Qantas’s creative director of food, beverage and service Neil Perry talks pantry staples, guilty pleasures and hangover cures.
Do you do the cooking at home?
My wife, Sam, does a bit but I generally cook when friends come over because there’s an expectation that they’re having “Neil Perry” cook for them. And, quite often, by the time we get the kids to bed and so forth, I can just make things faster.
So what constitutes a thrown-together meal for Neil Perry?
We often have a simple vegetable-based pasta. I start off with garlic, anchovies and chilli and then maybe add some grated zucchini or braised silverbeet – or often some fresh tomato and smoked bacon. It could also be quick stir-fried noodles with vegetables or some prawns and maybe some chilli paste. We regularly eat tortillas – we like eating with our hands – so it could be chicken with cumin, onion, garlic and macha (a Mexican chilli paste) that I grill and slice. Then I just chop some fresh tomatoes, add tinned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and make a salsa. And I shave some cabbage and cucumber and throw all that together in a warm tortilla. We do that probably once a week.
SEE ALSO: Neil Perry's Favourite Sydney Sandwiches
Have you ever opened a can of baked beans?
Not a can of baked beans but I often open a can of white beans and mix it with tuna, fresh herbs and fresh tomato and have it as a bruschetta topping.
Can I confirm that you’ve never opened a can of baked beans?
I don’t think so. I’ve certainly made baked beans a lot.
Is there any canned food that’s a preferable alternative to fresh?
I would rarely soak chickpeas or white beans. I think tinned food has a place: anchovies, tuna, bonito and sardines. And high-quality French tinned peas. They’re often better than fresh. Peas start to lose their sweetness the moment they’re picked.
If I’m going to spend big on one kitchen implement, what should it be?
The thing we use the most at home is a slow juicer or centrifugal juicer; we have both. We start every day with a fresh juice. The other thing I use a lot is our little Bamix [stick blender]. It’s a really handy tool and so much easier to wash than a [benchtop] blender. But the most important thing to have at home is a really good chopping board and some great knives.
How many knives do you need?
You need a really terrific 20-centimetre cook’s knife. You also need a couple of good paring knives – a tiny one and a slightly larger one – and a bread knife.
Is there a brand of knives you like?
Mine are mostly Shun but I also really love Michel Bras knives.
Is it important to have a good saucepan?
You need a nice big non-stick pan that you can cook four or six pieces of fish in or a full set of lamb cutlets. You need a smaller non-stick pan to do omelettes. You need a sauté pan for making sauces. Then you need a big pot for boiling pasta. The other thing I have is lots of beautiful stainless-steel bowls of various sizes.
Do you need to spend a lot on saucepans?
I don’t think you need to go crazy. One that holds enough water to boil pasta for four people will set you back anywhere between $100 and $200. We’ve got a beautiful Alessi one that I cook with probably three times a week. It’s been going for 16 years.
Where do you stand on the slow cooker?
I bought one but I’ve never used it. How terrible is that? I’m not organised enough in the morning. At night I can cook quickly enough with the pressure cooker.
What’s the most-used spice at your place?
Chilli. I use it in everything I cook at home. The one thing I couldn’t live without is salt; it makes everything taste better but I don’t count it as a spice – it’s a seasoning.
What do you think is the most overrated ingredient?
I don’t like truffle oil, which people go crazy about. For me, quality is really important, like having a good extra-virgin olive oil to dress your salads and finish your fish with. And beautiful balsamic and a terrific red wine vinegar, like Forum’s. And high-quality soy sauces that you get at Japanese stores now, compared with the Chinese soys you used to buy.
Is there an ingredient that you think is underrated?
I don’t think people use oregano, thyme and all the beautiful herbs that are out there as much as, say, parsley.
What do you eat when no-one is watching?
My wife is a chocaholic. She’s always got things like Kit Kats and Twix bars and stuff. Every now and then, I go, “I just can’t stand it any more; I’m going to have a Twix.”
We have them frozen and they’re my favourite. They’re pretty mundane, sugary chocolates but when they’re frozen, that sweetness comes out.
How do you give kids a sophisticated palate?
It’s not easy. I take my girls out for dinner and we’re continually trying to get them to experiment with things. That’s all you can do. You can’t force them; you just make it available and also realise that they can accelerate and catch up.
Can you let us in on a few kitchen hacks?
The most important thing is our cheese box. We have a Tupperware box in the fridge that has a cake rack in the bottom of it and every week we put a new Chux in there that we’ve wrung out until it’s slightly damp so it makes it humid. Our cheese is wrapped in wax paper and kept in there. Buying grated parmesan is a sin. When we’re using parsley or other herbs, we just wash it, use what we want and the rest of it goes into a zip-lock bag. Parsley will last for two weeks in the fridge. And a really important kitchen tip is having a salad spinner; the key to a really great salad is a beautiful, dry lettuce leaf.
Is there ever a reason to use a microwave?
We put half a dozen tortillas in a tea towel and heat them up. That’s the only thing I’ve ever used a microwave for.
What’s the best hangover food?
A juicy hamburger, some barbecued pork with noodles, a wonton soup or pizza with some chilli on it. You’ve probably already resolved that you’ll never drink again but by about four o’clock in the afternoon, once that lunch has kicked in, you’re considering another glass of red wine.
What would be your death-row meal?
That would depend on what mood I was in.
I don’t imagine it would be a good one…
Probably not! Maybe the old roast chicken or a beautiful bowl of ramen. Just something that you can throw your solace behind. ￼