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If we defined Australia by its food, what would it be? The barbecue, pavlova or lamington? I don’t think so. We can barely lay claim to the barbie, almost certainly did not create the pav and the latter is a none-too-flash bit of sponge cake.
Brazilian chef Alex Atala was challenged to think about his country’s food during a meal at legendary El Bulli restaurant in Spain. He says a course called Countries ”transformed my life”.
Thailand was portrayed by coconut milk, curry and kaffir lime; Japan by soy sauce, seaweed and fish; Italy by tomatoes, basil and olive oil.
Atala began looking at his nation’s little-known indigenous ingredients and, in 1999, opened D.O.M. restaurant in Sao Paulo. The restaurant’s use of native Brazilian and Amazonian produce, such as acai and cupuacu, has had a profound effect on his country’s attitude to its native foods.
Move 12 years forward to the luxurious surrounds of a dinner party in the Paspaley jewellery store. Despite pearls the size of mini tomatoes displayed all around, a group of diners is more focused on their plates and, in particular, a sophisticated and memorable dish – Native Fruits of Australia – served by Ben Shewry of Attica, Melbourne.
A wonderful amalgam of sharp and sweet, there are muntries, candied desert limes, lemon aspen, finger limes and rosella petals served on a sheep’s milk yoghurt infused with the flavour of gum leaves. It is all part of a quiet revolution in the kitchens of Australia’s top chefs. Chefs such as Shewry are looking to their own backyard for ingredients.
Chef Martin Benn serves a finger lime mousse at Sepia, while Peter Gilmore of Quay restaurant makes a ewe’s milk ice-cream with lilly-pilly.
This is profoundly different to the old days when Australian bush tucker was often served wham, bam with all its strong, often astringent flavours, on a plate with a slab of kangaroo or crocodile.
Today’s chefs are teaching themselves to use and understand the tastes and textures of our indigenous plants in a sympathetic, subtle and exciting way.
At his new restaurant in The Star, David Chang is using warrigal greens that taste, in his words: ”… insane, they are so delicious.”
In dining, significant trends often start at the top and work down. We may well be witnessing one here.
How much more thrilling it would be for us to say finger limes, lilly-pilly and warrigal greens reflect the flavours of our land instead of some tired old meringue and cream creation with debatable origins.
Who cares about a pavlova?
– Sydney Morning Herald
Tags: coconut milk, Ben Shewry, El Bulli restaurant, Alex Atala, kaffir lime, Burger King, Hospitality Recreation