Interview: Neil Perry, chef for all seasons

By Nick Hicks

Whether you’re a foodie, stay-at-home Mum, builder or chef in the hospitality industry, odds are you’ve heard of prestigious “three hatted” chef Neil Perry — Member of the Order of Australia and idol of young chefs everywhere.

Perry owns and operates six restaurants with partner Trish Richards. Before his signature restaurant Rockpool on George celebrated its 23rd birthday in 2012, he had opened a restaurant each year: two versions of the Rockpool Bar and Grill, and a successful Chinese venture called Spice Temple. He has filmed several television series, including Rockpool Sessions and Fresh and Fast. He is a also busy consultant for QANTAS.

Three years ago Perry added induction into the TAFE Hall of Fame to his list of accolades.

Perry’s goal is to constantly improve upon his success, and to commit to his food mantra, that the cornerstone of good cooking is sourcing the finest produce.

NH: Chef, thank you so much for your time this morning, I understand that you and your 600 staff are very busy. Just so you know a little about me, I’m a student at Petersham TAFE studying Journalism, and I am excited that you have accepted my invitation to be interviewed via Twitter. I have to ask you: how old were you when you first started cooking, and when did you realise the culinary world was you?

NP: Ever since I was young I was always surrounded by food working on the farm, and I was heavily involved in fresh produce and the preparation of meat. It wasn’t until I was 26 that I realised that this was going to be my career, and that’s when my passion for food and seriousness towards proper preparation really took off.

I’m interested in your celebrity status. When was it that you first realised that you were famous?

I’m not into the tag of being famous as such, I find working with the finest produce, the best suppliers – our real heroes – and bringing out the best in food by seasoning properly so continuously rewarding. Our suppliers and the fine purveyors are the heroes who deliver and hold the ingredients, we are the ones that make them shine even further. If I had to pinpoint a moment, it would be when you are in the supermarket and multiple people stop you to talk to you about your show on TV. This was around the year 2000. I guess they feel that they own a piece of you as you are in their living rooms.

You have an amazing career: you have fame, a television presence, young chefs looking up to you, a beautiful property, your picture in the Hall of Fame at Ryde TAFE and a multi-million dollar consultancy deal with QANTAS. What’s next for Neil Perry, what can the master do next?

I have no desire to enter another facet of the industry, but one thing that you can expect is the things we do well being done even better in the future. It’s all about constant improvement now, and not becoming complacent as there is always room for improvement and new things to do regarding food. I have over six restaurants and 600 staff under me, so I feel that I have enough on my plate. It’s crucial to do the basics right such as using proper oils, seasonings and spices and they form the flavour base, there’s no point going further if you don’t get the basics right.

What is your favourite ingredient to use and why?

I enjoy extra virgin olive oils, Murray (River) salts and anything to do with the seasoning of food, they are so crucial and the types are endless. The cornerstone of good cooking is sourcing the finest ingredients.

What was the highlight of your career to date?

Recently I received the award of The Order of Australia for contributions to society, younger people in the industry and in general recognition of my career. This was a great moment to get such great recognition from the government and apart from working with fine ingredients, the most rewarding moment to date. It’s awesome to know you make a difference.

This may be difficult for you to answer, but if you weren’t a chef could you ever picture yourself doing anything else? Was there such a thing as a back-up route for Neil Perry?

I never thought of any other career which was not food related, honestly. Ever since I was young I was wanting to know more and my family was very into food, so I guess the family history basically answers that question.

Chef, thank-you so much for your time, it’s been great interviewing you, and I wish The Rockpool Group more success in the future.

That’s not a problem at all. Thanks, mate.



Rockpool On George:
Spice Temple:
Rockpool Sessions:
Fresh and Fast:

Featured image: To cook well, find the best ingredients: chef Neil Perry in his kitchen. Photo courtesy Rockpool Group.

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