Apr 09, 2018
Note to nervous chefs: want to avoid an earful from the world’s toughest culinary taskmaster? Have a fluffy bathrobe handy.
Where are you right now?
At The Langham [hotel] in Sydney.
And when you walk into a hotel room, what’s the first thing you do?
Check how comfy the dressing gown is. If it’s one of those thin and uncomfortable things, I’m already pissed off. So I go straight to the wardrobe to check the dressing gown then I have a shower, get into the dressing gown and relax.
Where did you go on your last trip?
To the Maldives with my family [wife Tana and children Megan, 19, twins Jack and Holly, 18, and Matilda, 16]. The kids dive so it was an amazing opportunity for them to get up to speed with the ecosystem and realise how important it is.
What was your typical childhood holiday?
I was born in Scotland but moved to England with my family when I was five. We came from a very humble background so we couldn’t travel that far but when we did, it was always to the beach. Some of my most favourite holidays were staying on a Scottish loch, a beautiful big reservoir – Loch Lomond, Loch Long or Loch Eck. We’d go camping and spend time in my uncle’s log cabin. It was beautiful.
Is there a destination you keep going back to?
Vietnam and Cambodia, from a chef’s perspective, are some of the most inspiring places I’ve ever been. India, too. Once, I started in north Rajasthan, went across to Nagaland on the Myanmar border then travelled all the way down to Kerala to spend two weeks in an ashram cooking the most extraordinary vegetarian food with all these monks.
When you’re in a foreign city for work, do you try to get out and see the sights?
I’m like a little maverick. Anything shiny that has opened in the past three or four months, I’m there. Whether it’s Austin, Texas, for the best barbecue or the latest tapas bar outside Barcelona, I’ve got to try it out.
What are you likely to bring home with you from a trip?
If it’s anywhere in Europe, a case full of jamón, olives and freshly pressed olive oil – local stuff through and through. Further abroad, it would be little trinkets from China or silverware that I could incorporate into my restaurants.
Have you ever taken a great road trip?
I drove from the top of France to the south at a thousand miles an hour when Tana and I started dating back in 1995. We stayed away from freeways and motorways for 10 days, stopping every eight to 10 hours at these amazing bed and breakfasts in different regions. When we arrived at the Alps it was summer so we spent a few days at Mont Blanc [Europe’s highest mountain]. The oxygen was very thin but the tips of the mountains were still covered in snow.
Have you ever been lost on your travels?
Yes, in Mumbai, India, where I was filming a television show years ago. I was at a market and the food got better and better the further I went. I was so excited about all the different stalls that I got completely distracted and couldn’t stop eating dosas [crisp, savoury pancakes]. Two hours later, when I’d arranged to meet the film crew, I was long gone – miles away. I literally lost my bearings through great food.
What’s been your most memorable dining experience?
I had the most extraordinary dinner last year at a place called Saison [it has three Michelin stars and is ranked the 37th best restaurant in the world] in the SoMa district of San Francisco. It’s something like 22 courses and the food is all seasonal. Talk about a restaurant on another level.
Which destination was a surprise to you?
Cape Town, South Africa. Great food, great wine, great beaches and amazing running tracks, too. It’s a nation absolutely packed with energy and that did surprise me.
Is there a city you could have given a miss?
Moscow. The traffic was insane. I spent four hours getting into the city and five hours getting out!
Where is your home away from home?
It would probably be 38,000 feet in the air. I’ve travelled 3.5 million air miles over the years. People say, “Oh my God, how do you put up with it?” But I f---ing love flying – it’s the only time in my life I get a moment to myself. I catch up on my favourite programs, whether it’s MasterChef, Top Chef, My Kitchen Rules… I think of flying as going to the cinema. ￼