There was one word to sum up the cooking philosophy that embodies the ideals of the multi-award winning chef Luke Mangan, it would have to be sharing. As the youngest of seven boys growing up in Melbourne in the ’70s, it’s no wonder Mangan never lost his appetite for big, noisy, casual dinners.
“My mum is a great cook. She’s 85 now, but I remember her cooking simple things, like lots of soups and stews and legs of lamb. I’ve always liked the idea of sharing food, putting something in the middle of a big table and digging in.”
The recipes in his latest cookbook Salt Grill: Fine Dining for the Whole Family , reflect this unfussy approach to creating food that looks as impressive as it tastes.
“I wanted this book to include recipes that everyone could make. I’m all for fine dining, but I also love the idea of inviting friends over for dinner, getting them involved, cutting up veggies, having a glass a wine, and just enjoying it all.”
Growing up, Mangan hated school and at 15 he left to train at Melbourne’s Two Faces restaurant under Hermann Schneider. Fast forward and he’s now a world-renowned chef who’s cooked for Richard Branson, Bill Clinton and the Danish Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary.
He operates 10 restaurants (he recently opened a Salt Grill in Jakarta) and has worked with some of the most respected names in the industry.
Conscious of varying skill levels and budgets, Mangan didn’t want to write an intimidating cook book that rarely gets opened, or worse, one that never gets splashed by warm butter or a dripping spoon.
“It’s really about keeping things simple. The book has recipes for everyone, so if you’re new to cooking, start with the tapas, or the crab omelette, enoki mushroom salad and miso broth.”
For the more experienced cooks, Mangan suggests some of his desserts, including the licorice parfait, a fixture at every Salt establishment since 1995.
A signature dish, the chef says he’s made the rich, creamy dessert “thousands of times”, but still enjoys updating the original recipe to keep things interesting.
Commenting on the recent suggestion that Australians are shifting away from expensive, extravagant foodie experiences in favour of food trucks, and more casual dining, Mangan says there is room for both.
“Trends come and go. I was never a big fan of molecular cooking because a lot of chefs just followed the trend and didn’t really understand the basics. I’m wary of trends. Right now I think there’s a real return to simplicity and so long as you stay creative, recipes that use good quality produce will always be the way to go.”
What’s the one cooking myth you’d like to bust?
All this stuff about creeping around the oven when you’re cooking a soufflé. It’s not true!
Don’t skimp on?
Olive oil and salt.
Advice for new ‘at home’ cooks?
Start off small, have a few friends over, but cook something you know that works. A lot of people try new and complicated recipes, and end up spending half the night in the kitchen.
Salt Grill: Fine Dining for the Whole Family, Murdoch Books, $59.99.