“The gar­den is a vi­tal source of in­spi­ra­tion and the visit to the pro­duce souk has stirred mem­o­ries”

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Arts -

The metaphor of the gar­den is a vi­tal source of in­spi­ra­tion and this morn­ing’s visit to the pro­duce souk has stirred some mem­o­ries. “When I was a kid we had the most amaz­ing meat from Dad, a butcher. But we also had an aviary, and I fished with Dad all the time. It wasn’t un­til I was 16 or 17 that I ate a piece of fish he hadn’t caught. And I sup­pose 65 per cent of the veg­eta­bles we ate came from our gar­den. We picked from the trees in sum­mer and pulled from the ground in win­ter. It was a beau­ti­ful ex­pe­ri­ence of vi­brant sea­son­al­ity.”

From time to time he would work with his fa­ther dur­ing school hol­i­days, and the other butch­ers were Greeks, Ital­ians, Yu­goslavs, Span­ish; for lunch, they’d be hav­ing salami sand­wiches and braised pep­pers. “It was a deeply mul­ti­cul­tural child­hood.” For years af­ter­wards he thought he’d lived an aver­age child­hood and it was only later that he re­alised how rare and in­flu­en­tial his up­bring­ing had been.

Perry still cred­its the farm­ers, grow­ers and fish­er­man with whom his restau­rant group main­tains a “unique re­la­tion­ship” as a pow­er­ful source of in­spi­ra­tion. A sign of the food in­dus­try’s in­creas­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion, in his view, is the abil­ity of grow­ers and restau­rants to utilise “the amaz­ing va­ri­ety of fruit and veg­eta­bles from all the dif­fer­ent cli­mates and mi­cro­cli­mates we have. We have fish from very cold deep­wa­ter species to fast-grow­ing trop­i­cal species. It’s thrilling to cook with all th­ese dif­fer­ent tex­tures and flavours.” His ap­pre­ci­a­tion ex­tends from the “guys who grow the most beau­ti­ful radishes and car­rots” to those who “grow the best beef, pork and chicken. Those peo­ple re­ally drive the food we cook and we’re in tune with them — they’re the un­sung heroes of great Aus­tralian food.”

When I leave Perry that spring day he is but­ton­ing him­self into a chef’s smock wait­ing to cook with a lo­cal chef, Osama El Sayed, on Dubai tele­vi­sion. A lit­tle over 24 hours later, at the Qan­tas bag­gage carousel in Syd­ney, I catch up with him again. He has in the in­terim learnt a few things from “chef Osama”, in­clud­ing the recipe for a “su­perbly fra­grant” chicken and veg­etable soup us­ing some of the dried limes we’d seen in the souk. But per­haps the most im­por­tant gift he’d taken from Dubai was a mem­ory. The fruit and veg­etable souk had re­minded him that his global ca­reer be­gan, in many re­spects, with the tend­ing of a gar­den in a south­ern sub­urb of Syd­ney.

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