World on our plate
Anthony Bourdain. Photo: Barry J Holmes/The Guardian
How do we rank, compared with the rest of the world?
The cooking - at least in Sydney and Melbourne - is at a very high technical level. Chefs and cooks are motivated, proud and the community tends to support and promote that kind of excellence, which is hugely important. Every time I come to Australia, the food and the restaurants only get better.
Massimo Bottura. Photo: Maurizio Camagna
What lets Australian dining down?
The biggest weaknesses are restrictive [at times] laws concerning health and safety of ingredients [Australia's strict quarantine laws on imported foods]; and Australia's great distance from the rest of the fine-dining universe. [The] fact is - and I'll paraphrase an Australian chef: ''To be perfectly honest, influence comes from elsewhere. In almost every case, somebody, somewhere else thought of it first.'' This is surely no crime and is entirely due to Australia's general isolation. What happens in Sydney tends to have happened a little earlier in Paris or Brooklyn. I'm not being a dick about this. Any chef will tell you the same. You can certainly eat as well in Sydney as New York or San Francisco. But, with a few exceptions, you are less likely to get the ''next big thing'', if that even matters. I don't see that it should.
What do you perceive to be the strengths of cooking in Australia? What do we do right?
One of the things I notice about Sydney in particular these days is how busy the restaurants are. Busier than New York and Tokyo, generally speaking. People are less jaded, more excited than New York - that level of interest is a good thing for chefs, for restaurants and for dining in general. The ingredients seem to be getting better and chefs like Matt Moran [Aria and Chiswick], Dan Hunter [Royal Mail, Victoria] and many others are really concerning themselves with sourcing.
Throughout your travels, has the Australian dining scene changed?
A few years ago, there was a stark difference [between Sydney and Melbourne]. Sydney seemed to be a little flashier, a little more slick. And Melbourne, by comparison, seemed to have a more casual, laid-back attitude, Brooklyn style. But the Sydney dining scene has changed a lot in the past few years - the trend towards more casual, rustic dining is fantastic. Personally, I think it has changed for the better. Or at least it has moved in the direction that I, as a jaded diner, respond much more positively to.
What are your newly discovered Sydney highlights?
I love Porteno, it's a terrific restaurant, a great concept and even better execution. And I think Victor Churchill is one of the most cool and exciting food destinations I've been. The Chinese and Vietnamese food has always been awesome and I'm obsessed with Aussie meat pies.
What compels you to travel to Australia?
Brett Graham. Photo: Will Heap
Since I first came [to Australia in 2001], it has always had a really vibrant food, dining and chef culture. It has always been very supportive of chefs and very interested in what they're doing.
What is the perception of the Australian dining scene abroad?
The Sydney and Melbourne dining scenes are held in very high regard by chefs and knowledgeable diners. The chefs - who've usually been introduced to Australia through invitations to various food and wine festivals - are generally really impressed and are, by now, personally connected to Australia. We like the chefs. We like how they cook. We consider them friends.
What attracts you to Melbourne?
I have a lot of good friends in Melbourne: Paul Wilson, Donovan Cooke. I look forward to reconnecting with friends and a couple of restaurants are sentimental favourites. [Bourdain was spotted at Dainty Sichuan and Circa].
Best meal in Melbourne?
The best meal I have had in Melbourne was ridiculous, it's not reproducible. I was at Ronnie Di Stasio's [winery in the Yarra Valley], above the hills, and there were a bunch of other chefs there, [and] we'd eaten a dinner. Tetsuya Wakuda took the leftovers and made a polpette and threw together a pasta meal, it was the perfect confluence of beautiful late-afternoon light, Italian food, chefs and alcohol.
Anthony Bourdain spoke with Olivia Riordan
Chef/owner (and expat from Newcastle, NSW) of the two-Michelin-star The Ledbury, London
The perception here is that food in Australia is fresh and seasonal. Australian restaurants have made massive improvements in the past 10 years and, in my experience, the top restaurants are not only the best in Australia, but some of the best in the world. What's great about the food scene is the quality in the produce and cooking all the way from small cafes to top restaurants - something I think sometimes is lacking in [Britain]. Two chefs who really stand out are Peter Gilmore (Quay) and Ben Shewry (Attica, Melbourne). They set the standard for fine-dining food in Australia, and it's a very exciting time there.
Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy
Australia is a land of wonders - in its raw materials and its products, it reveals itself as an exotic country whose influences range widely from China to Japan, from Latin America to Italy. Fine dining is just … fine, with a handful of old and new classics created by people like my friends Tetsuya Wakuda, Mark Best, Peter Gilmore. The outsiders are really interesting too, like New York's Dave Chang, who opened Momofuku Seiobo in Sydney in October. His is an incredible cuisine that rocks with Asian-Aussie-oriented flavours and a precision worthy of a double Michelin star. Also, the ''All Black'', Ben Shewry, at Attica, whose heartfelt vegetable-oriented cuisine is full of delicacy and intimism. The fun - not the faint-hearted - should not miss Dainty Sichuan, a strong, radical spicy canteen [in South Yarra] making the hottest sichuan food in the world.
Dock Kitchen, London
My recent trip to Australia confirmed my views that the quality of hospitality there is excellent. I love the relaxed but professional service and the simple, sunny food that you find everywhere. When I asked food writer and chef Christine Manfield [Universal] what she thought Australian food was, she talked about cooking like a magpie, picking up dishes from different cultures and being inspired by ingredients. Christine has recently written a great book on Indian cooking (Christine Manfield: Tasting India), but the mixing of cultures to make up Australian cuisine is her real expertise. I tried to do the same with my fish plate [inspired by my Melbourne visit]. It had elements of India, south-east Asia and China but tasted - I hoped - truly Australian.
Expat Australian food writer and author of Odd Bits. Lives in Canada
Most Canadians have no idea about Australian food. They see Australia as a country of the great outdoors - sun, surf and weird animals, and many still have the view that Australian cuisine is anything cooked on the barbecue. But those who have visited Australia are impressed. I love eating out when I return to Australia. I left in the mid-'70s and every time I come back, I'm more amazed. I have the most fabulous food in restaurants. It might be a little bit pricey, but it's fabulous, and the coffee culture in Melbourne is like no other city. You can recognise Australian cuisine, or an Australian cooking - the food is open-minded, skilful, not weighed down by traditions or rules. I don't like the term ''fusion food'', usually it is confusion food, but Australian cooks often coming from other traditions understand how to take the bounty of Australian produce and create a distinctive cuisine. It's not like you're eating Asian food, but all those Asian vegetables, spices, herbs and flavours are combined in your cooking. You seem to put those things together better than anybody else.
From: Good Living