Qantas chef Neil Perry on pasta, Aussie produce and Project Sunrise

Perry serves up a slice of Italy on Qantas’ new flights to Rome.

By Sid Raja , July 26 2022
Qantas chef Neil Perry on pasta, Aussie produce and Project Sunrise

Neil Perry loves food. Italians love food. So it comes as no surprise that the Qantas chef loves Italy, and has even since his first visit to Rome in 1984.

After a morning spent touring one of the city’s myriad of produce markets, Executive Traveller sat down with the multi-hatted chef to hear about bringing a taste of Italy to Qantas’ new seasonal flights to Rome, which have been so successful they’ll return in 2023.

Perry’s relationship with Qantas stretches has back 25 years, beginning with redesigning its Boeing 747 first class inflight dining in 1997.

As Qantas’ Creative Director for Food, Service and Beverage, Perry and his team curate the airline’s premium menus in the air and at airport lounges – a task which calls for developing over 700 recipes per year.

“I was blown away by the quality of the ingredients, this incredible salumi and various prosciuttos and mortadellas, the amazing vegetables and things that we didn't necessarily have in Australia at the time,” the award-winning restaurateur recounts.

He’s quick to stress that Italian food is so much more than the archetypes of pizza and pasta, “although they do both brilliantly, but they celebrate the hero ingredients of their country including citrus, olives, fresh seafood and tomatoes.”

Almost 40 years on, Perry raises a glass to what he describes as a “game-changing”  transformation of Australian produce, largely driven “by multicultural Australia from the early seventies.”

“When you look at the quality of Australian meats, cheese and fish, and the vegetables we can now get, we’ve got some of the best produce in the world.”

Perry’s latest mission for Qantas is almost a ‘coals to Newcastle’ task: using that produce to create an Italian-themed menu for Australians jetting off on a Roman holiday.

From Rome, with love: Perry's maccheroncelli pasta is served in business class with amatriciana sauce and pecorino.
From Rome, with love: Perry's maccheroncelli pasta is served in business class with amatriciana sauce and pecorino.

“We’re incorporating beautiful Italian ingredients and recipes into our main menus,” Perry explains, including “a beautiful prawn spaghetti with mint and pistachio in business class, that’s a very Sicilian-inspired dish.”

“On the way back (to Perth) we have all’ Amatriciana, a very classic Roman dish, along with some mozzarella, salumi, artichokes, olives and all those things which are perfect for snacking in small bars.”

Another influence on Perry’s la dolce vita-themed menu is research done by Qantas into the impact on jetlag of what travellers eat, as well as when they eat it – work initially carried out ahead of the airline’s launch of direct flights from Perth to London in 2018.

“We’ve taken those learnings from London and now we're working in a similar pattern for Perth- Rome,” Perry says, “but the ultimate goal is Project Sunrise” – Qantas’ ambitious plan for non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York, set to take off in late 2025.

Planning for Project Sunrise

“Those ultra-long, 20-to 22-hour flights are where we're expecting to integrate even more of those learnings in the menu design,” he tells Executive Traveller.

“We’re looking at planning towards those ultra-long flights and making sure we're getting the balance right on the sort of things people want to eat at the appropriate times of day, depending on when the flights are.”

However, Perry is adamant that passengers will still have no shortage of choice, with plenty of ‘comfort food’ remaining on the menu.

“We don’t want to proscribe to people (what they eat), we’re just giving them advice on what we believe from those learnings and from our expedience.”

“And the aircraft itself, the A350, is pretty amazing in what we can do with lighting patterns and the extra humidity and fresh air intake,” Perry says.

“Certainly you already notice with the 787 a big difference in dehydration, how your eyes feel and less tiredness when you get off… I think the new ultra-long range A350s are the next level up from that.”

“The end goal is ultra-long flying with less effect on your body and through jet lag, and what we can do in food and also rehydration plays a massive party in that.”

The writer travelled to Rome as a guest of Qantas

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