Neil Perry

We ask the big ques­tions, like what do chefs eat?

Qantas - - Contents -

What’s the one dish you’ll al­ways choose if it ap­pears on a menu? I love great veg­etable dishes. We cook a lot of veg­eta­bles at home – it’s prob­a­bly why I stay rea­son­ably healthy con­sid­er­ing how much I eat and drink. And I’ll al­ways or­der a ter­rific salad. At your own restau­rants, what are the favourite staff meals? Peo­ple of­ten have a strong mem­ory associated with things like roast chicken or pasta Bolog­nese – it’s just great com­fort food. And we find the re­sponse to the food we do for Qan­tas flights also re­lates to that no­tion of com­fort; feel­ing nour­ished emo­tion­ally plays a part in eat­ing. It’s date night. Where do you go in Syd­ney? Ester [ester-restau­rant.com.au] in Chip­pen­dale – we like Mat Lindsay’s cook­ing a lot. Sam and I got mar­ried at Ben­ne­long [ben­ne­long.com.au] so for our last an­niver­sary, we went back to the Cured & Cul­tured counter, had a fan­tas­tic meal and a great bot­tle of wine and looked out at the Har­bour Bridge. And in Mel­bourne? It has to be Flower Drum [flow­er­drum. mel­bourne]. It’s prob­a­bly one of the great­est Can­tonese restau­rants in the world. If it was in Hong Kong, it would have three Miche­lin stars for sure. We re­cently flew to Mel­bourne just to go to Flower Drum for Sam’s birth­day. We had our favourite shal­lot cake and beau­ti­ful King Is­land crab dumplings. There’s even a dish they make just for me – it’s not on the menu. I sim­ply ask for “Neil Perry mud-crab noo­dles”. Chefs usu­ally have late-night haunts af­ter they knock off. In Syd­ney, what are yours? I’m usu­ally home by 11 o’clock these days but when I used to fin­ish with the crew in the late ’80s, Golden Cen­tury [gold­en­cen­tury.com.au] had just opened and we were al­ways there. The last time I went out with the boys, we had beers and bar­be­cue at Syd­ney Madang Korean BBQ restau­rant [371a Pitt Street; 02 9264 7010]. It’s good fun and stays open un­til 2am. What do you or­der at Golden Cen­tury? Al­ways seafood from the tank. I love the live prawns steamed with soy and sea­soned with co­rian­der, a lit­tle sugar, gin­ger and chilli.

If you could choose one restau­rant in the world to eat at tonight, which would it be? Asador Etxe­barri [asadoretxe­barri.com], an hour out­side of San Se­bastián, in Spain. It’s the most amaz­ing asador [bar­be­cue] restau­rant. Vic­tor [Ar­guin­zoniz] was born next door to the build­ing that be­came the restau­rant in his vil­lage. He for­ages wood from the hills, dries it, puts it in a kiln and turns it into char­coal. Then he uses it in a se­ries of grills over which he cooks all kinds of seafood and lo­cal pro­duce. Are you able to re­lax when you eat at other restau­rants or do you no­tice ev­ery de­tail? I do no­tice a lot but when I’m eat­ing at other restau­rants or walk­ing through mar­kets, I just want to en­joy it and em­brace the food. Any pet gripes when eat­ing out? I dis­like peo­ple who don’t re­alise that the in­dus­try is called “hos­pi­tal­ity”. When you walk into a restau­rant, you can feel whether good pro­duce, great craft and nur­tur­ing staff are the heart and soul of the op­er­a­tion – or if it’s about ag­gres­sion and pre­ci­sion in the wrong way. Din­ers aren’t per­fect, ei­ther. What do guests in your restau­rants of­ten get wrong? Some­times din­ers can be dis­tracted, have other things go­ing on and for­get to re­lax. I un­der­stand but I think go­ing to a restau­rant is a great ex­cuse to leave all of that stuff out­side and let us take you on a jour­ney. When din­ers just won’t go home, how do you move them on? [Laughs] We try not to! You can turn the lights out or mop around their feet but we don’t do that. We try to make sure it’s the guest who makes the de­ci­sion to ask for the bill; that it’s their de­ci­sion when to leave. Clear­ing plates be­fore the last diner has fin­ished eat­ing: yes or no? I don’t be­lieve in it – it’s kind of old-school – but I’ve seen sit­u­a­tions where it’s ap­pro­pri­ate on larger ta­bles where one per­son is eat­ing re­ally slowly! It also de­pends on the style of ser­vice. If it’s an ex­pen­sive meal that a lot of en­ergy has gone into, you need to fol­low the eti­quette. But if it’s a bowl of noo­dles at a laksa joint, that’s a whole other ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ence. Should chefs be in­fu­ri­ated by some­one or­der­ing a well-done steak? There are peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand that cus­tomers have likes and dis­likes. We are there to make peo­ple happy and it’s not about what we feel, it’s about how they feel. What does the per­fect wine list look like? We’ve won awards for Spice Tem­ple’s list, which has 100 wines on it, and we’ve also won with Rock­pool Bar & Grill’s, which has 3000 wines. It’s about bal­ance in the flavour pro­files and the prices. That’s the key to a great som­me­lier: the abil­ity to en­sure ev­ery sin­gle wine on the list be­longs there and is a great bot­tle, re­gard­less of the price. What’s the essence of true hos­pi­tal­ity? Gen­eros­ity. Peo­ple who are re­ally good in this busi­ness are nur­tur­ers. Yes, we put plates on the table and pour wine but it’s all about cre­at­ing a last­ing mem­ory – and that’s where gen­eros­ity comes in. In essence, be­ing a great restau­ra­teur is noth­ing more than mo­ti­vat­ing your staff to carry out the phi­los­o­phy of the restau­rant. When was the last time you fol­lowed a recipe? A re­ally long time ago! I tell peo­ple that recipes are to be used as a start­ing point and a guide but they can be changed. You can use dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents de­pend­ing on what you have. Recipes aren’t nec­es­sar­ily things you should slav­ishly fol­low.

The chef's datenight go-to, Ester restau­rant in Chip­pen­dale, Syd­ney (left and be­low)

The char­coal grill at Asador Etxe­barri in Atx­ondo, Spain

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