Peter Doyle: 40 years at the top

By Mariam Digges

Peter Doyle: 40 years at the top
After 40 years in the business, Peter Doyle is still at the top of this game.

Seasonally driven, modern, French-influenced Australian cuisine has been Peter Doyle’s forte for four decades. From being named Apprentice of the Year when he graduated from TAFE in 1974, through to being among the first chefs to be “hatted” during the 80s, to his award-winning Reflections at Palm Beach; to the opening of his Cicada Restaurant in Potts Point in the 90s, Doyle has made a name for himself in the last decade after joining Merivale’s fine dining jewel, est in Sydney’s CBD.

“The Australian food scene has evolved in myriad ways I guess,” he tells me after wrapping up a busy Friday lunch service. “I mean, when I first started cooking in 1972, there wasn’t much happening in the food scene and there wasn’t much produce to use. A bit of a food revolution came towards the end of my apprenticeship and also with the Nouvelle movement in France – what we have today stems from that period, produce wise. It was an exciting time to learn to cook and has just kept evolving ever since, which is interesting.”

Growing up on a wheat and sheep farm in Leeton near Griffith in rural NSW, Doyle’s earliest memory involving food was of his father slaughtering a sheep each week to feed the family. In the 1970s, it was France’s Nouvelle Cuisine Movement, with pioneering chefs such as Michel Guérard, Georges Blanc, Roger Vergé and later Thomas Keller from The French Laundry who would be instrumental in his cuisine’s signature French twist.

“Being in Australia of course, I was influenced by Asian produce and flavours. But I also think it’s important for a chef to cook instinctively; you can’t make yourself use Asian flavours just for the sake of it.”

Retaining three chef’s hats at est up until this year since opening the restaurant in 2003, Doyle’s recipe for success is as non-nonsense as his demeanour: “I just come to work and look after my customers everyday. I know that sounds corny and clichéd but you need to stay inspired and happy with what you do.”

From 11-30 November, est will be celebrating Doyle’s greatest hits over his majestic 40-year career with a Best at est Tasting Menu.

“We didn’t want it to be totally retro (who wants to come in and eat totally retro food?) so what we’ve done is try to take different dishes that we’ve used at est over the years and present them in a current fashion. We have sashimi, some foie gras, there’s ravioloni of prawns and also lobster and crab boudin.”

Peter Doyle’s ‘best at est. Tasting Menu’ is happening 11-30 November; dinner at est. For bookings, phone: 9240 3000


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