen in the world, the Australian bush, where she runs “Off the Grid” workshops to show others how to cook over an open flame.

Burnt short film about Danish chef who discovers cooking on an open fire

Bente Grysbæk went back to the absolute basics to find herself. Photo: Bente Grysbæk

One of the most popular dishes she cooks in the workshops is her branched venison – a recipe in which you can substitute beef for the venison.  She shares it with The New Daily readers.

Branched venison


cooking on open fires

Branched venison. Photo: Bente Grysbaek

4 venison sirloin steaks (around 150g each)
4 branches from a nearby tree
50g unsalted butter
50g pure honey
50g Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
Grapeseed oil


Collect four branches from a nearby tree and clean them well. Rub the steaks in salt, pepper and grapeseed oil and skewer them on the branch. Before you begin cooking, the fire should have died down to hot embers, meaning red-hot charcoal.

Once this has been achieved, blow or brush off any access ash. Place the steaks directly onto the hot embers. Cook about 1-2 minutes on each side, remove from heat and let rest for about 5-8 minutes.
Meanwhile make the glaze. Place honey, butter and mustard in a pot and bring to a boil in a pot over the fire, let simmer for about 1-2 minutes. Drizzle the venison with the glaze and dig in. Best eaten with your fingers.

For info on Off The Grid Cooking: @bente_grysbaek and

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