Neil Perry

Af­ter four decades in the res­tau­rant busi­ness, the chef tips his hat to his peers and the ris­ing stars of Aus­tralia’s ever-evolv­ing din­ing scene.

Qantas - - Contents - Neil Perry

The chef talks kitchen he­roes and bright young things

I re­cently turned 60, a mile­stone that has got me think­ing about the past 40-odd years of my res­tau­rant life and where Aus­tralia is on its own culi­nary jour­ney. I may be head­ing to­wards the end of my ca­reer but many oth­ers are just start­ing out.

It’s grat­i­fy­ing to see some bril­liant young tal­ent in the kitchens and on the floors of so many restau­rants. In Mel­bourne, my dear friend, Ben Shewry, is cook­ing at the top of his game at At­tica in Rip­pon­lea. The same ap­plies to Dan Hunter at Brae, in re­gional Vic­to­ria’s Bir­re­gurra, which features mag­nif­i­cent gar­dens and ac­com­mo­da­tion. Both are de­serv­ing of their places on The World’s 50 Best Restau­rants list.

An­other re­gional gem can be found in Gee­long, where Aaron Turner has cre­ated the fan­tas­tic Igni. And, of course, Ross Lusted at The Bridge Room and Peter Gil­more at Quay are still cook­ing up a storm in Sydney.

All of th­ese restau­rants have much in com­mon. They strive for per­fec­tion ev­ery day, they achieve a sense of great­ness and they en­cour­age their staff. That last point is per­ti­nent. When I started in this busi­ness four decades ago, there weren’t many chefs men­tor­ing up-and-com­ing tal­ent. But a stack of chefs from my era – Tet­suya Wakuda and Peter Gil­more to name just two – have in­spired a whole new gen­er­a­tion.

I was lucky enough to work with Kylie Kwong (Billy Kwong), Mike McE­near­ney (No. 1 Bent St) and Ross Lusted in their early days of cook­ing. They’ve all gone on to great things and their fo­cus on the very best in­gre­di­ents Aus­tralia has to of­fer in­spires many. I hope that I played some small part in their suc­cess.

In Sydney’s Chip­pen­dale, my old Wock­pool chef, Mat Lind­say, is cook­ing in­cred­i­ble food at Ester (and bak­ing the best res­tau­rant bread in town). And I’m re­ally ex­cited for Phil Wood, who I was priv­i­leged to work with for eight years, as he joins Point Leo Es­tate, a win­ery res­tau­rant on the Mornington Penin­sula in Vic­to­ria. I ex­pect great things from him.

I also look at the chefs who work for me now – they have the tal­ent to do what­ever they like but they choose to stand by my side. I’m im­mensely proud of them.

There are plenty of other chefs I ad­mire, in­clud­ing Dan Hong, whose bustling Chi­nese res­tau­rant, Mr Wong, in Sydney is the real deal; and Danielle Al­varez, who over­sees an ex­pe­ri­ence that in­cludes all the fire-cooked food a per­son could want at Fred’s in Padding­ton. This is great pro­duce and fan­tas­tic craft.

Chris­tian McCabe and Dave Ver­heul have the same fo­cus on qual­ity at Em­bla, in the heart of Mel­bourne, where I al­ways or­der the wood-fired roast chicken. The team at Gauge in South Bris­bane are mak­ing spec­tac­u­lar food, too. And in the re­volv­ing doors of the res­tau­rant world, tal­ented chef Analiese Gregory, who was work­ing the stove at Bar Brosé in Sydney, re­cently moved to Franklin in Ho­bart to re­place David Moyle – an­other great young cook, who is re­turn­ing to his Mel­bourne roots to fo­cus on new ven­ture Long­song.

It’s in­cred­i­ble how much food – and the restau­rants serv­ing great food – has changed in the past 40 years. There are so many af­ford­able, de­li­cious op­tions from Aus­tralia and be­yond. How lucky are we to have such a won­der­ful va­ri­ety of cuisines? I feel hon­oured to have been part of our great culi­nary his­tory – and happy to see the amaz­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties ahead.

Brae res­tau­rant (above); Mike McE­near­ney, for­mer head chef at Neil Perry’s Rock­pool (left)

(Clock­wise from top left) At­tica’s Ben Shewry; neigh­bour­hood din­ing at Sydney’s Ester; Ross Lusted from The Bridge Room; stir-fried king prawns with chilli sauce at Mr Wong

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