It's a mainly academic exercise at this early stage. I'm expected to research and develop the cuisine of the country and justify my recommendations to fellow students and lecturers by demonstrating "social acceptance, use of food, effects of climate, availability of produce, influences of socio-economic change and longevity and regional identification of dishes".
By next spring, I will be expected to develop the menu further and produce an in-depth report and a PowerPoint presentation to be given to my peers. Better still, I will be expected to order the produce through the college and cook two of the dishes at home. These must be "of the standard which would be acceptable to include on a menu within a 4* hotel" and they must demonstrate "modernisation and progressive changes".
Much to my delight, I have been allocated this little place...
The project scope includes provision for exploring regional influences on the indigenous cuisine of the allocated country.
New Zealand, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and China having been assigned as countries in their own right for other student projects, my initial thought is to look at the influence of Cambodian cooking on mainland Australian fare, and also that of Tasmania and local Pacific islands such as Papua New Guinea.
As someone who prides himself on balance and fairness in all things, my plan of attack for an Australian menu reflects the different peoples of the continent and the respective longevity of their culinary experiences.
I shall therefore be taking into account the fact that large-scale European settlement and catering arrived in Australia some 230 years ago, whereas the Aboriginal peoples have been practising the art of cooking for about 40,000 years and cultivating crops for at least 6,000 years - as long as the earliest known civilisations alongside the Nile, the Euphrates and the Indus.
One of the first things a Pom like me discovers about modern Australian dining is that it bears very little resemblence to the stereotypical choice between barbecue shrimp washed down with a few tinnies on the one hand, and bush tucker on the other.
Recent decades have seen unparalleled development of Australian cuisine, with European and Asian immigrants bringing with them many influences that have subsequently been assimilated.
Kangaroo with sweet potato and akudjura jus
More recently, the "discovery" and employment of many native Australian plants has revolutionised white Australia's view of indigenous ingredients and formed the basis of a truly unique national gourmet cuisine.
Taking into account this inclusive modernisation of the national cuisine will, I believe, be fundamental to my meeting the objectives of the project.
Wattleseeed (shown above) is the seed of one of the 47 species of acacia plant native to Australia and is used as a spice, an emulsifier, a flavouring and a coffee substitute.
Right now I am looking at and learning about many traditional Australian meat, fish and vegetable products.
These include emu, kangaroo, crocodile, barramundi, shark, akudjura, Illawarra plum, lemon myrtle, Tasmanian pepper and wattleseed.
Just as importantly I am discovering entirely new processes for preparation and cooking, such as wrapping food in large leaves or covering in a bark wrapping and baking in hot acacia ashes.
In my eagerness to explore the integration of different cultures I must, of course, be careful not to fall into the trap of naive fusion. Somehow I doubt that a dish of witchetty grubs in a vegemite velouté will quite satisfy Miss Roberts' criteria for gastronomic excellence. Nor, probably, would she enjoy sourcing the ingredients for my practical or consuming the finished product.
One aspect of Australian cuisine that will require attention in the context of product availability and the socio-economics of food is the effect of climate change. This article is just one of many recently in the British press and on the internet revealing the huge national impact of Australia's worst drought in 100 years. Affecting both production and consumption, as well as putting a strain on social relations, the drought will I'm sure be a significant factor in my analysis of culinary developments.
As my ideas develop and I start to try things out I will post more news. In the meantime I know I have readers in the antipodes and I would greatly value any input you would care to make. So do write to me, please. I'll try anything once, as they say.