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.
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 climate.
Australian cuisine has been evolving ever since.
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 emerged.
The term ‘modern Australian’, when applied to food, really implies something similar to what’s meant by ‘the cultural melting pot’.
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.
But of 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 mainstream chefs.
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 uniquely Australian.
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.
Mr 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.
“For 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 flavour.
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.
“I 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 cooking.
“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.