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  • Sergio Perera

Spanish Mission

Nourishing Mediterranean fare that nods to the past, from a world-leading chef. By Sergio Perera. Photographs by Jason Loucas.

Breakfast at Casa Maria Luigia, the inn run by the chef Massimo Bottura and his wife, Lara Gilmore, in Modena, includes a frittata of the day.

For Spanish-born chef Sergio Perera, food is a time portal: certain flavours catapult him back to his childhood in Spain and his early travels in Italy, while others harken back to his time spent training at traditional kaiseki restaurants in Japan and at some of the world’s best restaurants such as El Bulli, Arzak and Mugaritz, and his later travels around the world before he finally settled in Australia. 

In his new book, “A Memory of Taste: A Culinary Journey Through Time”, Perera shares recipes that reflect the journey of his life — a “greatest hits” of favourite dishes he has re-created in his own signature style. Simple and bold Mediterranean flavours meld with Japanese ingredients and techniques to create nourishing, easy-to-prepare meals. 

“These are my stories and recipes that influenced my cooking and my philosophy behind the self-nurture of eating and cooking good food for myself and others,” Perera says. He recalls the braised rabbit his grandfather prepared that left an “indelible mark” on his memory.

As a celebrity chef who has worked with the likes of Chris Hemsworth (Perera played a key role in the development of Hemsworth’s Centr app, writing recipes and diet programs), Robert Downey Jr, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Cruise — plus numerous athletes — healthy, nutritious eating and holistic wellness are at the heart of all he does. This philosophy is backed by his certification in nutritional science. 

As a brand ambassador for Winnings, Perera is on a mission to prove that good food can be nutritious and delicious, while remaining simple enough to prepare at home. So you really can have your cake and eat it, too. 

Tortilla vaga (open-faced omelette) with Spanish ham, leek and sea urchin 

Serves 4 | Prep 10 minutes | Cook 8 minutes


4 medium potatoes

5 eggs

100g leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced

100g Iberico ham

6 pickled guindilla peppers

50g fresh sea urchin (can substitute with tinned mussels in escabeche)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Light olive oil, for frying

Extra virgin olive oil, for finishing

Sherry vinegar, for finishing


Peel and slice the potatoes using a mandolin set to 1.5mm thickness. Put the slices in a bowl of cold water and soak for 10 minutes. Drain and spin them in a salad spinner until all the water is removed. In a large deep pot, heat the light olive oil to 170°C and carefully add a quarter of the sliced potatoes. Fry while constantly moving them around with a slotted spoon, until golden and crispy. Transfer to a bowl lined with paper towel, then repeat with the remaining potato slices. Set aside.

In a small pan, add 2 tablespoons of light olive oil and sauté the leeks until soft and translucent, about 3–5 minutes. Lightly salt and set aside.

To create the egg mix, crack the eggs into a large bowl and add 1 teaspoon of flaky sea salt and whisk lightly. Add two handfuls of the potato crisps to the egg mixture and lightly mix to fully coat them. Get a medium non-stick or cured cast-iron pan and add 4 tablespoons of light olive oil. Once the oil starts to smoke, add the egg mixture and spread evenly across the pan. Working fast, carefully move the pan in a circular motion and allow the bottom to cook while leaving the top creamy. When the top is yellow and still creamy (after about 2–3 minutes), remove from heat. 

Finish with a few small pieces of Iberico ham, guindilla peppers, leeks and sea urchin. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. A few drops of sherry vinegar on top gives the dish a beautiful balance.

Charred leeks with romesco 

Serves 4 | Prep 18 minutes | Cook 30 minutes

“Calçot is a type of green onion that is popular in the Catalonia region of Spain — it’s a delicacy I remember eating many times growing up. The onions are grilled over an open flame until charred on the outside and tender on the inside. Once these savoury onions are done, they are served with a delicious romesco sauce made from tomatoes, red capsicum, almonds, hazelnuts and garlic. The outer charred layer is peeled to expose the tender heart, then dipped in the smoky romesco sauce. It’s winter treat that’s traditionally enjoyed at large social events with friends and family out in a field. This beautiful tradition is always accompanied by a variety of cheeses, bread and lots of red wine.

“Here, I have recreated the dish by using leeks instead, which are just as delicious.”


4 whole thick leeks, green parts removed and saved for soups

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

For the romesco 

3 roma tomatoes, roughly chopped 

2 red capsicums, green tops removed, deseeded and chopped

1 whole large yellow onion, peeled and quartered

4 cloves of garlic, chopped 

½ cup day-old bread, cubed 

¼ cup hazelnuts 

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 teaspoons smoked paprika  

Almonds, for finishing 


Preheat the oven to 215°C. 

Place the leeks on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Drizzle oil on top of the leeks and cook in the oven for 20 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn them over. The goal is to get them completely charred on the outside, while the inside is steamed to perfection. After about 20 minutes, they should be soft inside. To check, pierce one of the leeks with a skewer or the sharp point of a knife.  

Lower the oven temperature to 200°C.

On another baking tray, scatter the tomatoes, capsicum, onion, garlic, bread and hazelnuts. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 20 minutes, until everything is soft and slightly charred.  

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Add cooled ingredients to a blender or food processor. Blend with remaining oil, vinegar and paprika. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour into a pot and cover to keep warm. 

Remove the charred outer parts of the leek, exposing the heart, which should be tender. Repeat with remaining leeks. 

Place leeks on a plate and cover each one with some of the romesco sauce. Drizzle olive oil on top. Using a fine grater, grate some almonds on top. 

This dish pairs beautifully with a nice steak or another piece of meat.

Strawberry & tomato salad with snap peas and tarragon    

Serves 2 | Prep 18 minutes | Cook 12 minutes

“I love tomato season, and I especially love beautifully bold and sweet heirloom tomatoes. Strawberries, mint and peas along with a hint of fresh horseradish and tarragon — it’s an exceptional marriage of flavours to excite your palate and eyes.”

For the salad

1 cup fresh snap peas, ends trimmed

2 large red heirloom tomatoes, cut into large, irregular pieces 

1 cup fresh strawberries, cut into small pieces

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves 

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, to finish

½ tablespoon freshly grated horseradish


For the pea puree

¾ cup fresh peas 

2 tablespoons lemon juice 

¼ cup olive oil 

8 sprigs of mint 

Salt and pepper, to taste

For the dressing

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

4 tablespoons dark agave or honey

Salt, to taste


Heat a medium pot of water on high and bring to the boil. Fill a bowl with iced water. Once the water is boiling, add the snap peas and blanch for 30 seconds. Strain and place the snap peas into the ice bath to stop the cooking process. Remove and place on a towel to dry. Cut into small pieces and set aside. 

To make the puree, place all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Pass through a strainer. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Get two serving bowls, add a couple of dollops of puree into each and then spread into a circle.

Place tomato pieces on top of the puree, followed by a few pieces of strawberry and snap peas. Repeat with another layer of tomatoes and snap peas. Sprinkle with crushed tarragon. Finish by drizzling the olive oil on top, along with some salt, pepper and freshly grated horseradish.

For the dressing, combine olive oil, vinegar and agave in a small bowl. Season with salt to taste. Mix well and serve with the salad.

Lemon cream gelato with salted black licorice    

Serves 6 | Prep 25 minutes | Cook 20 minutes

“When we think about our youth, we think about the nostalgia that sweet treats have given us over the years. For many reasons, these treats are synonymous with childhood and fun. When I was five years old, I remember briefly living and travelling in Italy — mainly Vicenza, Rome and Venice, as my mother and I followed my father during his time in the military. There was never a shortage of incredible food. Every place I visited had some kind of unique confection. I have always been partial to sweets that have a savoury or salty component. One I particularly remember from my time in Vicenza was a frozen icy pole made of creamy lemon; rather than a wooden stick, it had a stick made of luscious black licorice. When you were done with the lemon, you had a chewy and delicious black licorice stick to enjoy. The combination of the two was phenomenal, so I decided to remake it.”

For the lemon cream gelato

125ml lemon juice (about 3 lemons)

150g granulated sugar

250ml heavy cream

250ml whole fresh milk

Extra virgin olive oil, to finish

Lemon zest, to finish

For the salted black licorice

170g salted black licorice

450ml water


First, wash and then squeeze the lemons to produce 125ml of juice. Strain the juice well to remove any seeds or peel. 

Pour the strained juice into a larger container. Add the sugar and stir. Next, add the heavy cream and then the milk. It’s very important that the cream and milk are very cold. Mix thoroughly with a spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved. 

Pour the mixture into the basket of the ice-cream maker. Close it and start the machine. After about 40 minutes (time may vary depending on the model of the machine), your lemon gelato is ready. Sweet, fresh and creamy — just how I remember it.

Mix licorice and water in a saucepan with a thick bottom. Bring to a simmer then reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring constantly until licorice has completely melted. If the mixture becomes too thick, add a little more water. Allow to cool. Drizzle over ice-cream just before serving. 

Finish the dessert by drizzling some olive oil and sprinkling some freshly grated lemon zest on top. 

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our eleventh edition, Page 74 of Winning Magazine with the headline: “Spanish Mission”. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.  


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