Andy, congratulations on Spice Temple's 10th birthday. Do you recall your first day there?
I remember it well. It was my daughter Lola's first birthday and I had to duck out of her birthday party so I could get to the kitchen and prep.
What were highlights from your Spice Temple research trips with chef Neil Perry?
I had no idea that many of the provincial embassies in Beijing and Shanghai had restaurants. At the Yunnan embassy, we discovered a really good slice of rubing, which is like haloumi. Wok-fried with Sichuan salt and pepper, it was amazing. Our braised lamb with steamed bread pockets were inspired by those we had at the Xinjiang embassy.
I hear your fish-drowned-in-heaven-facing-chilli dish recalls a near disaster in a Shanghai restaurant.
Neil turned to see a trainee chef holding a smoking vat of chilli oil with two tea towels, just inches from his head. It was a terrifying moment that turned into a breathtaking eating experience. The smoking oil was poured into a pot on the table, fresh green Sichuan peppercorns were added, followed by fresh chillies, onions, pork belly, beef and the whole lot was left to simmer.
Your knives have an interesting backstory.
I've had my cleavers for about 15 years. The heaviest is a Chinese barbecue cleaver I use to break down large marrow bones and joints of meat. I named it Sleeping Elephant after I cut myself badly and nearly broke a finger. I also have a medium-weight cleaver, Creeping Panther, which is used to cut up pork belly. My smallest cleaver, Black Jasmine, is finer and sharper and used to slice vegetables finely.
Spice Temple's menu warns diners of particularly hot dishes. How much chilli can you endure?
My chilli tolerance is pretty high. When I visit a Hunanese or Sichuan restaurant, I can handle most things. I usually ask them to go full throttle.
And how would you rate Neil Perry's capacity for spice? I wouldn't be keen to take on Neil in a chilli-eating contest. He's sure to win.
Spice Temple, 10 Bligh St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 8099 7088, spicetemple.com.au