Pete Evans: Healthy, Happy and Wise
Where are you originally from?
I was born in Melbourne and raised on the Gold Coast. I moved back to Melbourne to do my cooking apprenticeship and at the age of 22 I moved up to the Eastern Suburbs. So half my life I’ve lived in the Eastern Suburbs and now my wife and I live at Casuarina Beach in northern New South Wales. I commute between Casuarina and here with my kids and with work. I’m on the road nine or ten months of the year.
What do you love about the Eastern Suburbs?
There’s just something in the air; it’s the culture. It’s an international destination that we can be very proud of, as far as the arts go, as far as food goes and as far as natural beauty goes. I travel a lot, all over the world, and there is no place better than Australia, especially the east coast. I surfed out here yesterday at North Bondi with my daughter Indii and we had the break to ourselves for an hour. It’s just bizarre and amazing that you can still get a non-crowded wave in Bondi.
Do you have any favourite local haunts?
I’m actually heading over to North Bondi Fish after this interview. That and Sean’s Panoroma are my two favourite places to eat if I do eat out in Sydney. Neither ever disappoints. And Orchard St in Bondi is one of my favourites spots too; I pop in there and get drinks from time to time, salad bowls too. There’s something for everyone in Bondi, no matter your budget.
There are so many new restaurants opening in the Eastern Suburbs, particularly in Bondi; do you think the bubble will eventually burst?
I think the good ones will stay and have a good run and the bad ones will disappear and they’ll get replaced by new ones. It comes down to consistency.
Do you think Hugo’s Bondi, your first foray into Sydney dining, would have been as successful in the current climate as it was back in the day?
We opened twenty years ago and at the time there was Sean’s, which was fantastic, and the Tratt – two great institutions. We just added another element to the mix, I guess. We operated that for over ten years and we were extremely successful, but the average working week for us was over 80 hours. We just had that passion to produce excellent food and excellent service. That’s timeless.
Why did you close Hugo’s Bondi down?
We’d had it for over ten years. As a group we were looking at other businesses in Kings Cross and Manly. We always put it down to the Seinfeld thing: we had 10 really bloody good years at Bondi, and we’d achieved what we wanted to achieve. It was like, what’s next? What’s bigger and better?
What gets your goat about the Eastern Suburbs?
People swimming where they’re not supposed to, in the surfing area. That’s probably my biggest gripe, especially where the kids are learning to surf. As a dad, you just want them to be able to have a great time without worrying about hitting someone.
What made you want to become a chef?
It was really just to learn a life skill first and foremost. I needed to get a trade and I looked at all the trades available – electrician, builder, plumber – and no disrespect to those trades, they’re fantastic, but was that going to give me a life skill I would be able to carry on with for the rest of my life? It wasn’t until I picked up a cooking apprenticeship that the passion started to grow, because most kids when they’re 17, they don’t know what they want to do.
Did you ever imagine that you’d receive the accolade of ‘best pizza in the world’?
We were best breakfast in Sydney, too. We won so many different awards and chef’s hats over the years. The pizza one wasn’t actually for Bondi, it was something we did in Kings Cross. A lot of people always emphasise the pizza thing. It was an important part of the business, but there was more to Hugo’s and more to our cooking ability than making pizza.
Even though you weren’t an owner at the time, were you sad to see the demise of Hugo’s Lounge in Kings Cross?
I get disappointed when any business closes. It’s always quite sad to see.
What are your thoughts on Sydney’s lockout laws?
I have no thoughts really on it at all. I don’t go out at night to drink, so I’m a little bit oblivious to it. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been out past 8 o’clock. As a young father and someone who cares about their health, I’m not a big partier, so lockout laws just don’t affect me.
Do you own any restaurants at the moment?
No. I consult on two restaurants. There’s a third one about to open that I’ll consult on as well. One in Brisbane, one in Perth and a new one coming in South Australia. I’ve got no ties to any Sydney venues at the moment, but I’m always happy to jump on board if someone is keen on investing.
You’ve worked with your brother Dave a lot in the past; do you think doing business with family is harder or easier?
I can’t comment on that because I guess every situation is completely different. I mean working with my family was one of the greatest experiences of my life, for sure. I got to work with my brother, my best mate, my dad and a couple of other mates and I have very fond memories of that time. I see myself as an entrepreneur and not all of the things that I touch turn to gold, but I love the freedom to be able to create and I’ve now got myself in that position where I can do that. It’s fun.
You’ve been a judge on Channel 7’s My Kitchen Rules (MKR) since 2010…
Yeah we’ve done our eighth season this year and we’ll be back for season nine next year. I’ve just recently done MKR New Zealand too, which is the first hosting gig over there for Manu (Fieldel) and I. I also host another TV series in America, so I spend six to eight weeks over there every year. It’s called A Moveable Feast and it’s on PBS. I get to cook paleo food on there and get to work with America’s top chefs. We’re heading into our fifth series this year. It’s been Emmy nominated. This year I’m co-hosting it with Curtis Stone for the first time, just because I didn’t want to spend as much time away from my family as I have in the past. MKR’s been a great journey, though. I’m very proud to be a judge.
Why do you think the show has been such a success?
It’s a family show. It’s got something for everyone. Kids can watch it, parents can watch it, and the grandparents can watch it. The secret to MKR is it has cooking as its main drawcard, but then it’s got the entertainment value on top, with real Aussies representing different states. There’s that patriotic, sporting fued behind it. You’re going for your favourite team or your favourite state. And there are always teams who will rub people up the wrong way, but then there are always teams that people can resonate with. It’s like a menu. When you write a menu, you don’t always have dishes on there that everybody’s going to like. There’ll be some on there that some people would never want to eat in their life, but as a chef you put on those dishes because everyone has different tastes.
Why should people watch MKR in 2017?
If they’ve got an interest in food and they want their children to grow up with an interest in food and health, MKR and MasterChef are two shows that I think Australia can be very proud of at the moment. They’re both promoting multiculturalism, they’re both creating an awareness for different cuisines and cultures around the world, and the nutritional aspect of it, all this food knowledge kids are getting, is such an amazing journey.
Do you prefer working in television or in the kitchen?
I did 20 hard years in the kitchen, averaging around 80-hour weeks, sometimes 100-hour weeks, for quite a period of time, so I’m lucky enough to have had two careers – one in the kitchen, and one now in media while still keeping a toe in the kitchen. I do national tours, teaching people how to eat healthily. I produced my own TV show as well, called The Paleo Way, and now a new one I’m doing is called Healthy Every Day. I’ve spent the last three years creating a documentary that’s coming out later this year. That’s what’s exciting about being a chef; you can spread your wings into many different areas.
Do you think fame changes people?
We all change and we all grow. I’m still the same kid from the Goldie that likes to surf and eat good food and spend time with family. I don’t think I’ve really changed that much. Maybe I’ve become a little more confident in front of the camera or become more confident in my cooking ability, but maybe perceived fame can actually change the people closest to you.
What advice would you give to 22-year-old Pete Evans moving up to Sydney for the first time?
Nothing. I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s led me here sitting across from you, looking at North Bondi. I’ve got two wonderful kids. I’ve got a wonderful wife now. I’ve also had wonderful life experiences. It’s created who I am.
You’re known widely as ‘Paleo Pete’ as a result of your passion for the Paleo diet; are you still a firm believer in the philosophy or was that just a ploy to sell more books?
No, I 1000 per cent believe it. At this point in time, more and more science and research is coming out recommending Paleo. Paleo just means old. Basically in a nutshell it’s meat and three veg. Really. That’s what we’re promoting. Seafood and three veg if you like. There’s nothing crazy about it. It’s how our ancestors lived; it’s how we’ve gotten here. I can only go by how I feel on it, and I’m a completely new person from eating this way – as far as energy level goes, as far as clarity goes, as far as general well-being goes. Each and every person that I speak to who adopts this lifestyle 100 per cent – because you’ve got to do it 100 per cent – feels fantastic. In the five years I’ve been promoting it myself I’ve had 40,000 people do my 10-week program and I still haven’t had one person say it doesn’t work.
Do you still activate your almonds?
I actually don’t have too many almonds to be completely honest. I never really had that many to start with. But yeah, if you’re going to eat your nuts it’s a good idea to activate them, which basically means to soak them overnight. It’s a pretty simple, ancient process.
Do you find it amusing how much attention the activating of your almonds has created? It’s probably one of your better marketing tools…
Yeah, it’s been brilliant. If you go into supermarkets now they’ve got activated almonds or nuts on their shelves. They’ve got packaged foods that say Paleo on them in there, although I wouldn’t recommend people eat that stuff because some of it’s a little bit dubious. To create a healthy debate around what we put into our own bodies is something that needs to happen.
One of your books, ‘Bubba Yum Dum: The Paleo Way for New Mums, Babies and Toddlers’, caused a massive hullabaloo after some of the advice given within it was said to be potentially deadly for babies; do you have any regrets after publishing that book?
No, I published it myself. It’s out there in the marketplace. I’ve had no emails from any organisation or anyone out there to say I shouldn’t have that book out there. It was a marketing ploy by the people against us.
Any parent will tell you that getting a child to eat anything remotely healthy is often hard work; do you ever think you raise expectations too high?
It depends on what kids have started with in life. If you start feeding them bland foods or sugary foods or foods with no flavour, it’s going to be very difficult to change their ways overnight to get them to appreciate different types of spices and vegetables and whatnot. The other night a guy said to me, “Well how do I get my 3-year-old to stop eating white bread with Vegemite?” I said, “Stop f**king feeding him that. Are you that stupid? Why are you feeding him white bread with Vegemite in the first place?” If you don’t have the time to feed your children healthy food, real food, then why are you having children in the first place? Once upon a time all our ancient civilisations and tribes around the world would prepare for childbirth. They would make sure the mother would have the best parts of the kill. Kids’ health these days is going downhill dramatically, so think about what to feed yourself prior to reproducing and while they’re inside you.
You’re opposed to the fluoridation of water, why?
It should be a choice that people get to make. Books I’ve got at home, one is the case against fluoride written by different professors from overseas, and the other one is called The Fluoride Deception. These are backed up by pages and pages of all the scientific studies that say that the fluoride that’s going into our water is a man-made fluoride, which is a neurotoxin. Why are we putting it into our water supply? For me, it makes no sense whatsoever. What I’m saying is that people should have a choice.
You often give advice on social media; how should social media users process that information to make sure they’re doing what’s right for them?
You don’t have to believe anything I’ve said, but give it a try. Give up milk for three months, or dairy. It isn’t going to kill you. If it were going to kill you we wouldn’t be here today. You only have to look as far as Australian Aboriginals: were they sucking on cow’s milk to get their calcium intake before European settlement? Put it this way, they were not dying off. They had every opportunity to live to an old age just like we do now.
The media often portrays you in a bad light; how do you feel about that and how do you deal with it?
That’s because I always bring up the lies that they’re putting out there. Sometimes someone will post something mean on my Facebook page. I delete it. I understand the world of modern media. What they’re trying to do is sensationalise headlines and create polarisation.
You’re the father of two young daughters, have a wife and an ex-wife: how do you find balancing work and family?
It’s easy. I’m usually a year in advance with my schedule. First it’s all about family holidays, and then the work commitments fit in around that. It can be pretty full on, but I haven’t been run down or sick. I’m still surfing every day.
Do you have any advice for youngsters wanting to get into the food business?
Work with the best and find what resonates with you the best, because you’re just going to waste your time if you’re not working somewhere that excites you. It doesn’t have to be a three-hat restaurant. It can be a smaller place that’s doing something that resonates with you. If you’ve got a health conscious mind then go and work at a health conscious place. If you want to be a three Michelin star chef, go find work with those guys. But be prepared to work hard.
Do you have any role models in the industry?
I’m inspired by a lot of people. Social media is just a brilliant tool so I’m constantly inspired by chefs around the world, pushing the boundaries of what they can do and how they can put it on the plate. It doesn’t have to be someone famous, it can be anybody that I can get inspiration from.
Do you support any charities?
Yes. The Sydney Children’s Hospital has always been very close to my heart, as has the Mindd Foundation, which I’ve supported over the years. I’m also associated with the Hope for Health charity in Arnhem Land. There are so many charities out there that still haven’t worked out the connection between food and health. Hopefully one day they’ll see that.
Any idea what the future holds for ‘Paleo’ Pete Evans?
More of the same – more surfing, more family time, more cooking, more eating, more sleeping, more living. That’s about it. If we have a thirst for knowledge and giving back, then I think we’ll stay young for a very long time.