Pete Evans is a major celebrity chef in Australia, but if you don't know his name yet, don't worry... you will, because
Pete is poised to take over the U.S.
His first American book, My Grill, has just been released (at more than 200 pages, this is the ultimate grilling book and covers literally everything you could possibly make outdoors -- from ribs to French toast and pizza). He's grilled ribs on The Today Show and is doing a book tour at Williams-Sonoma shops across the country.
We met Pete at Soho Beach House for a lunch interview, which quickly turned into hilarity. Wobbly tables, homeless clam shells, and one extremely charming (and handsome) Aussie chef made for a great afternoon.
Clean Plate Charlie: First off, this is one beautiful book. Is the dog on the cover yours?
Pete Evans: Nope. He was my friend's. We shot the cover at his ranch, and the dog just came up and shared a burger with me. We had a moment, and that turned out to be the cover of the book. Unfortunately, this was a sheep ranch, and the dog started killing sheep.
You didn't feed him a lamb burger, did you?
[laughing -- thankfully] No... I didn't.
You opened your first restaurant at 19 -- that's a bit young, isn't it?
I opened it with my brother and his best friend in Melbourne. It was just a small café. I'm from Queensland, which is sunny, like Miami. My business partner stayed in Melbourne, and my brother and I went to Sydney. Melbourne is at the bottom of Australia, and it's cold there. I don't like the cold; I like the beach.
So we went to Sydney, which is the major city in Australia. It's where everything gets done. We set up a restaurant in Bondi Beach. It was modern Australian food.
What is modern food in Australia?
It's really hard to define. It's multicultural. We're like America in that we're a melting pot of peoples, so Australians grab onto that. In my restaurant, for instance, I've had a Japanese dish, a Moroccan dish, a Chinese dish. You wouldn't open a French restaurant per se; you would open a modern Australian restaurant where you could have all these influences.
[By the way, we had a wobbly table and the server keeps trying to fix it as we're talking and it gets funnier and funnier.]
So I got to experiment with all different cuisines. Which as a chef is great, because if you have an Italian restaurant, you get to cook only Italian. I had fun with experimentation. There are no rules. I wouldn't call it fusion, because I believe that if a dish is from a country, you keep it authentic, but you can use local produce and interpret it any way you like. For instance, you can cook a fish and then make a curry sauce and deconstruct it instead of making a traditional fish curry.
That was 20 years ago, and over time, we got to be one of the most popular restaurants in Sydney for ten years. Rock stars and movie stars would go to the restaurant. My profile built, and the restaurant's profile built, and we opened a nightclub in our red-light district. Because what would happen in our restaurant is that we'd do very elaborate fancy food, but our philosophy was to have fun. We'd hire people with great personalities, and we'd teach them the skills they needed.
We would much rather have fun people, and we'd all get pissed at the end of the night and have lock-ins with staff and customers. So then we decided we'd have a nightclub and concentrate on the food at the restaurant.
Then I opened a pizzeria six years ago. I studied pizzas for a while. In 2005, we won a best pizza in the world in New York competition.
Wait -- an Australian pizza won... in New York?
Yup. We came in third in Vegas this year. My chef was in tears that we didn't win. Well, technically we did win, but there was an issue with tallying the scores.
[Pete, by the way, ordered pasta with fresh clams but didn't get a plate for the shells.]
What do I do with the shells? Maybe I'll put them under the wobbly table.
Really, not a day goes by without my eating seafood. I wrote a book, Fish, that covered 80 different species of fish with 140 recipes. It's fabulous. It's my favorite book.
When did it come out?
About five years ago. I want to talk about doing a tour around America because I want to see it, and I want to go fishing and write an American version of it.
You should just push back everything and go fishing in the Keys right now.
That would be fun. I would love to push my appointments back and go fishing because I haven't seen anything yet.
Back to the books -- what was your next one?
The second book I did was called My Table, which was a very honest interpretation of what I cook at home and what my friends and family cook -- my mother, my mother-in-law.
So it's very personal.
Yes. I also like to experiment and diversify my brand. My restaurants, my television shows, and my books are all different. This current book, My Grill, has a lot of meat in it, and it's very masculine. A get a lot of men coming up to me, saying they tried a recipe and loved it. The biggest kick I get is when someone says they cooked one of my recipes.
You're a celebrity TV chef in Australia.
I did a daily cooking show for two years. It was a half-hour show a day -- four episodes per week for two years. My audience for that was very female skewed. I got to cook 400 episodes with four dishes a day.
Are you a heartthrob in Australia?
Not really, no. I don't push it.
Really? You honestly don't have women flocking to you?
A couple. A couple more now. The show I've been doing just finished airing, and that's on prime time. I'm a judge and host on the show, similar to Top Chef, but it's for amateurs. It's in pairs. Mothers and daughters, couples. There was a couple that were supposed to be happily divorced, and you could see they obviously weren't.
But I work with another French chef, a brilliant chef back home, and he's my co-host, and the women just love him. I fly under the radar for a bit. He's on the Australian Dancing With the Stars. They asked me, but I said no.
You wouldn't go on Dancing?
I'd do it here because no one knows me. But he's the cheffy heartthrob. I'm just the sidekick.
Do you like the States?
I've got to go back to Australia and film the next season of my TV show. I was asked to host a show on Food Network, but I had other obligations. I would like in the next five years to have a presence over here, not only in books but on television and a restaurant. Maybe Los Angeles. LA isn't so far. Only a hop skip and a jump.
Yeah, it's five, six movies and a few cocktails. Not so bad at all.
Watch Pete make BBQ prawns with avocado salsa here, and stay tuned for part 2 of our interview.
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