Australian Gastronomy Part 3 - Bringing It All Together

In Parts 1 and 2 I discussed how the new Australian cuisine struggled to emerge. I explained how European settlers brought their own cuisine with them, but were unable to source their traditional food products or to adjust to indigenous foods and cooking methods. I explained how the Aboriginal population had a long history of exploiting local resources and developing appropriate cooking methods, but this was ignored by the white population as it spread across the continent and largely destroyed indigenous culture. Finally I explained how, after first looking west to Europe and north to Asia for new culinary inspiration, Australia was at last coming to terms with its own unfortunate history. And how, through the process of coming to grips with its past and looking to its future, the country was at last developing a unique and modern national cuisine fit to take a proud place on the world culinary stage. Now I had understood the stage on which my menu was to be enacted, it was time for me to plan and script that menu.

Note: In this section of the presentation I have used photographs from various sources to illustrate the general concepts under discussion. These pictures do not necessarily depict the food elements discussed or the individual dishes of my menu.


When the time came to sit down and start building my menu, I already had a basic idea of how I was going to go about it. My research had to start with the ingredients, because that was where my foundations would be laid long before any thoughts about the final dishes came into my mind. At this point, the last thing I wanted to do was get ahead of myself by looking up famous Australian dishes already in existence. Besides, I wanted to try to create my own unique dishes based on my research of Australian native ingredients. So, when I sat down at my computer, the first logical step was to read about Australian cuisine as a whole, from beginning to end. And for this kind of detailed information the best approach was a lengthy time spent browsing articles on the internet, identifying initial sources of data often through the readily-accessible Wikipedia, but cross-checking everything carefully by tracking down corroborative websites.

Over the course of many weeks I read paragraph after paragraph on the history and progression of Australian cuisine, the ingredients unique and iconic to Australia and most importantly for the purposes of my menu, the staple native food sources.

From there I went on to read further and more comprehensive information on each of the ingredients I had identified and slowly built up a catalogue of spices, herbs, meats, fish, vegetables and bits and bobs that I would eventually incorporate into my menu.

Now that I had studied and categorised all of the ingredients I was going to use, the next step was to fit it all in together. At this point, after standing back and taking a very analytical view of the task ahead of me, I realised it was crucial that I avoid two quite obvious pitfalls.

The first of these pitfalls would be to abuse my new-found knowledge through naivety or laziness. I wanted to create new and exciting dishes, but it was clear to me that the person marking my menu would probably have little or no familiarity with the majority of my ingredients. However, the last thing I wanted to do was use that as an excuse to throw clever sounding ingredients together willy nilly, in the hope that it wouldn’t be noticed and that my menu would read more like an eloquent poem than a genuine menu.

I wanted to make my menu read well and sound intriguing, but never at the expense of the authenticity of the flavour, colour or texture combinations. I must also add that throughout the construction of my menu, I was constantly visualising how each dish would actually look on the plate as a final product, which helped me greatly. When you picture to yourself how a dish would appear to the customer, it makes you much more thoughtful with regards to colour and texture aspects of the dish. Although many of the ingredients I used may at first seem a little peculiar, my research into the aromatic qualities of each ingredient meant I was better informed as to which ingredients would go well together and which would clash. For example, I knew from my experience in the Vincent Rooms Brasserie kitchens that game and wild meats are often complemented with sweet/sour notes, particularly berries. So when I came to decide what flavours to use in my wild boar sausage, my research lead me to the boysenberry. This large, dark purple crop is a hybrid cross between a blackberry, a raspberry, and a loganberry. I felt this would be a perfect match for the wild boar, with the addition of the earthy, warming, slightly bitter taste of Greek oregano leaf.

The second pitfall I was determined to avoid was thinking from a European perspective, rather than from an antipodean one. Basically, I wanted to avoid the approach that I discussed earlier when referring to the substitution of sea bass by barramundi in an otherwise essentially European dish. To me, calling such a product Australian would be the ultimate form of disrespect to the cuisine and not something I would consider doing.


So now that I’ve explained what I endeavoured to avoid while compiling my menu, I’d like to turn my attention to the things I did want to achieve. Of course I wanted to use as much native Australian produce as possible, and use these ingredients sensibly and in the appropriate context according to their intrinsic qualities. I knew from the start that I would want to incorporate some of the meats Australia is famous for, such as kangaroo, crocodile and emu, rather than just stick with the more obvious lamb and beef.

I’d heard from various media sources that crocodile meat is very delicate, and apparently has a taste that resembles “fishy chicken”. Straight away this told me that the crocodile would have to be served as a very light dish and it would be best suited to a quick cookery method. After giving the matter some thought, I eventually decided to have the crocodile meat in large cubes skewered on lemongrass, another trick I learnt from my time in the Brassiere. My research also told me that crocodile meat goes very well with tropical fruity flavours, so I decided to use Bowen mango on the skewers, which could be threaded on alternately with the crocodile pieces. To finish the dish, I though a light salsa with basil and stem ginger would wonderfully garnish this bright summery plate. Using basil with stem ginger may seem a little odd to some, but from personal experience I have found it to be a match made in heaven, especially as a garnish for white meat.


Throughout my menu I always tried to be as adventurous as possible, as much in keeping with the theme of audacious Australian cuisine as with my own natural inclination. Some of the first things I thought about were my vegetarian options, which had to be every bit as bold and daring as my meat and fish dishes. I wanted to steer as far as possible away from endless piles of roasted vegetables with various garnishes.

When creating my vegetarian options, I tried to use a wide and exciting assortment of pulses, beans, leaves and vegetable fruits, as well as varieties of squash and brassica. I also decided to use tofu, which although not very popular in Europe, has been used in Asian cookery for years and has more recently been introduced to, and been well-received in, Australia.

During the process of putting my menu together I had to decide its format and style, something I thought very carefully about. One thing I have noticed in looking at European restaurant websites is that the way in which dishes are described on menus has changed significantly over the years. As certain ingredients, dishes and cookery styles go through “trends”, so does the way in which they are written. If you look at the menus of Tom Aikens or Pétrus, for example, you see that dishes are described only in brief with the key element of each dish displayed above.

With my menu, I wanted to buck this current trend, because as a regular restaurant-goer myself I like to be told everything that will be on my plate from the key component right down to the tiniest of garnish. You can see from my menu that I try to describe every single thing on each dish, as well as how each individual element is cooked. I find this style far more informative for the customers’ benefit and it also gives me as the chef the opportunity to entice their taste buds with some vivid and evocative language. I also wanted to better understand the different varieties of my ingredients, using only those varieties and breeds that I considered to be of the finest quality. So throughout my research I tried to identify the specific animal or plant species which would prove most appropriate to each dish. I based these thoughts around environmental factors such as where each variety grows best and how that relates to its flavour qualities as well as to its stage of maturity, which with plant life usually determines the colour, shape and size of the edible product.


While reading about the many differing varieties of the famous South-East Asian soup called laksa, I learnt that the classic garnishes for the sour variety Assam laksa (Assam being the Malay word for “tamarind”) included mint, cucumber and pineapple. Taking into account the common application of fusion in Australian cuisine, I decided to use native Australian mint in place of the usual Vietnamese mint. And when it came to the pineapple, I wanted to use a particularly juicy variety that grows in the Daintree Rainforest of Cape Tribulation, in northern Queensland. I had seen Daintree pineapple used in the recipes of Aussie chef Benjamin Christie, whom I mentioned earlier. He recommends it as a finer alternative to the standard Brazilian, Caribbean and Paraguayan varieties we are accustomed to in Europe.

My studies into the Australasian delicacy of emu meat swiftly lead me to the sweet, viscous nectar known as honey. I remembered reading somewhere that emu meat is complemented by sweet marinades, one reason being that its lack of natural fat, which normally adds moisture to meat while cooking, is beautifully compensated for by the syrupy, natural sweetness of honey.

My quest to find the perfect honey for this dish led me rapidly to Leatherwood. The Leatherwood plant is endemic to Western Tasmania, where the beekeepers carry their hives into the rainforests in time for the blossom in late summer. There, the Leatherwood plant’s nectar is extracted by the local bees to produce a pure, unblended honey analogous to a single malt Scotch whisky. The uniquely distinctive, spicy flavour of Leatherwood honey is an acquired taste, judging from the popular quote: “some people swear by it and other people swear about it”. I haven’t been luck enough to try Leatherwood honey for myself*, but I’m sure there is a very good reason why it accounts for seventy percent of all honey production in Tasmania.

* Editor's note: I've tried it now and not been disappointed. See photo left.


It became apparent to me while brainstorming for menu ideas that, if I was going to employ indigenous Australian products in my menu, I should also use indigenous Australian cookery methods. This might seem an obvious conclusion, but you wouldn’t necessarily take this approach if, like me, you had studied ancient Aboriginal methods of food preparation and cooking. Watching Ray Mears’s recent TV series “Wild Food”, I had seen various meats and vegetables being wrapped in thick leaves and cooked in the ashes and burning embers of a ground fire, as well as in man-made ground ovens created by covering such a fire with rocks and earth to keep the immense heat sealed in. Seeing the effort that went into the preparation and cooking of such simple food and how much in touch with nature Aboriginal people felt during the process was a sight to behold. It was also a scary proposition.

I knew straight away that I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity to go right back to the grass roots of cooking and revive this ancient art form. For the purposes of my gastronomic menu I knew it would not be possible to produce restaurant quality food in the way that Aboriginals cooked, but I would certainly try to adapt these traditional methods, making them more feasible to apply in the modern kitchen. I had learnt from my research that the barks from many native tree species were used by the Aboriginal people for smoking foods as well as cooking in their ashes, and one tree that particularly caught my interest was the Acacia. After reading everything I could find about the outstanding versatility of this tree, I decided that I could employ Acacia in my menu for three different uses, and I quickly went about planning how I would incorporate them. One animal I had seen in Ray Mears’s “Wild Food” being cooked in the traditional hot Acacia ashes method was goanna lizard, a copious inhabitant of the outback. After seeing Aboriginals showing Ray how to catch, prepare and cook goanna and then seeing the pleasantly surprised expression on his face after trying the meat, I knew it deserved a place on my menu.

When it comes to cooking goanna in this traditional way, there is one very important issue to remember. The goanna meat needs protection from the searing heat of the cinders of the Acacia bark, and this is where the long-established practice of wrapping it in banana leaf offers the perfect solution.

In order to bring out the natural flavours of the goanna, as well as add an extra zing, I decided to use a small native sour apple known as “muntry”. In this instance, the muntries would work in rather the same way as lemon or lime, the natural acidity acting as a flavour enhancer as well providing its own characteristic citrus flavour and aroma.

I am certain that it would be possible to produce this dish for commercial restaurant trade, simply by adapting the hot ashes technique into a more practical and up-to-date process. After all, the barbeque is simply a modern adaptation of the ancient method of cooking over open flames. Using a piece of equipment similar to a deep fryer, but with bark instead of oil surrounding some sort of heating element, I’m sure a practical Acacia ash cooker could be fashioned and used in restaurant kitchen environment.

Thinking of ideas for how I could use Acacia bark for smoking, a technique which has definitely progressed through the ages and into the modern kitchen environment, the first thing that came to my mind was fish. And the first thing that comes to mind when you think of fish and Australia together is barramundi. The name of this tough, fleshy member of the perch family comes from an Aboriginal dialect and means “large-scaled river fish”. After only moments of deliberation, I decided the best cut for smoking would be a small suprème, as I had already decided this fish would make up one of three elements in an “aquatic trio”. In this dish, three completely different techniques: smoking, curing and poaching, work in harmony to create an elegant and balanced dish. I decided not to include a substantial carbohydrate component in this dish, as with two of the other four fish dishes in my menu. The reason for this is that being an Australian menu, I wanted to maintain the theme of light cooking throughout - understandable given the hot climate and humid atmosphere.

As well as its bark, the tree of the Acacia genus (also known as the “Wattle”), is used and widely promoted by chefs Benjamin Christie and Vic Cherkioff for its seeds, which are colloquially known in Australia as “Wattleseed”. The term Wattleseed can be applied to the edible seed of any of a hundred or so of the 900 odd species of Acacia tree. So when it comes to variety, the possibilities here are infinite. The chocolate/coffee/hazelnut flavour profile of Wattleseed makes it perfect for use in desserts, however I wanted to see if the same effect could be achieved in a savoury dish.


One neighbouring nation with very close historical ties with Australia is Papua New Guinea, usually referred to as “PNG”. PNG and Australia are portions of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, which started to break into smaller continents in the Cretaceous era, somewhere between a hundred and thirty and sixty-five million years ago. Consequently, many species of birds and mammals found in PNG have close genetic links with corresponding species found in Australia. One notable feature in common between these two landmasses is the existence of several species of marsupial mammals, including some kangaroos and possums.

After studying the cuisine of Papua New Guinea I was fascinated by the simplicity of one very traditional dish called saksak. This bite size dumpling is made primarily from ground sago, a powdery starch made from the processed pith found inside the trunks of the sago palm. The dumpling gets its flavour from bananas, which have to be very soft and ripe for the best result. The bananas are mashed up and combined with the sago flour, portioned onto and wrapped in individual pieces of banana leaf and boiled in water before being unwrapped and further boiled in fresh coconut milk.

I decided that I wanted to add an extra dimension to this simple dumpling, by introducing the Wattleseed’s intense nutty, coffee-chocolate flavour to the mild banana and coconut. I decided to use the seed from the Elegant Wattle or Acacia Victoriae (also known as the Gundabluey Wattle) due to its adaptability and resilience as a plant species. This variety of evergreen Acacia grows naturally on a broad range of soil types across the entirety of Australia and is also tolerant of heavy frosts and moderate droughts. All the signs were telling me that this variety was the perfect choice for my menu, due to its plentiful availability and optimum sustainability as a food source. I soon concluded that my Wattleseed saksak dumpling would be one of four elements in my emu dish, alongside my Leatherwood honey and Tasmanian peppercorn marinated emu fan fillet, vibrant yellow crookneck squash purée and steamed yardlong beans gratinated under the pungently sweet and slightly mushroomy Jindi brie.


I wanted to use dishes like the one I described above to add a great sense of variation to my menu. I tried to avoid conforming to the European idea that every course must consist of a defined protein, carbohydrate, vegetable and sauce. Instead I tried to create a menu that would make up the rules as it went along, whereby each dish could have independent character in its own right but without sacrificing nutritional balance. On the subject of health-conscious eating, as well as introducing plenty of low- and non-carbohydrate dishes, I also wanted to break the mould by offering substantial soups in both the fish and vegetarian main course options. I opted for very light starter courses, including a vegetarian soup and salad, a delicate smoked eel dish, and even found room for dishes showcasing larvae and reptile as their main constituents.

In order to ensure that my menu was as balanced as possible, I decided to include a variety of nuts and cheeses to complement the dishes. During my research I read quite a lot about Australian cheeses and discovered that Australia has one of the most efficient dairy production industries in the world. Aside from the busy, hustle and bustle atmosphere of the inner city, Australia has an extremely clean and green environment which provides the perfect surroundings for cattle, goat, sheep and buffalo farming. Of the many Aussie cheeses I came across while perusing the internet, a small few really stood out from the rest.

One of the cheeses in question was Gippsland Blue, a chalky, astringent blue veined cheese from Victoria. Gippsland Blue is made “in the grand style of a Gorgonzola blue vein”, meaning that its aggressive yeast and full mould cultures liberate ammonia and other aromatics into the body of the cheese, delivering an exceptionally pungent bouquet. Being a particular fan of smelly blue cheeses, I decided this one would be ideal for my starter salad. This dish would see the Gippsland Blue combined with tamarillo, a tart and juicy tomato-like fruit, and also Davidson’s plum, a plum-resembling native sour fruit boasting burgundy coloured flesh which, due to the promotion of chefs such as Vic Cherikoff, is now highly regarded as a gourmet bushfood.

Another cheese that looked a likely contender was Tasmanian Highland, a goat’s cheese with a claim to fame. It is considered by many that the Tasmanian Highland produced by John Bignell at Thorpe Farm in Bothwell is the best goat’s cheese in all of Australia. The Bignell family have been farming the very same stretch of land for seven generations, giving them plenty of time to perfect the art of cheese making. I chose to use this cheese as a filling for my moonbird ballotine; in equal parts with Capri fig. I knew already from my own personal experience that the fig fruit, like the date, is wonderful in partnership with goat’s cheese.


The fig has been in successful cultivation on our planet for over three thousand years. It was much enjoyed by Cleopatra and Ulysses dating back to the ancient Egyptians, by whom it was known as “the tree of life”. In this particular dish, the fig and goat’s cheese are stuffed inside the boned leg of a moonbird, a native seabird also known as shearwater or muttonbird, or “yolla” to the Aboriginal people. The moonbird is harvested for food by being extracted by hand from the nesting burrows before fledging, so the commercial potential of moonbird as a food product is very much limited to season and circumstance. I deliberately chose products like moonbird, mangosteen and serpent eel for my menu because I knew they’re not the kind of products you would generally see elsewhere. I’ll explain and clarify the reasons behind the decisions I made in the conclusion to this report.

When it comes to adding diversity, nutrition and texture to a menu, nothing beats nuts. I knew long before my research that the most famous product to come out of Australia is in fact a nut. Many Europeans know this nut very well, although many like myself may not have realised that it was endemic to Australia. This nut is the macadamia, sadly the only plant food native to Australia that is produced and exported in any significant quantity.

So if you were wondering where I got the inspiration for my macadamia tofu purée from, you need look no further than the Father of Fusion, Peter Gordon. While working in his kitchens at the Providores and Tapa Room, I was frequently asked to make batches of sesame tofu purée, which they used as a simple accompaniment to their plantain and quinoa dolmades. The preparation for this element was incredibly quick, simply involving blitzing together equal quantities of tahini and tofu. I decided to adapt this recipe for my Australian menu, exchanging tahini for either fresh ground macadamia nuts or macadamia paste, which I have subsequently ascertained to be commercially available.

Another nut I chose to use in my menu was the bunya nut; the tiny seed of the Araucaria Bidwillii tree, known to Aboriginal peoples as Bunya-Bunya. The small edible seeds from this coniferous tree are similar to pine nuts in taste and can be eaten raw or cooked, but were traditionally ground into a paste which was often used in the Aboriginal process of bread making. In the case of my menu, I wanted to use the bunya nuts to crust my witchetty grub before deep frying. The grubs are then served on a simple yet intriguing salad, comprising thin slices of zucchini and peach, along with the famous and delicious Japanese seaweed wakame. For the witchetty crust, my bunyas would be roughly ground in a pestle and mortar – a preparation process that I consider to be a slightly modernised version of the method that would have been used by the early Aboriginal peoples.


So now I must move on to the desserts, which I admit straight away are far from my strongest point. But when it comes to a challenge, I’ll always give it my best shot.

The most important thing I knew I had to achieve was a good balance - and by this I mean between dairy-based and fruit-based dishes. So where I chose a rich and creamy dessert, I tried to balance it out by adding more distinctive fruity notes to cut through the richness.

With the same mentality as when forming ideas for my savoury courses, I tried to come up with my own new and innovative ideas, as well as putting interesting spins on some established classic desserts.

The first dessert dish I decided upon was my Pavlova, which would be served as an individual portion cut as a cross-section from a long rolled piece. I chose the classic dish Pavlova, simply because it is steeped in antipodean history. In an argument that has lasted for over eighty-one years, it is claimed by both Australia and New Zealand that the famous Pavlova dish was invented in their homeland. One thing that has been established is that it was first made for, and named after, the legendary ballet dancer Anna Pavlova by a chef in a hotel in which she was staying. The problem with this historic dish is that, as Pavlova toured both Australia and New Zealand in 1926, it has still to this day never been proven where the dish was invented. After discovering the fascinating story behind the invention of Pavlova, I decided that such a famous and controversial dessert earned a place in my menu.

I chose to use quandong in the recipe to introduce another flavour into an otherwise relatively mild tasting dish of rolled meringue with whipped cream. I read quite a lot about the sweet quandong and subsequently found that it is in popular use among the modern self-proclaimed bush-tucker enthusiasts, in particular Vic Cherikoff. The quandong fruit has peach, apricot and ginger characteristics and the brain-like nut deep in its centre is also traditionally gathered and eaten by the Aboriginal peoples. I decided that the natural flavours of the quandong fruit would be a perfect addition to my Pavlova and would also add extra texture to the smoothness of the whipped cream. To add further gastronomic authenticity to this indigenous combination, I thought it would be an interesting and original idea to use ostrich egg whites to make the meringue. Although this would be considerably more expensive than using hen’s eggs, it does add a further touch of luxury to this already extravagant dessert.

The Anzac biscuit I chose to garnish this dish with is very famous down under and countless numbers of this famed confectionary are made every year to commemorate an event that is “probably Australia’s most important national occasion”. In Australia as well as NZ, the 25th of April is celebrated as Anzac Day and marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. The acronym ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and it is reported that the women of both nations made these biscuits for the soldiers during wartime.

The biscuits, made from rolled oats, golden syrup and desiccated coconut, needed to be complemented with another more distinctive flavour. For this I chose forest peppermint, a spice with a menthol and lemon eucalyptus aroma. I thought this would add extra dimension to the Anzac biscuit and perfectly round off the flavours of my take on this famous confection.

Pavlova is not the only dessert on my menu with a story behind it, because for another interesting tale we can look to my Friggin’ Pecan Pie. This is a very modern dish, unlike the Pavlova, but the story of its creation is just as entertaining. Apparently the dish has proven quite troublesome for some Australian chefs, as its soufflé-like structure has been known to completely collapse on removal from the oven. This often resulted in the chef bellowing a string of his most articulate profanity towards the delicately aerated dessert, hence the “friggin’”. The soufflé effect of this dessert is achieved with whipped egg whites, which are bound with chopped pecans and figs. I decided this luxuriously light dish needed something else to accentuate its mild flavour, for which I looked immediately to citrus.

For the pecan pie’s accompaniment, the thirst-quenching tang of wild lime is highlighted in a refreshing granita.

I decided upon a granita rather than a sorbet in this instance because I wanted to minimise my use of sugar, which granita contains a much lower ratio of. The other difference between sorbet and granita is that a sorbet is churned in much the same way as ice cream to achieve a smooth finish, whereas a granita is simply stirred during a normal freezing process to yield large, course ice crystals.

I concluded that when eaten these ice crystals would create little citric eruptions on the palate, stimulating the taste buds as well as providing excellent refreshment.

Another of the desserts I chose was bread and butter pudding, a very traditional British dish most probably brought to Australia by the first European settlers in 1788. Rather than explain how this dish is made, which I’m sure would be quite unnecessary, I will simply detail the little things I tweaked to create my Australian version. The first thing I thought of was how I could make the bread element more appealing, and low and behold a not-so-well known Australian bread came to mind. Damper bread, the age-old Aboriginal recipe made from ground seed flour seemed the perfect choice to begin the adaptation of this British classic into the modern Australian world. The second stage to converting this recipe was the addition of munthari berries in place of the usual currents and sultanas. The munthari berry tastes like a spicy apple, and is a “superfruit” packed full of antioxidants and nutrients. I saw munthari berries as the perfect replacement for European fruits and, with a rich sauce made from PNG Sigri coffee espresso, the dish is completed. I chose Sigri coffee for personal reasons after reading about the Sigri Estate in the Waghi Valley, the owners of which are very ethically conscious of their environment. By choosing sustainable, long-term agricultural policies and a medium-density shade strategy, they are able to protect the Wahgi Valley’s swampy forests as well as the more than one hundred and sixty bird species that live there. They are also known to harvest coffee beans of an exceptional quality.

My other choices of dessert include a fresh exotic fruit platter, for which the inspiration came during my brief stint at Japanese restaurant Zuma. I also decided on a tartlet combining carambola (starfruit) with guava, a fruit which I remember picking straight from the bushes while on holiday in Montserrat at the age of four. The nostalgia associated with this fruit alone was enough to influence its inclusion onto my menu.

In the final part I conclude my Gastronomy Report, present my acknowledgments and offer readers my Australian Gastronomy Menu in full.