Thursday, 2 November 2006

Advance Australia Fare

Since my return from Portugal, much of my spare time has been devoted to research for my Professional Chef Diploma third-year Gastronomy project. Each student is allocated a country and, working within the bounds of the national cuisines of that territory, is required to formulate a three-course gastronomic menu suitable for service in a top hotel restaurant.

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...

Australia FairThe 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.
Australia's largest bird and a very nifty runner

Emu
A great looking dish from 'Dining Downunder'

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.
Coffee, chocolate, hazelnut flavoured Acacia seed

Wattleseed

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.


Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...

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.
Australian shark

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.
The mountain pepper - spice and herbal medicine

Tasmanian pepper

'More lemon than lemon' - leading the way in Australian food renaissance


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.

Lemon myrtle


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.

O meu projeto do "gastronomy" requer-me desenvolver um menu para um restaurante Austrálian de primeiro classe. Mais tarde, eu serei requerido cozinhar um dos pratos em meu menu. Eu explorarei o alimento aboriginal tradicional e também as influências de cozinhar asian e europeu no cuisine moderno de Austrália.

5 comments:

Lee said...

Yay! That's my country!

Haalo said...

Hi. I'd suggest looking through cookbooks from current day australian chefs - people like Luke Mangan, Matt Moran, Shannon Bennett, Neil Perry, Guy Grossi and Damien Pignolet to name a few. These chefs are all very succesful at what they do and each present a facet of "australian cuisine".

Elise said...

OMG that photo of the Emu is hilarious!

Vic Cherikoff said...

Hi Trig,

Good luck with your project. I'll email you the e-book Benjamin Christie and I put together for chefs. It might provide a few ideas. For your readers, it is available at our on-line store.

First up, I'll have to take exception to the comment by haalo. There's nothing Australian in the repertoires of any of the chefs haalo lists. They all cook a conventional fusion cuisine exactly as you would see in parts of San Francisco, Tokyo, Singapore or London. I do not believe any of them claim to be authentic Australian chefs, just chefs from Australia.

Unfortunately, perhaps due to their self-imposed limitations, they have chosen to ignore the plethora of incredible ingredients indigenous to the country in which they happen to reside. They are all great guys (yep, all blokes) doing what they can to promote themselves. I guess my passion is promoting Australia and so the only thing I could do was to go down the authentic route.

Anyway. Email me your address and I'll send you a collection of my herbs and spices and see if you can avoid cooking with a range so intensely interesting, powerfully aromatic and pungently spicey.

The only challenging aspect is do you want to learn to cook by understanding the scientific interaction of flavours, ingredients and the palatte or just to follow the 'rules' and jargon of old tradesmen wanting to keep the art mysterious?

How many chefs understand the interaction of the primary 7 tastes? Or the value of texture profiles in a dish? Or the boiling points of aromatic chemicals in herbs and spices and the relevance in cooking? This is all essential today as we identify our national cuisine in Australia as few chefs are really trained to uncover the secrets of totally new (to them) ingredients with no culinary rules.

It has taken me 25 years to introduce my selection of Australian ingredients to chefs around the world and huge plans are afoot for next year already. I'd welcome your input to the development of recognisably Australian dishes beyond witjuties with a Vegemite velute (which could be an excellent dish with the proper artisan behind it).

Trig said...

Vic:

I've replied to you today in a personal email and I'm posting a shortened version here on my website for the record.

I was so thrilled to see you post a comment on my blog. I feel very honoured, as I did when Sibylla wrote to me recently. The fact that you guys, with decades of culinary experience between you, are prepared to spend time discussing Australian cuisine with a novice chef in London inspires me to work even harder and learn more and more.

In my menu I have tried hard to understand the flavours and textures I was working with, rather than just throw ingredients together.

After some research, I had already come to the conclusion that, as you said, most top restaurants in Australia are offering food by Australian chefs, rather than Australian food.

This really got me thinking about indigenous products and spices. I don't know why Australian chefs are not making the effort to promote a distinctive national cuisine using indigenous products and techniques.

I have no desire to follow the "ancient rules and jargon" of cooking when I become a fully-qualified chef. I realised that very early on and my work experience with Peter Gordon absolutely confirmed it for me. I want to develop new ideas rather than follow everyone else. But I have to earn the right to do that first by studying the classics.

I’m very keen to learn more about flavours and textures. To me, this is what cooking is all about. Cuisine is about using this knowledge – some of it scientific and some of it simply passed down through the generations – to make the very best of the produce that defines the boundaries of the cuisine.

You mention the seven flavours. I think I’ve now understood umami, but I’m still struggling with the other two (which I take it you mean to be pungency and piquancy, or heat and astringency). Is there a good reference source on this subject? I have found some papers from Japan and China and molecular gastronomists like Heston Blumenthal, but I’ve not found anything that I’m really happy with.

Once again, many thanks for your kind words and please pass on my thoughts to Benjamin and to Sibylla.

My mother is paying her first visit to Australia next Spring for a friend's wedding. I’m sure I’ll make it to Oz myself one of these days. It will be a pleasure to meet you when I do and I'll definitely be up for the witjuties in a Vegemite velouté, if you can find the artisan to cook it!

Cheers
Trig


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