If there was one restaurant whose identity is quintessentially Australian, Quay would have to be it. Perched over Sydney Harbour, you look across to the iconic Sydney Opera House while dining on the acclaimed contemporary cuisine of Peter Gilmore.
For almost two decades, Peter has been in the upper echelon of the world’s best chefs, so he’s perfectly placed to define Australia’s food identity. He’s narrowed it down to one word: freedom.
“Apart from our Indigenous history, Australia doesn’t have a long standing food history compared to countries like France or Japan,” says Peter.
“If I was a chef in France, I would have been born with a really strong French identity, but being an Australian chef, I have been exposed to so many different cuisines. So our identity is that sense of freedom and our willingness to open our palates to all different types of cuisines from around the world.
“The other thing is, we can grow all the ingredients for all those cuisines somewhere in our country from the tropics right down to the cool climate areas of Victoria and Tasmania, so we have access to incredible fresh produce, so I think that has a huge influence.”
From the earth
Diverse produce is a certainly a key component of Peter’s cuisine and a topic he explores in his recently released book, From the Earth. Throughout its beautifully photographed pages, Peter catalogues an extensive list of rare vegetables, detailing their history and flavour profiles as well as showcasing the boutique farmers who grow them for him at Quay.
“When I started growing vegetables in my own backyard 11 years ago, I realised how many unusual fruits and vegetables there are that are not in the mainstream market,” says Peter.
“Their difference is their thing. They have different profiles, looks, colours, flavours. As a chef, that is really interesting. It gives me a bigger palette to work from.”
Key to a new Quay
These heirloom vegetables play a key role in the new identity at Quay. For the first time in 16 years, the restaurant recently underwent a multi-million dollar face lift. The kitchen is bigger, the dining spaces more intimate. Gone too is the old menu, including the dish most people identify with Peter, his snow egg dessert.
“When we decided to renovate Quay, I knew I had to let go of some of the signature dishes and the snow egg was one of those,” says Peter.
“I am very proud that I created an iconic dish that people love. But you have to let go of things if you want to be creative and renew. So it wasn’t that hard for me to say goodbye.”
Of course, there is a new dessert, white coral – chocolate ganache that is aerated, put in liquid nitrogen and served on ice-cream. And while Peter admits it will probably be referred to as the new snow egg, he’s confident it will impress.
“It is very fragile and brittle and we ask the guests to tap it with a spoon and it just breaks apart. So there is a little bit of theatre, a bit of fun and that emphasises our new approach to the food at Quay.
“We are only doing a tasting menu now, so it’s allowed me a new structure – to take the diner on a holistic journey throughout the meal. It is about interaction without being too kitschy, but still maintaining the integrity of the dishes and ingredients.”