Food & Wine: 26-January-06 by Andrew
FRESH APPROACH: Balthazar head chef James
Morgan says fresh is best when talking about modern Australian
cuisine. Photo: Tim van
When European settlers
arrived in Australia to colonise this country, they brought with
them the foods and food production methods that had sustained the
British Empire. And while European farming methods are still used
today, despite many having contributed significantly to land
degradation across the country, it didn’t take as long for the
settlers to realised that roast beef, Irish stew, Yorkshire pudding
and the like were perhaps not ideal for the Australian
Australian cuisine has been evolving ever
Now we have some of the best restaurants and chefs in
the world. Our produce, be it vegetable, fruit or livestock, is
looked upon with envious eyes from abroad.
And slowly, the
force recognised as modern Australian cuisine has
The term ‘modern Australian’, when applied to food,
really implies something similar to what’s meant by ‘the cultural
Influences from our own vast land-mass, from
our region, and the wider world through immigration, have slowly
worked to colour the Australian dietary landscape with a vast
variety of flavours and tastes.
The wide variety of choices
diners currently enjoy is due in no small part to Chinese, Italian,
French, Hungarian, Vietnamese and Spanish migrants who gradually
folded their understandings of food with our own.
course there are a few iconic Aussie favourites that prop up the
Australian food pyramid. Many wonder whether Baron Lamington,
the popular Queensland governor in the 1890s, knew that his penchant
for squares of plain cake, dipped in melted chocolate and coated in
desiccated coconut would spawn a legend. And our love of
Anzac biscuits is still going strong, nearly a century after the
dried biscuits were included among the care packages sent to
Australian troops fighting in World War One.
And while the
origin of the pavlova remains in dispute between Australia and New
Zealand, many in Western Australia claim it was the former chef of
Perth’s Hotel Esplanade, Herbert Sachse, who created the famous
dessert in honour of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured
Australia and NZ in 1926.
But there’s no doubting the
authentic feel and flair about the food at The Coolgardie Safe,
Perth’s most Australian restaurant.
Chef Matthew Connell is
in charge of a kitchen that prepares everything from kangaroo and
damper through to crocodile and emu.“I think Australian food
is appealing, healthy and great,” Mr Connell says. “But there is
also a sense of adventure with our food”.
As the name would
suggest, The Coolgardie Safe specialises in what it calls ‘bush
flavours’ – native Australian produce that is often overlooked by
Ingredients such as wild lime compote, bush
tomato chutney, quandong relish and beetroot tapinade have all got
more traditional counterparts, but the flavours and textures are
At its peak the restaurant serves almost
25 kilograms of kangaroo a week.
Turning to another side of
the Australian food landscape is the youthful head chef of the
city’s slick restaurant Balthazar, James Morgan.
seems to represent all the facets of modern Australian
cuisine.For starters he’s a New Zealander. But before you
decry the bloke for that there is something to be said about a
foreign-trained chef at the helm of one of the city’s best
restaurants. Secondly he is taking Balthazar’s menu, left by chef
Ben Andrijasevich, in new and interesting directions.
me, modern Australian cuisine is all about fresh produce, cooking
with the best ingredients and using the latest trends at the
moment,” Mr Morgan says.
“It’s not putting 500 things on a
plate – modern Australian food is cooking food in the best way so
people enjoy eating it.”
He cites the use of new and
innovative products as the hallmarks of contemporary Australian
cooking. Using the natural honeycomb he includes on Balthazar’s
cheese plate, Mr Morgan explains that the extra effort needed to
source the product is more than repaid in its individuality or
Fusion cooking may have been the darling of
yesterday’s kitchen circles, but it has given way to a seamless
melding of influences.
Mr Morgan’s menu offers some apt
examples such as the banana spring rolls with Frangelico for dessert
as well as the Chai tea panna cotta on sticky date base.
really like this one because it combines Chinese and Italian tastes
in one dish,” Mr Morgan says.
And, as we celebrate another
Australia Day, Mr Morgan points to the future trends of Australian
“Dusts, foams and froths are all big news in cooking
circles now. But you can’t reinvent food. Aussie chefs know that the
best way to eat it is the simplest,” he says.