You’d think coaxing two of the world’s best chefs to adjust their busy schedules and fly across the globe to the Pilbara might be a tall order. But when a good cause is involved, Neil Perry always gets by with a little help from his friends.
In May, 18 months after first floating the idea, The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller and The Fat Duck’s Heston Blumenthal joined me in the Pilbara, where we cooked dinner for 30 people. Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, his wife, Nicola, and Tim Roberts forked out $250,000, with all the proceeds going to the Starlight Children’s Foundation charity.
Can you imagine trying to wrangle two of the busiest chefs in the world? The planning and logistics were crazy. You can’t get much further from the Napa Valley and London than the Pilbara. This is red-earth country, where cattle graze on a landscape carpeted with spinifex and herbage. As we flew into Twiggy’s property, Minderoo Station, land, sea and sand rolled out before us. Thomas had just flown from Chicago to Los Angeles then to Sydney, Perth and Minderoo. No wonder he looked tired.
My kitchen team from Rockpool Bar & Grill Perth brought a stack of food, Heston packed some of his gadgets and Thomas selected WA marron as a lobster substitute for his famous lobster, beets and leeks dish. We had a steer shot and dressed some six weeks earlier, which was dry-aged. It created awesome one-kilogram rib-eye steaks to cook over the open fire.
It’s always fun observing my fellow chefs. Thomas moves in the kitchen like a stealth fighter – smooth and with purpose. Not only did his marron dish look beautiful but the combination of the crunch of the crayfish, the earthy-but-sweet beet sauce and the creamed leeks was extraordinary.
Heston was always concentrating on three things at once. He’d help us plate then take a call from London, earpiece in, while playing with dry ice. The dry ice was used in his brilliant pain perdu so that the vapour spills from the bowl. It was very dramatic.
We all worked together. Thomas was caramelising the toast, I was cutting the hard, scraggly caramel bits off it and placing it on the plate, while Heston turned the perfect ice-cream scoop. We produced incredible food in a shed in the middle of nowhere.
It’s with great pride that I ring my colleagues from the best restaurants in the world and pose the question, “Guys, will you come and help?” The amazing thing is, I always get a yes. The Starlight Children’s Foundation wish-granting program is so important. I have seen firsthand how much joy these experiences can bring to children, their siblings and their parents. I have also seen how the memory of a great experience helps a family through the grieving process. That’s why this charity is so close to my heart.
The Rockpool Foundation is running this year in the City2Surf on August 9 for Starlight. I hope you’ll consider supporting us. ￼