Dining at a Neil Perry restaurant is worth the trip to Australia, but fly Qantas and you'll get your introduction to his Asian-influenced, Down Under cooking during the meal service.
Yes, one of Australia's most influential chefs oversees the food served on the national airline.
Perry made a name for himself as manager and chef of Sydney's influential Rockpool restaurant, now part of Rockpool Dining Group. The company operates restaurants throughout Australia that serve everything from Italian fast-casual at Fratelli Fresh to upscale dim sum at Spice Temple.
Co-founder Leiti Hsu recently caught up with Perry in a drafty stairwell at Hudson Mercantile's Virtual Tour of Australia to discuss eating offal as a kid, touring his home country and, yes, cooking airplane food—just in time for the 2017 World's 50 Best Restaurants awards in Melbourne on April 5th. Neil and his influential chef friends, food critics and judges plan to show everyone: "the best time ever, that's simple!"
On his travel routine: "[It's a guilty pleasure] eating in the best restaurants in the world! So many of my friends spoil me when I go to their restaurants. Otherwise, it's just getting out in the city and having time. [In] New York— forget about yellow taxis—it's just a great pair of shoes and getting to the city in the spring or autumn and walking from top to bottom, end to end, and visiting museums, shopping, visiting bookstores, galleries. If you do the same in Paris, London, Melbourne, Sydney, you find these kinds of things about the city that you don't find if you don’t walk."
On packing: "I have one really heavy jacket, one light jacket, and one trench, all black. I have 25 black t-shirts all rolled up, black underwear, white socks because I have white shoes, one more pair of white hoses, and then a laundry bag—and I can go away for 2 weeks. I can go to 3 star restaurants, casual places, I can do anything. My wife has a whole bag of just shoes!"
On visiting Australia: "You've got to get to Uluru, or the Great Barrier Reef, or go out to wine country, go to WA (Western Australia), drive down to Margaret River, or drive down to Victoria. You have to soak up the great Australian. It's expansive, it's beautiful, it's nature."
On cooking for Qantas: "We have a whole galley management system because the guys have to serve—say, business class—68 people all at once, in a space like this. If I asked one of my chefs do to it, they'd walk out of the kitchen on me. We do a really beautiful dish where we take lots of onions and tomatoes with chili and lots of fresh turmeric, and then put a fish down on foil. The guys poach it inside there and then it's served it on noodles. It's one of my favorite dishes because it's seasoned so beautifully."
On his cooking style: "I really work on zen [and] I've never been a pan throwing chef. We always try to revolve rather than have revolutions— [it's about] always being open to change. There's nothing certain in opening restaurants, nor in life. The more corporate [Rockpool Consulting] gets the less corporate we have to act. The way I cook with Asian ingredients [it's like] if were born in LA I would be cooking with Mexican ingredients, I would fall in love with [Mexico and] go there a lot."
On eating meat: "My father was a butcher, so I had really fantastic corned beef sandwiches, and don't say ew, but—tongue sandwiches. When I was at home as a kid, I'd be putting smushed brains on toast for breakfast, tripe, kidney. I went to other kids' houses and had breakfast the next day and would think, 'Oh this is so boring,' and they'd come to our house and we'd be having sweetbreads or brains or kidneys or liver on toast. It'd freak them out totally, but I just thought that was normal."
On steak: "[David Blackmore is] the best wagyu producer outside of Japan. The way you raise these cattle is from birth to death. It's looking after a stress-free animal. [Blackmore's] feed ratio is nothing like anything else. It doesn't have heavy grain feed, like a lot of what wagyu producers do. That wagyu is like boom, melt in your mouth, caramel, popcorn."