Interview with Neil Perry, Qantas Airlines’ Executive Chef

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Creating in-flight meals for thousands of travelers isn’t an easy job

Perry also runs several restaurants in Australia. 

Neil Perry is a master chef in Australia.  He owns several restaurants and is the executive chef for Qantas, and he has some interesting things to say about his culinary adventures.

The Daily Meal: How did you get into cooking?
Neil Perry:
My father really ignited my love of food and cooking. He was a butcher and exposed me to a variety of cuisines from a really early age.  He would often take us to Chinatown for dumplings and other regional dishes and when cooking at home, we would often use fresh ground species to create curries and other Asian dishes.   

How do you work with suppliers? 
Our suppliers are an integral part of business and without them, and their dedication to providing us with the best produce possible, we wouldn’t be able to deliver the quality that we do.  We treat them with the utmost respect, as they do us, and ensure that we get the best and freshest seasonal produce, delivered every day.

What is your specialty?  
That’s like asking me to choose a favorite child!  It’s impossible to answer as I love cooking all cuisines, especially Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Italian, French, Spanish, Mexican…the list goes on.

What’s your process for planning the meals for Qantas?
I have a team of 10 who work solely for Qantas and we have menu ideation workshops which involve my Exec Chefs from all the restaurants, plus the Qantas team, plus myself about nine months out from each menu launch.  This ideation workshop produces hundreds of dish ideas which we then place in our global menu plan; create recipes for; test the recipes in a commercial kitchen and then communicate and launch worldwide.  On top of that we work hard with the cabin crew to ensure they know exactly what steps are required to cook, plate and serve the dishes onboard. 

What have you learned about meals for passengers in flight? 
So many things – we’ve learned that on our menus we need to have as broad a range of dish styles, proteins, vegetables, spice and flavor as we possibly can because everyone has a different opinion about food.  We have also learned that getting the crew to ‘finish’ the dishes inflight – whether it’s actually cooking the proteins to order, or making fresh vinaigrettes in the galley, or adding fresh garnishes, salsas, spices and dressings makes a huge difference to the quality of the customers’dining experience. 

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What are your plans for the future?  
For Qantas, we have over the last year and a half introduced the Qantas Rockpool Sommelier and Mixology team who now work hard with Qantas to choose the wines for the customers to enjoy inflight and in the lounges, as well as create cocktails for our premium lounge customers.  Over the next twelve months we would like to integrate the food, wine and cocktails to a greater degree to give the customers a really flavor focused dining experience.