Australian Gastronomy

As part of our Professional Chef Diploma at Westminster Kingsway, all students in the third year are required to undertake an international Gastronomy Project. Each student is allocated a country or region and, working within the bounds of the national cuisine(s) of that territory, is required to formulate a three-course gastronomic menu suitable for service in a top hotel restaurant. The next stage is to research the cuisine of the country and its historical development and to justify the menu recommendations, leading to a detailed report and a presentation given to lecturers and peers. Finally we have to select an item from the menu and cook it at home to a standard "which would be acceptable to include on a menu within a 4* hotel". Key to this is demonstrating "modernisation and progressive changes".

The project has now been completed, submitted and marked and I have been given permission to publish it. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of this research project, as well as learning a huge amount about Australian history, culture and gastronomy. I'd like to share this learning with you, so I've started to publish my report on the developing cuisine of Australia.

Click on the following links to read the report in sections (links will be made live when each section is published).

Jul 26, 2007Convicts And AboriginalsIn 1786 British convicts arrived in New South Wales and in subsequent decades European settlers began to arrive and spread across the continent. Although they brought their own cuisine with them, the immigrants were unable to source their familiar food products or to accustom themselves to the indigenous foods and cooking methods. But the Aboriginal population, who had long since mastered the art of hunter-gathering and seasonal food sourcing, were at best being ignored and at worst being exterminated.
Aug 03, 2007A Modern Australia EmergesContinuing racial division in Australia inhibited the development of an indigenous national cuisine. After the war, white Australians turned outwards to Europe and Asia in search of culinary influences and modern food arrived in the continent. But it was only in the 1980s that Australians began to seriously re-examine their own history and culture. One result of that painful self-discovery has been the emergence of a truly unique and wonderful national cuisine.
Aug 10, 2007Bringing It All TogetherHaving studied the history of Australian culinary culture and begun to understand the products and processes that uniquely define it, the time had come for me to plan and design my Australian Gastronomy Menu. I was determined to develop my own culinary ideas and to avoid the pitfall of putting together items without a rational basis. I wanted to justify my choices and matches in terms of cultural roots and genuinely complementary flavours and textures.
Aug 17, 2007My Menu For AustraliaJust kidding. But there is a serious point to this piece of frivolity. Australia is a nation that should be proud of its cultural history and even more proud of its emerging national cuisine. The days of "fish & chips" and "chicken schnitzel" washed down with a few tinnies of XXXX are well and truly over. Here is my attempt at a fine dining menu worthy of a 5* hotel restaurant and fit to represent the great nation of Australia on the world stage.

Previous Posts about my Gastronomy Report
Nov 02, 2006Advance Australia FareIn this post I explained the nature of the college gastronomy project and how delighted I was to have been allocated Australia as my study territory. I knew immediately where I wanted to take this study: "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."
Nov 21, 2006My Down Under MenuIn this post I presented my initial menu of Modern Australian Cuisine. I explained: "My objective has been to draw on traditional Australian produce and cooking methods and combine these with more modern techniques and presentation styles. Achieving the right combination of flavours, textures and colours is fundamental to what I have tried to produce. I've tried to avoid 'naive fusion', i.e. just throwing clever sounding ingredients together. That said, I don't want to simply ape the top restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne. From what I observe from looking at their websites, many of these seem to be dedicated to reproducing modern European "Michelin" haute cuisine, with the inclusion of a few locally sourced ingredients, rather than making the effort to promote a distinctive national cuisine using indigenous products and techniques."
Dec 04, 2006Living Off The Land: Mother Nature's LarderBy this stage of my research I realised that I needed a much better understanding of the relationship between land and food. For the great majority of peoples and the great majority of history, food had been a scarce commodity on which their survival depended. But the issue was far deeper than a simple matter of supply and demand, of Tesco vs hunter-gathering. The relationship between people and their land was a fundamental driver of their society and culture. I'd already seen something of the work of Ray Mears, but revisiting his programmes taught me a great deal. I began to understand the importance of showing respect to food - a theme strongly echoed by Fergus Henderson at St. John. I also realised that we were once Aboriginals in my own country, with a culture that was largely destroyed as modern man evolved. Then I understood just how important it was for Australia to recognise and come to terms with its own history of relations between settlers and Aboriginal people and how this could lead to the emergence of a truly fantastic national culture in which food could play a pivotal role.
Dec 14, 2006Thank You Guys Down Under ThereThis was my opportunity to say thanks to everyone who helped me in my researches. My first thanks went to my friend and antipodean food blogger Haalo, who gave me some great pointers to top Australian chefs and taught me a lot about the influence of modern European cooking on Australian gastronomy. To this day she remains a true inspiration to me with her fantastic food blog posts and her incredible photography. I was humbled to receive support and advice from Sibylla Hess-Buschmann, a founding member of the Australian Rainforest Bushfood Industry Association who has been actively involved in the selection and promotion of native species for almost twenty years and is recognised across Australia as a leading expert in indigenous produce. And last but not least I was delighted to receive encouragement from Vic Cherikoff, a culinary legend and nominee for 2007 Australian of the Year. Vic has spent 25 years researching and promoting traditional Aboriginal food as the basis of an authentic Australian cuisine. Together with Benjamin Christie, Vic now hosts TV cooking shows world-wide and is currently experiencing great success introducing Modern Australian Cuisine to audiences across America. Vic wrote me a letter of encouragement and sent me a parcel of Australian food products which I have been making excellent use of.
Feb 21, 2007Can You Guess What It Is Yet?Until this point I'd only posted about my theoretical research. This was the time to put my knowledge into practice. The dish that fascinated me most of all those on my Australian Gastronomy menu was Wattleseed and Lemon Myrtle Rolled Pavlova, based on Vic Cherikoff's recipe taken from Benjamin Christie's blog. It wasn't easy for someone only attempting it for the second time ever, and the result wasn't perfect, but it was received with acclaim by my family and neighbours. What makes this quintessentially Australian is the cream, made by folding wattleseed extract into whipped double cream and the topping of biscuit crumb mixed with lemon myrtle sprinkle. The final product is soft and sweet, but with sour and mildly astringent tones that make it simply perfect. I cooked a variant of this for my project practical, accompanied by ANZAC biscuits.
May 04, 2007A Buzz In My KitchenOne ingredient of particular interest from my Gastronomy menu is Tasmanian Leatherwood honey. I became fascinated by this product after reading about the unique way in which it is made. In my report I had written: "My quest to find the perfect honey for this dish [emu] 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... 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 70% of all honey production in Tasmania". So imagine how amazed I was to discover the product in London, in my favourite supermarket, Waitrose.