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Meet: Peter Gilmore, chef

Photo - Peter Gilmore

Peter Gilmore is recognised as one of the most innovative chefs in the world.  His restaurant, Quay, regularly features on lists of the world’s best, and he has recently taken his magic touch to Bennelong at the Sydney Opera House.  

Much of Peter’s inspiration comes from experiments with unusual edibles in his own garden.


When did the garden bug bite?

Nine years ago I wanted to grow some herbs so I built a raised bed. I started with just the one - soon I had four. I took over the kids’ backyard basically and as compensation I bought them a trampoline. Then I planted up under that as well. My new garden is three years old and I have my four beds and they have a pool and trampoline.


Do you grow food for the family?

A little bit, but really this is a test garden for work. Every season I grow stuff I haven’t grown before to experiment. There is so much to explore! Our tastes have been so narrowed down by commercial horticulture. There is so much variety and inspiration in the plant world, and it gives me a huge platform to surprise people.


Early spring in Peter's garden. Photo - Robin Powell


What seed suppliers do you use? 

In Australia I use Diggers, Cornucopia and Eden; and Gourmet Seeds and Kitazawa in the US; Seedaholic in Ireland, and there are lots of others as well.


Do you take notes on all these new things you grow, or rely on your memory?

I keep a map so I know where I’ve planted things, but apart from that it’s memory. I taste the plant at all stages of its growth and experiment with different cooking methods as well: steam, sauté, poach in butter, char grill. I love the nurturing aspect of it – the miracle of planting a seed and then watching it develop.


What kind of growing methods do you use?

I prefer to sow direct rather than to transplant so I sow into beds prepared with the compost that I make. I use a lucerne mulch, and apart from seaweed and occasional dose of aged cow manure that’s it.


A celebration of the pea: 'Garden peas, cultured butter, sea salt, crisp pea blossoms'. Photo - Organum, Murdoch Books.


What happens when you do find something exciting that you’d like to use on your menus?

Sometimes it’s quick to get it on the menu, but often it takes three years for me to experiment, hand it over to my growers Tim and Elizabeth Johnstone, have them experiment with growing it for a season, and save enough seed to supply the restaurant the next season.


What are you excited about at the moment?

There’s an heirloom melon that I got from a US supplier. The guy was in Rajasthan and he says there were these fantastic-looking melons at the corner of a market stall. The stallowner was really reluctant to sell them, but the guy was persistent. He says they are the sweetest, tastiest melons - small, but delicious. I hope so!


Peter Gilmore’s book, Organum, published by Murdoch, $100, is a treat of incredible dishes, beautifully photographed, with inspiring stories about his trusted producers.

Text: Robin Powell

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Author: Robin Powell