Chef of the week: NEIL PERRY


Neil Arthur Perry (born 29 June 1957) is one of Australia’s leading and most influential chefs. He has managed several quality restaurants in Sydney and today concentrates on his numerous restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, and Rockpool Consulting.

Perry was born in Sydney and attended Newington College and Drummoyne High School. At Newington he wasn’t allowed to have long hair and so he used to grow his hair in the holidays and roll it up in combs when he went back to school. The school sergeant recognized what he was doing and sent him to the barber to have it cut off. In Year 10 he rang his mother and said; “I’m leaving school.” So he left and went to Drummoyne High and didn’t cut his hair for two years. That was how a ponytail became his signature look.

      Prior to joining the hospitality industry Perry started an apprenticeship as a hairdresser before dropping out and working as a waiter. This is where he found his calling as a chef.

     Perry’s career in the hospitality industry began with managing Sails restaurants at the Sydney suburb of McMahons Point, and then at Rose Bay. This was where most of Neil’s floor management skills were learnt. By the time he was 24 he found himself gravitating towards the kitchen, and realised his passion for cooking by working with, and learning from over the ensuing years, chefs such as Damien Pignolet, Gay Bilson, Stephanie Alexander, Steve Manfredi and David Thompson. Although he uses the title, Perry never actually completed a chef apprenticeship.

Neil became head chef at Barrenjoey Restaurant, Palm Beach and was given creative control over Perry’s in Paddington. In October 1986, Neil opened the Blue Water Grill at Bondi Beach which became an overnight success. He then opened Rockpool in February 1989 with his business partner and cousin Trish Richards, with the intention of establishing one of Australia’s finest restaurants. After only six months it was voted Sydney’s best new restaurant in the Good Food Guide and over the years has gone on to win a long list of awards, both in Australia and overseas.

In 2007, Perry opened Rockpool Bar & Grill in Melbourne. Less formal than Rockpool, the restaurant is an upmarket steakhouse, located in Crown Casino. High quality beef cooked over wood-fire grill, supported by a modern and international à la carte menu form the backbone of the food served. In spite of the riskiness of opening a large restaurant (serving up to 200 people a day) in a venue as high profile and lucrative as Crown Casino, the restaurant has proved a major success for Perry. Rockpool Bar & Grill Melbourne has also received positive reviews from critics since opening, including being awarded two coveted “chefs hats” in the Melbourne Good Food Guide.

Meanwhile this same year, having maintained Rockpool for almost two decades as a Sydney fine dining restaurant, Perry finally decided to close the restaurant and reopen with a change of direction as a “casual seafood venue” instead. Perry cited a lack of will to continue operating Rockpool at the demanding and highly competitive level he had been as the main reason for the change. The restaurant was renamed Rockpool (fish) and continued to receive positive reviews in its new form.

Though this new incarnation of Rockpool as Rockpool (fish) had only been opened for a brief time, in mid-2008 Perry had a change of heart and suddenly announced that Rockpool would be returning to its original form as a fine-diner. As Perry put it: “Rockpool classic”. The restaurant has since reopened, with an ethos and menu akin to its old form.

2009 saw the opening of two more Perry restaurants in Sydney, both located in the same art deco building on Bligh St in Sydney’s CBD. First to open was Spice Temple in the basement level. Like the now-defunct XO Perry opened in Surry Hills some years ago, Spice Temple represents another foray by Perry into more traditional Asian cuisine—specifically regional Chinese food this time—given a sophisticated polish. Spice Temple was soon followed by the opening in the above level of a sibling installment of Melbourne’s successful Rockpool Bar & Grill.

Spice Temple restaurant

Neil also heads a team of five consultants to Qantas Airways. Menus are developed quarterly for International First and Business travellers, with the team overseeing the implementation and introduction to catering centres at key ports. The Rockpool Consulting team is integral to the food and wine training and communication for all premium flight attendants, and in addition work with Qantas to develop service delivery to reflect a more modern in-flight dining experience.

Besides, Neil is the author of numerous cookbooks, which include Rockpool Bar & Grill (1997), Simply Asian (2000), The Food I Love (2005), Good Food (2007) and Balance & Harmony (2008).

      Perry is also a notable food personality within Australia, appearing on Channel Nine’s food program, Fresh and being a major presenter on channel the digital subscribers network, Foxtel, on the LifeStyle and LifeStyle Food channels in Australia and on BBC2 in Britain. He has also recently starred on Martha Stewart’s shows. His series are promoted under the banners of:

     Rockpool Sessions

Commenced in October 2004, the seven-part half-hour series profiles the restaurant Perry as chef. The series also features some of Australia’s most renowned chefs. Along with Perry who is the host, Armando Percuoco, Guillaume Brahimi, Karen Martini, David Thompson, Steve Manfredi and Tetsuya Wakuda contribute to and provide information and opinions on the themes of each episode. He has also appeared on the MasterChef Australia (season 2).

     Food Source Neil Perry/Asia/New Zealand/Far North Queensland

Food Source is an insider’s guide to food in Australia and features leading Australian Chefs, food and wine producers and over 20 recipes. The series began in 2001, with series 4 (Food Source:Far North Queensland) being filmed in 2004. It continues to be shown on the LifeStyle channel, the LifeStyle Food channel and BBC2.

     Fresh & Fast/Fresh & Fast Christmas Special

Neil Perry Fresh & Fast is a 13-part series

     Neil Perry – High Steaks

The series premiered 21 May 2007 on The LifeStyle Channel. It shows the journey of Perry setting up a steakhouse venue in Melbourne. Perry deals with set-up costs of $4.5million.

The first episode shows before Perry opening up Rockpool Bar & Grill Melbourne, he was involved in expanding the Rockpool brand to London but had failed in a deal to establish a location in London. By the end of the series, he successfully opened Rockpool Melbourne and received good reviews for Rockpool Sydney and Melbourne. He was also looking to expand the brand into New York or London.

Neil Perry is a Board Member of the Bestest Foundation for Kids. Bestest raises funds for children who fall outside the standard boundaries of the larger established charities and helps get these children support to battle an illness, obtain equipment for disabilities, gain access to education or provide urgent assistance to children at risk. 100% of all funds raised goes directly to children in need.

Perry is a principal supporter of the Bestest Gala Dinner and has managed to secure the support of Chefs from around the world to donate time and resources for this charity dinner. In 2008 over 50 chefs from Australia’s best restaurants participated with teams from Matt Moran (Aria), Guillaume Brahimi (Guillaume at Bennelong), Philip Johnson (E’cco), Shannon Bennet(Vue de Monde) and Scott Hallsworth.

Source: rockpool.com, Wikipedia, Google

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