Q&A With Neil Perry: On Australia’s Food Ethos and Native Ingredients

February 24, 2017 7:03 pm Last Updated: March 8, 2018 5:30 pm

Epoch Times: The immediate association with Australian food is often flat white coffees and avocado on toast. What perceptions of Australian cuisine do you encounter when you travel?
Neil Perry: I do think that in the main people underestimate how sophisticated Australian food is, and not just the food, but also the wine, service, and ambiance.

Epoch Times: Do you think there is an Australian food ethos? If so, what would it be?
Mr. Perry: Yes, it’s the quality and freshness of our ingredients, the amazing seafood, and our multilateralism. And although many countries may say that, I do believe our position in Asia, our love of Asian food and how we integrate that into our restaurants, is a hallmark of Australian cuisine.

Epoch Times: If there were an unofficial dish of Australia, one universally beloved, what do you think it would be?
Mr. Perry: I think it’s continually changing and evolving. Avo [avocado] toast wouldn’t have gotten a look 10 years ago, it will be something else in the next 10 years, but most importantly it will be fresh, light, and delicious. This is the centerpiece of Australian cooking, a light touch with quality products.

Epoch Times: What are some regional Australian ingredients that visitors to Australia should absolutely experience?
Mr. Perry: We have a number of great native ingredients like warrigal greens, saltbush, wattleseed, finger limes, lemon myrtle, lemon aspen, and so forth, but also the great seafood like Sydney rock oysters (best oyster in the world), abalone, local crayfish, marron, yabbies, Balmain bugs, pearl meat, Murray cod, coral trout, King George whiting, and things like kangaroo—all of these are uniquely Australian.

Epoch Times: Like in the United States, Australia’s food scene, through many waves of immigration, has been influenced by many different culinary traditions. Are there any that have significantly influenced your approach to cooking?
Mr. Perry: Chinese and other Asian immigration. We have a long history since the 1830s of Chinese settlement in our country. The food and produce was probably the most exotic cuisine that Australians tasted until after World War II. Also, Italian and Greek immigration, and then the 1970 post-Vietnam War immigration, which hasn’t stopped. Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, and Japanese influences are now as strong as Chinese, and all these great cuisines influence me.

Epoch Times: What do you miss about Australia (food or otherwise) when you’re traveling?
Mr. Perry: It gets back to the freshness and the light touch that Australian chefs bring to their craft. I can really taste the difference when traveling, especially with seafood cookery, where I believe we really excel.

Epoch Times: What American influences do you see on the dining scene back home, if any?
Mr. Perry: Certainly pop culture, the rise of the hamburger, hipster food, Southern BBQ, wings, fried chicken, those sorts of things. However, I also feel that many of the great American chefs, like Thomas Keller, Wolfgang [Puck], and so on, have influenced us with their professionalism and dedication to quality.

Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity

Aussie Natives

Warrigal greens: Greens also known as native spinach.
Saltbush: A hardy shrub.
Wattleseed: The seeds of the Australian acacia tree, with a nutty, coffee flavor.
Finger limes: A microcitrus in the shape and size of fingers.
Lemon myrtle: A native herb with the aromas of lemon and lime.
Lemon aspen: A fruit with a citrusy, tropical taste.
Marron and yabbies: Types of freshwater crayfish.
Balmain bugs: A type of clawless lobster.
Pearl meat: A muscle in the pearl oyster, a byproduct of pearl production.