Neil Perry is one of Australia's most influential chefs and the man behind the successful “Rockpool” Empire.
Kristy Johnson sat down with Neil to chat about his new cook book, his love of Mexican food and his top tips for putting together a dinner party.
Congratulations on Simply Good Food. It looks fantastic!
Oh, thank you. We’re really pleased with how it turned out.
With this being your eighth cookbook, what was the main source of inspiration?
Well, really just cooking with some great ingredients. I’ve been preaching that good shopping for cooking is so important for such a long time. And then giving people something that is simple enough to do at home, but delicious enough to look like they have put some effort in, and hopefully that’s the success of the book.
Do you get a kick out of working alongside the photographer to create a visually stunning book?
I think that’s a really important part of it. A very dear friend of mine (Earl Carter) shot all of the images. We shot seven out of my eight books and I get together with him every year or so. It’s part of the fun of it, the collaboration of working together and a good excuse to see him a fair bit. We all work together really well.
How long does the entire process take?
I think from the start of the book to print and release date can often be 18 months, to sometimes even two years. You know it can take the best part of a year or more to put the book together and then you’ve really got a short window where you’ve got to get everything together for it to be printed and for it to be distributed. So it sort of feels a bit weird sometimes when you finish the book and then all of a sudden you’re talking about it six months or a year later (laughs).
I noticed there are quite a few Mexican inspired recipes. What is about Mexican food in particular that inspires you? Is it because it’s a great cuisine to share with friends and family?
Well that’s very much a part of it and also one of the things that’s really important about it is that it relates to the sort of food that I’ve been eating the last couple of years at home. I just started collecting a few Mexican cookbooks and cooking out of them and realising that Mexican food is really fresh and aromatic. There are some beautiful flavours, which I really love that are not the traditional notion of what Mexican restaurants are in Australia. So that’s one of the reasons why it’s found its way into the book, and I really do love to sit at home and get a bunch of tortillas and wrap the food in them. I think it’s just a great way to sit down and do a family meal.
When you come home from work, is cooking the last thing on your mind?
No, no, not at all. I just really enjoy it. It’s just something I like doing every day really. When I’m in the kitchen in my restaurants or at home, it’s not something I ever think of as a chore or not fun to do. It’s probably easy for me because it’s just something I’m so used to doing in numbers. I can get things together very quickly at home. It tends to be something I find quite relaxing with a glass of wine, get it together and then just sit down with friends. It’s a fantastic way of spending your day. So I either like sitting down at a restaurant or cooking at home.
What are your tips for putting together a dinner party?
Well I think at this time of year you really want to be looking at all the wonderful tomatoes that are in season now that summer has started, asparagus is around in great quantities and is really beautiful, stone fruits, peaches and nectarines, cherries and mangoes. They’re all around and they’re amazing, so all of those things are really worth immigrating into the food that you’re cooking. Look at what the season is and relate to that. Zucchini, eggplant, peppers and all those summer things are in fantastic condition and are inexpensive.
With Christmas approaching, what type of dishes could we expect to see on your dinner table?
I change it up a bit. It might be fairly traditional and we might roast a turkey or have ham or pork, but also on the same token I might be steaming a fish with ginger and shallots, serving rice and a stir-fry with it because quite often we’ll have an Asian inspired Christmas, so I sort of mix it up a fair bit. But I just say you don’t always have to think traditional because there are a lot of great foods you can have.
Simply Good Food' is available now. To purchase your copy, click here.
Images by Earl Carter.
Interview by Kristy Johnson