You’ve trained some very talented and successful chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Matt Tebbutt, Curtis Stone and Shannon Bennett. How do you bring out the best in your students?
Remember people like Curtis, people like Shannon, they came to me when they were very, very young men. And truthfully you don’t bring anything out of them, they’ve already done that so their success is all down to them. I did little for them, apart from giving them a job, and they worked very hard for me and they were very conscientious, but they had their dreams already and what’s interesting is later, seeing them both realise their dreams is amazing.
When you go to work in a 3 star Michelin, you set into that machine and you become part of that machine. You don’t question, you just do what you’re told and what you’re taught. It’s as simple as that. And it’s when you leave and you go in the big world to be your own man, it’s the knowledge which you are then given, that’s your foundation. They build the buildings. All you do get is assist in making their foundation for them, teaching them techniques, introducing them to flavours.
You once said MasterChef Australia the best cooking show in the world…
I stand by that.
And what do you think makes it so great?
MasterChef Australia, without question, is the greatest cooking show on Earth. One – the show travels to over a hundred countries globally. Number two – it kick-starts so many people’s careers. Number three; it inspires a nation to buy their own produce to cook at home and that can only lead to a happy family life.
What’s one piece of advice you can give to this years’ contestants?
Keep it simple. And think about the job at hand. It’s very easy to overwork a dish, it really is and I believe what’s important is to allow mother nature to be the star, allow the produce that you’re working with to show itself off rather than forcing it and over working it and overcomplicating it. If you put seven components on a plate – to deliver seven individual components perfectly is very difficult. If you put three components on a plate, you deliver them hot, cooked perfectly, so that’s easier.
What do you think of the Australian food scene?
I think the Australian food scene, is amazing. I really do. I think it’s better than what we serve in England. I mean, you think of that middle market and Australia delivers great food. And whenever I come to Australia, whether I’m in Melbourne or if I’m in Sydney, I always eat amazing food and whenever I’ve travelled outside of those cities I’ve always eaten very well as well. I can’t say the same about England.
This year, your iconic cookbook White Heat celebrates its 25th anniversary since it was first released. Did you have any idea the impact the book would have on the culinary world when it was first released?
Well what’s interesting is the book really started almost 30 years ago but because I was just so busy in the kitchen I never got round to doing it, and that’s why it became a picture book in the end. I think the publishers were so frustrated with me and so upset that I hadn’t delivered a manuscript and I missed all my deadlines and they got so frustrated with me that I think they almost threw the towel in and just thought, ‘Let’s print it and get him out of our lives.’ And what’s extraordinary about White Heat, well it’s not really a cooking book. And when you think, the last 25 years it’s been published every single year for 25 years. If you think with books, they get launched, then three months later they’re on Amazon, discounted. White Heat is still being printed every single year and if you think about it, it’s not a cooking book, it’s a picture book but what it did really well by pure default is give insight into the kitchen. Because before White Heat, the cooks inside kitchens were all blue-collar; from humble beginnings, working class. It was a blue-collar profession, no different to being a plumber and a mechanic, working down the mills, working down the mines, it was a profession for the working-classes. But what it did was, it gave the young insight into that world so the middle classes, the upper-classes, the aristocracies all wanted to be part of it in England. The genius was not me - I happened to be the boy in the kitchen. The real genius was Bob Carlos Clarke, who made dirty jobs look sexy, made them look glamorous. And that’s what inspired the world of gastronomy - Bob Carlos Clarke’s pictures.
How does the 25th anniversary edition of White Heat differ from the original?
It’s got a lot more pictures in it, it’s got a lot more writing in it. It’s about 64 pages thicker. So it’s a much bigger book. It’s still the same, the graphics are still the same, the food’s out of date – it is what it is – it’s almost 30 years old. But it launched in February and it’s now in its fifth reprint already, since February, it’s just extraordinary. It gets launched in America next month, and that’s its biggest market, America. I’ve sold more copies in America than most of the rest of the world put together.
Why is that?
I haven’t got a clue. I can’t answer that question but you look at what Anthony Bourdain says or what Mario Batali says or what Gordon Ramsey says and it’s quite extraordinary. And they share the impact on how the books changed their lives and or made them come into the trade and that’s amazing – how many people have entered the trade because they’ve seen that book.