Cooking at home is on the backburner for Neil Perry, who has just opened a new restaurant - a luxe Italian called Rosetta - at Melbourne's Crown.
It means Australia's best-known chef is away from home in Sydney until Christmas, turning out antipasti, fresh pasta and wood-fired mains, as he dreams of Easy Weekends - the title of his seventh book, which pulls together recipes from his weekly columns in Good Weekend magazines from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Rosetta is the seventh restaurant in a dining empire backed by wine-loving American software billionaire David Doyle, who earlier this year was looking at selling his stake in a portfolio that includes Rockpool Bar and Grill, Spice Temple and lounge-bar The Waiting Room, but has decided to stay. It was reported he knocked back a multi-million dollar offer from James Packer because they could not agree on a price.
"There's no exit; he's our partner and not going anywhere," Perry says.
Easy Weekends, with Perry's signature ponytail on the cover - a throwback to his years at school when he wasn't allowed to have long hair - is a multicultural mix of more than 100 recipes in three chapters: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It draws together Asian flavours, Italian classics, Greek favourites, Middle Eastern comfort food and good, old- fashioned family staples, like bread-and-butter pudding, roast chicken, twice-cooked duck and Perry's version of Heston Blumenthal's thrice-cooked chips with a crispy, crunchy crust.
Yes, it does make a difference if you take the effort to peel, cut, soak, steam, deep-fry, refrigerate and deep-fry again. Blumenthal simmers, air-dries, freezes and fries, but you need a few spare hours in the kitchen to follow his lead. The good news is that you can prepare most of Perry's recipes without being a skilled cook. His pancake stack is a cinch - the ricotta cheese and cinnamon are the clinchers - and better than any recipe you may already have up your sleeve.
Perry says the point of the book, which is dedicated to his two young daughters - Macy and Indy - is to be approachable, with simple ideas that work well together from different cuisines that have defined him as a cook. He credits his late father, Les, as his biggest influence and inspiration.
"My father was a butcher and I am the result of what he made me," he says. "I've worked with some great chefs and been influenced by some incredible people around the world, but no one more than him. His love of produce and fresh ingredients really drives the Rockpool group. He wasn't just a butcher; he was a mad-keen fisherman and loved having a garden. I don't think I ate any seafood that he hadn't caught until I was 18.
"I grew up with the whole idea of eating nose to tail - it's nothing new; I always thought everybody had fried brains on toast for breakfast, liver and tripe. The reality of healthy living is not saying no to chicken skin or bacon fat, but eating everything in moderation."
Spice Temple restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne draw on Perry's childhood wanderings through Chinatown, again with his father, who loved Asian food and used to make simple, fragrant Indian curries - there are a few in the book - which Perry loves to do at home.
"Generally Sam (his wife) and I cook every weekend and we like having people over," Perry says. "We keep it relaxed and focus on seasonal produce with good sauces, condiments and oils to perk things up."
He's big on Korean - it's the food trend du jour - with offerings like raw tuna on rice and warm beef-noodle salad. There's even an Asian banquet for eight.
"I eat so many different things and enjoy cooking in so many different ways," Perry says. "Life is full of great experiences. I love a great bowl of pasta, but I equally love a fantastic stir-fry or raw fish or roast chicken. I just want to eat great ingredients and I want the natural produce to sing.
"If you take lettuce and wash it, after having cut it from the ground without refrigerating it, and dress it in olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt, you'll understand how amazing salad is."Easy Weekends: Food By Neil Perry is published by Murdoch Books ($49.99 hardback).
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