What would you cook for the world’s leaders?

Jane Willson
20 November, 2014

Chef and author Ben O’Donoghue was asked to create the menu for the G20 barbecue recently, so he served up oysters, prawns, Moreton Bay bugs, lamb and a good ol’ pav.

Obama came back for seconds. That’s when Ben O’Donoghue knew his work was done. Asked to cook for the most powerful men and women in the world at the G20 gathering this month, Ben was stoked. And maybe a bit terrified.

The brief was to keep the lunch, served in the grounds of Queensland’s Parliament House on a 35 degree day, simple and informal. Ben says Prime Minister Tony Abbott conveyed that he wanted a buffet-style barbecue. Other than that – along with keeping the meat halal and the PM’s preference for lamb – it was left to Ben.

What did he come up with? Some signature Queensland seafood (including these Moreton Bay Bug skewers, and crispy skin ocean trout cooked like the salmon in his most recent book Ben’s BBQ Bible), stunning lamb from Flinders Island and, to finish, pavolva.

On the day ­– before the Obama moment, at least – Ben says his tongue was swollen and his heart was in his mouth. “Actually, I felt like I was going to vomit.”

He says Barack Obama, Tony Abbott and Chinese president Xi Jinping were the first three through the door. And then it was just, well, happening.

“Obama is super cool, has such an aura; Putin was charming and a totally cool dude … it was actually a good idea from Tony, it was just really informal; they relaxed, the jackets were off.”

What did Obama go for? He had all the salads first and a bit of seafood. “And said he’d be back for the lamb. When he did come back, he said he was allowed to go twice because he’d worked out that morning.”

The wines were selected by James Halliday, and included a Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay from Margaret River and Coldstream Hills Reserve Pinot Noir.

“But no one drank really,” says Ben. “The Saudi prince wanted a diet 7 Up; the Chinese president had one beer; the Mexican guy had a wine – he said it’s rude if you drink by yourself. I think Tony had a wine too at that point.” 

Ben’s menu


(Cairns based) Vannella buffalo mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and basil

Barbecued new season asparagus, peas, broad beans and goat’s curt with Mount Zero wild olives

Salad with kale, broccoli and avocado with toasted seeds


Freshly shucked Moreton Bay rock oysters

Cooked Mooloolaba king prawns with lime mayonnaise


Moreton Bay bugs, figs, pancetta and fresh bay kebabs with chimichurri

Smoked and spiced Flinders Island butterflied leg of lamb with yoghurt and eggplant

Crispy skin Tasmanian ocean trout, avocado, apple, radish and watercress salad




Mount Pleasant Lovedale Single Vineyard Semillon 2007, Hunter Valley, NSW

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2011, Margaret River, WA

Golden Grove Estate Vintage Grand Reserve Mourvedre 2012, Granite Belt, Queensland

Coldstream Hills Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Yarra Valley, Victoria

View and cook all the recipes in Ben's BBQ Bible


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