We chat to celebrated Australian chef Philip Johnson, from Brisbane's e'cco bistro.
Where did you grow up?
Oxford NZ, 30 minutes outside of Christchurch.
When did you realise you wanted to be a chef?
I started cooking from a very young age. It really started when my mum wasn’t well and I had to cook for the family. My grandmother was also a fabulous cook – she inspired and encouraged me.
What projects are you currently working on?
The projects I am currently working on include books, guest chef appearances and we also have a few consultancies on the go and perhaps another venture. I think I have one more left in me!
What does it take to be a successful chef?
The hours are long and the margins are very thin. But at the end of the day, perseverance and a passion for what you do is a must!
Which chefs have had the biggest influence on you and your career?
I loved Nico Landenia. He was a big chef back in the 1980’s. He wrote a book called My Gastronomy, which is a really good read if you’re in the industry as it gives you the heart to believe in yourself. The late Rose Gray was also a very big influence on me as I had the pleasure of working with her several times.
What is your signature dish?
I would like to think we are always moving on and constantly evolving. I would have to say our field mushrooms on olive toast, rocket, parmesan, truffle oil and lemon which has now featured on the e’cco menu for close to 16 years. The key to this dish is the simple layering of top-quality ingredients and the flavours working well together. Our customers love it. They would protest if it came off the menu, so consequently it has stayed all these years.
Want to try out some of Philip Johnson's delicious recipes?
- Wet Polenta, Sand Crab, Chilli, Garlic and Basil
- Beetroot Risotto, Goats Cheese, Pickled Golden Beetroot & Candied Walnuts
- Eye Fillet of Beef, Truffled Kipfler Potatoes, Buttered Spinach, Sauce Soubise & Crisp Sweetbreads
- Dark & White Chocolate Dumplings with Cinnamon Ice Cream
What is unique about e’cco?
E’cco is unique because of the team I’ve got behind me. I want to be remembered for that more than cooking. Tracey, my manager, has been with me for 12 years, Tanya and Melinda, our floor supervisors, have both been with me for about 10 years, and Mathias, my head chef around 8 years – in this industry that’s a life time. I think the key is to create an environment that you yourself would like to work in.
Who or what inspires you in the kitchen?
My current chefs, Mathias and Sam, as well as some of my recent apprentices and new young recruits – Kevin, Sam & Kirstie to name a few - are as good as I’ve ever seen.
How do you see the future of the food & restaurant industry in Australia?
We have a vibrant industry in Australia and an amazing value for quality, if you compare it to Europe or the US, so it can only go up from here.
Describe your ‘ultimate’ meal.
I recently had it in New York. I walked out of a restaurant called Eleven Madison and thought, if I get hit by a yellow cab now, I’m done food wise. It was as good as I think it gets.
What’s the most bizarre dish you’ve ever tried?
Some of the dishes I’ve had at the Fat Duck in the UK, Alinea in Chicago, or Noma in Copenhagen are almost too bizarre or involved to describe, but the flavours are what really matters. If the flavours work, it can be as bizarre as you can get it!
What is one question people are always asking you?
What’s your favourite ingredient, which is a tough question. But I heard Thomas Keller, Heston Blumthenal and Neil Perry asked this once, and they all said salt, and I tend to agree. Seasoning is everything.
What is your biggest food indulgence?
Not sure really, a number of things but if I had to name one, I love a slab of seared foie gras. That can’t be good for you!
What ingredient are you obsessed with right now?
I’m never really obsessed to be honest. Chefs have phases when they want to use the same thing but when you see the same dish a few thousand times, that kind of cures you and you move on to the next thing.
Which three people would to invite to a dinner party?
Richard Branson, Entrepreneur; Niki Lauder, Formula One driver; and Heston Blumthenal, Chef
What is your best tip for home cooks?
Relax, its only food!! People get strung up on how precise they have to be – you don’t. Cooking is about feeling and trusting your own judgement.
Where is your favourite place to travel?
New York. It’s the centre of the universe and I would to live there if I could.
Describe your perfect day off.
Indulging in the next meal that I could consider the best of my life. I’ve had two at first equal so far, so looking for another one!