When foodie mogul Luke Mangan opened his first restaurant, Salt, in Sydney's Darlinghurst in 1999, he admits he was showing off - at least just a little. "I did have some clever dishes on the menu," he concedes. "That was then - I was trying to prove myself."
These days the celebrity chef prefers to keep it simple. The fancy foams, spheres and airs of molecular gastronomy - or, as some proponents prefer, "techno- emotional cuisine" - is so last decade. "We've been through all the trends and simplicity is coming back, and focusing on the ingredients," Mangan says. "The last few years with molecular cooking . . . there are books you can't even cook out of."
That was part of Mangan's motivation in writing his latest book Salt Grill: Fine Dining for the Whole Family. One doesn't need to "forage" for any ingredients for Mangan's very impressive seared spiced tuna with celeriac and apple remoulade - not unless your idea of foraging is trawling your local farmers' market or supermarket. "The book's for the home cook," he says. "There are a couple of tricky ones in there but it's full of recipes that can be cooked and the ingredients are accessible. And it's not crazy foams and jellies and foie gras, and all that sort of stuff."
And while the 140-plus recipes in Salt Grill are fairly straightforward, they're certainly not boring. "It's just my version of good, simple, great food where it can be seen as top-end restaurant food but it's not really, because you can prepare it yourself," he says.
Mangan oversees an empire that boasts eateries and bars in Sydney, Singapore, Seminyak, Surfers Paradise, Jakarta, Bali, Tokyo and aboard P&O cruise ships.
He is also consulting chef to Virgin Australia, has an impressive array of gourmet products including spices, oils, knives - even Luke Mangan water - and boasts his own range of organic baby food (chicken paella, darling?)
As implied by the book's title, it was important to Mangan that children were able to eat the dishes and that they could be enjoyed in a sharing, grazing style of dining. "The book is designed where a lot of the food can be put on plates in the middle of the table and everyone digs into it," he says. "That's the way I like to eat and prepare food nowadays. I've always pretty much had a sharing section but I think this is probably more a book of that, where it's food that is accessible, and if I have a dinner party at home I always get the friends involved; one's picking the salad, one's chopping the herbs. Cooking is now about getting everyone involved and sitting down and digging in, not so formal. I've got an open-plan kitchen that spreads out into the dining room and you get everyone around that with a glass of wine and get them involved."
The recipes in Salt Grill are perfect for those home cooks with a bit of time on their hands. A beautifully simple dish of baked flathead with prosciutto, tomato and parsley is a no-brainer for those days when you're happy to have the oven on. Otherwise, for a grown-up summer feast, try your hand at the lobster sashimi with white ponzu dressing, apple and avocado. The instructions for each dish are easy to follow and the photographs reveal in dazzling detail just how gorgeous yours is meant to look.
This is Mangan's seventh book - including a 2010 autobiography, The Making of a Chef - and he says it reflects the evolution of his own style.
"I just think, you know, travelling so much, lifestyle. I guess as you get older you want to get people more involved in the cooking process and the eating process," he says. "Simpler food - when you're doing a dinner party at home you don't want to spend the whole night in the kitchen and not with your guests and I think that's where getting people involved and simplifying recipes, that's how it all comes about."
He dismisses any suggestion his busy life would preclude too much entertaining. "You always find time for good food, friends and good wine," he says.