Peter Gilmore After Hours

The award-winning executive chef of Quay restaurant in Sydney talks to Francesca Hool about Australia’s creative food scene, its emerging new talent and his passion for growing produce

Peter Gilmore Photo

Where did you last go on holiday?

Most recently we went to Byron Bay in New South Wales. It’s the most easterly part of Australia and sports lush green hills, beautiful produce and is right on the ocean. The food scene there is really opening up, with a huge focus on fresh, regional produce. The guys at Fleet are terrific. They run a small restaurant that only fits about 20 people, so you have to get in early. Then there’s The Farm, which is super-casual. You can check out the chickens and the vegetables they’re growing then sample their food.

How would you sum up Australian food?

The beauty of Australia is that we’re relatively young so we don’t have a long history of cuisine. As a result, our cooking isn’t tied down in traditions. Given that we can pretty much grow everything we need all year round thanks to the good weather, the fresh ingredients we have access to grants us a sense of freedom.

When did you decide to become a chef?

As a kid I would tag along when Mum went to cooking classes and I just became fixated with what she was cooking. It was her best friend’s Italian mamma who taught her, she was always bringing European or Asian influences into our kitchen. It’s funny, when I was training I never worked for big-name chefs. The thing that really stood out for me was learning in the UK at a couple of country house hotels. Working in Wiltshire and Scotland exposed me to ingredients I’d never worked with before, like wild mushrooms and game. The biggest influence on my cooking was when I started to garden and grow vegetables myself. Working with the soil and seeing the lifecycle of a plant was incredibly inspiring.

What do you like to cook at home?

When I get home I really want to cook something quite simple. There’s nothing better than throwing some great-quality meat on the barbecue. Charcoal grilling is my favourite way to cook. There’s a store in Sydney called Chef’s Armoury which sells amazing handmade Japanese knives, they’re the key to my kitchen.

Where should we eat in Sydney?

The food in Sydney is so diverse. If you’re in Bondi, head to Icebergs, where the dining room and bar has wonderful views of the beach. There are two restaurants run by young chefs that are turning out excellent but exciting food. One is called Sixpenny and the other is Oscillate Wildly. I’m also a regular at Neil Perry’s restaurant Spice Temple.

How do you decide where to eat when you visit a city for the first time?

Sometimes getting out of town is a great way to find the best eats. I drove to Alba recently, it’s about an hour-and-a-half from Milan, and went to Piazza Duomo. It was the best meal I’ve had in a long time. I always try and find a market, too. I love talking to the producers who grow the food.

Peter Gilmore Photo

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