Cover image for Australian food : in celebration of the new cuisine
Australian food : in celebration of the new cuisine
Saunders, Alan, 1954-
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Publication Information:
Berkeley, Calif. : Ten Speed Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
224 pages : color illustrations ; 28 cm
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TX725.A8 S28 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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Australia, the land of sun, sand, and sea, is hot for yet another reason these days -- it's a hub for exciting, original global cuisine. Author Alan Saunders celebrates this new cuisine in a sumptuously illustrated volume of recipes from 54 of the country's leading chefs, purveyors, and food writers.

Author Notes

Educated at the London School of Economics and the Australian National University, Alan Saunders (center) had embarked on a career as a science journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation when the smell of cooking distracted him. In 1988, he founded "The Food Program," a weekly radio show which he presented until 1997. He now presents "The Comfort Zone," a weekly review of food, architecture, design, and gardens. He has written regular food columns for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Bulletin, and City Weekly. His first book, A is for Apple, was published in 1995. After ten years as a food writer, he's still hungry.
Since arriving in Australia from Sweden, where he studied art and photography. Rodney Weidland (right) has specialized in photographing gardens, interiors and food. His award-winning books have been published both in Australia and the United States, and include Taste of Australia, Art of Preserving, and A Passionate Cook. As the last photograph was taken for this project, Rodney literally leapt on a plane bound for yet another international assignment with food.
Barbara Beckett (left) has been cooking since she was a child and making books all her professional life. For the past eighteen years, she has been the publisher of a book packaging company, specializing in gardening, crafts, biography, art, and cooking. In fact, there never seems to be a time when she isn't reading, writing, designing, art directing and styling food photography, or publishing a cookbook.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

For most Americans, the words "Australian food" conjure up few images beyond some television commercial for "shrimp on the barbie." Saunders introduces a contemporary Australian cooking which clearly derives from the currently prevalent "international" style. This sophisticated cooking occurs almost exclusively in restaurants and features architectural presentations that give food a dramatically vertical look. It's not the sort of food that most people in Australia, or anywhere else, ever see on the family dinner table. Recipes such as Braised Ox Cheek make good use of Australia's superior wines. Pavlova, Australia's famous meringue and fruit dessert, puts in an appearance sauced with tropical passion fruit. Saunders helpfully categorizes recipes by their ease or complexity of preparation, but these designations do not reflect the difficulty in acquiring ingredients including squid ink pasta, lemon myrtle leaves, or fresh-killed yabbies (a local crustacean). --Mark Knoblauch

Publisher's Weekly Review

To answer the obvious question, yes, kangaroo meat does make an appearance in this beautifully photographed and diverse collection of foodstuffs from Down Under. But more to the point, the marsupial appears in a dish where you might least expect it: a Polenta with Smoked Kangaroo and Parmesan. If that concept smacks more of Sicily than Sydney, then it is indeed at the heart of what Saunders, an established Aussie food writer, proclaims with every pageÄthat today's Australian cuisine is a celebration of fusion. And it is by no means just an Italian mixÄFrench, Chinese, Thai and English cuisines also influence these recipes, which are culled from the kitchens of 54 chefs, restaurateurs and food experts from around the continent. There are several lamb dishes that are grand for the barbecue, including Barbecued Lamb Rumps in a Spicy Yogurt Marinade, and at least a dozen sweet desserts, such as an Asian-inspired Coconut and Apricot Pudding glazed with a Coconut Sugar Syrup. But the seafood dishes highlight this volumeÄChef Cheong Liew's The Four Dances is a multicultural recipe composed of Soused Snook, Octopus with Aioli, Raw Cuttlefish with Black Noodles, and Spiced Prawn Sushi. Of course, not everything need be that complex: chef Janet Jeffs relaxes with a beer-battered Summertime Fish and Chips, and Guillaume Brahimi serves up a simple Stew of Yabbies (crayfish in the U.S.) with Clams, Mussels and Scallops. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Twenty years ago the term "Australian cuisine" would have been a jokeÄbut today the country's talented young chefs have come into their own, and Australian cooking has a sophisticated new identity. A food writer and host of a radio food show, Saunders provides a witty, perceptive, and highly readable introduction to the elegant recipes showcased in this lavishly illustrated, large-format paperback; striking color photographs, often full-page, accompany many of the recipes. These are chef's dishes, and although the recipes have been Americanized, there are still some "Australianisms" and some unfamiliar or unobtainable ingredients. However, anyone interested in the food world will find this book quite fascinating. Strongly recommended. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The Flavour of Australia Alan Saunders The Flavour of Australia Eating in the World's Next Great City There are three great cuisines in the world: French, Chinese and the other one. What the `other one' is depends on who you're talking to and, more to the point, whence they come. Japanese is certainly a contender; contenders also are Italian, Turkish, Moroccan and anything from Mexico except the stuff we normally think of as Mexican food. Then there's Indian (or, to be more precise, there are Indian, because, although Indian cooking is sometimes described as the third best in the world, the truth is that India is a land of many regions, each with its own cuisine and the people of one region seldom eat the food of another). All in all, however, it seems to be the case that, whatever this third cuisine might be, it doesn't export itself with quite the swagger of the French and the Chinese.     Exporting, of course, is the point (or, at least, a lot of it). However much some of us might talk about the importance of climate, season, soil and local produce, when we describe French cuisine as a great cuisine, we don't mean merely that it's great in France, but also that it's great everywhere. French cuisine is thought great partly because French restaurants appear in so many restaurant guides published in so many cities of the world.     Take, for example, just one Australian city: to be more precise, take the Sydney of about ten years ago, when it became my home. There was no doubt there and then as to which were the two most significant cuisines. Fifty-nine French and fifty-nine Italian restaurants were considered good enough to make it into the 1986 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide , which at that time was edited by Leo Schofield (`with John Amery' it said on the title page, although Leo alone signed the introduction). But for Sydney in 1986--or at least for Leo Schofield--the identity of the third most important cuisine was difficult to determine. It certainly wasn't Chinese, which scored only twenty-one entries and was beaten easily by a category labelled `seafood,' which rated forty-one mentions. `Seafood,' however, is a name tag for raw materials, not a cuisine (it's a long way from sashimi to bouillabaisse or bacalao), so naturally one looked to see what came next. And what came next, in fourth place, with thirty-three restaurants to its name, was `international' cuisine.     This is a deeply disturbing and ambiguous label. Fatally, it conjures up in the mind the sort of place memorably evoked by the American food writer, Calvin Trillin. `In American cities the size of Kansas City, a careful travelling man has to observe the rule that any restaurant the executive secretary of the Chamber of Commerce is particularly proud of is almost certainly not worth eating in,' said Trillin. `Its name will be something like La Maison de la Casa House, Continental Cuisine; its food will sound European but taste as if the continent they had in mind was Australia.' Now, there's a man who really knows how to wound. To be fair, though, Trillin was writing in 1974, a time when Australia could have served as well as Ethiopia or Antarctica as the space on the culinary map at which cartographers give up for lack of information and hand the pen over to more decorative and imaginative artists. Moreover, Trillin, a man ahead of his time, was engaged in a righteous crusade to persuade his fellow Americans to appreciate the culinary treasures on their doorstep rather than to hanker after poor local imitations of what was happening many thousands of miles away.     There may be a lesson here for Australians, but it's not a simple one. Trillin thought that visitors to Atlanta--which in 1974 was cutely describing itself as `the World's Next Great City'--should be taken to Mary-Mac's on Ponce de Leon for a bowl of pot likker (a frugal but delicious Southern soup made of the water in which greens have been boiled), but where, in 1974 or 1986, was the equivalent of pot likker to draw the visitor to Australia away from the dull but dependable pleasures of international cuisine? Australia, it seemed, had no such homely local specialities and, lacking them, was doomed to dine at La Maison de la Casa House or wherever else its chambers of commerce deemed desirable.     Something else, however, was happening in Australia--and some of it was happening under that unpromising banner of international cuisine. In 1986, Kinsela's in Bourke Street was one of the Sydney Good Food Guide 's international restaurants, but what was on offer here (and, sadly, I have to rely on repute rather than on personal experience) was a world away from the Frozen Duck à l'Orange Soda Pop that Calvin Trillin used to encounter at La Maison de la Casa House. Yes, there was a French accent to the food--international cuisine has always spoken in the tones of Inspector Clouseau--but it was the French not of somebody who has been mechanically trained in a catering college far from Paris, but of a genuine amateur, someone who had come to French food out of the love of it. Moreover, that somebody, Tony Bilson, had working with him a sous-chef of startling originality who was ultimately to combine the French technique that he had learned in Australia with the food of his native Japan in a marriage so seamlessly perfect that it was as though the two had never lived apart. His name was Tetsuya Wakuda, and, ten years later, he was in the Good Food Guide with a restaurant of his own.     By then, the number of French restaurants listed in the Sydney Good Food Guide had shrunk to twelve, Italian to twenty-five and international to just four. Real comparison is impossible, however, because the most remarkable characteristic of the 1996 edition--the first to be edited by Terry Durack and Jill Dupleix--is the baroque proliferation of categories in its index: American/modern Australian, Australian regional, Cantonese, Cantonese seafood, Cantonese/Chinese regional, Chinese regional, French/Australian, French/Japanese (there was only one of these and it was Tetsuya Wakuda's restaurant), French/modern Australian, French seafood, Italian/modern Australian, Italian seafood, modern Australian country, modern Australian/Italian and modern Australian seafood.     Of all the categories represented, the biggest was one that hadn't appeared at all in 1986: `modern Australian,' which weighed in with 121 entries. (In the most recent edition, which is a little less extravagant with its category chopping, the modern Australian label is applied to 161 out of the 385 establishments listed.) Clearly, something significant had happened over that decade. In 1986, `Australian' had been an uncertain label applied alike to steak houses and to places that offered you duckling with cherries. Difficult and interesting restaurants were described either, like Kinsela's, as `international' or (and this was a real abdication of responsibility) as `individual.' In 1986, Perry's restaurant in Paddington was `individual,' by 1996, its eponymous chef, Neil Perry, was in confident command of the Rockpool, an establishment the Good Food Guide had no hesitation in calling `modern Australian.'     But what is modern Australian cuisine? This is clearly not a category that is infinitely elastic--as we've seen, Tetsuya Wakuda's food, some of the most interesting I know, is still described by the Good Food Guide as `French/Japanese'--but its boundaries are by no means firm. Some of the restaurants thus described are primarily Italian in influence, others draw their inspiration from North Africa or from Asia. Does this seem to imply that eclecticism is the salient characteristic of modern Australian cuisine? Perhaps it does, but this is hardly a uniquely Australian quality: `In reality, British food is, and always has been, a hotchpotch of culinary ideas,' writes Sybil Kapoor in the introduction to her Modern British Food , published in 1995. `We have pilfered recipes from around the world and then subverted them to our own particular taste and needs.' British food, she continues, is characterised by `elegant simplicity,' `innovative use of ingredients,' and `fresh flavours'--all of which is more or less what a lot of people would say about modern Australian food. To help us out of these difficulties, we need to ask ourselves what the qualities are that make for an international cuisine.     Throughout the globe, the cuisines of sedentary cultures--those, that is, that aren't nomadic--tend to be characterised by two things: a favourite, staple source of carbohydrate and a group of flavours which is used to make that carbohydrate a little more interesting. In much of Asia, the carbohydrate comes in the form of rice or noodles; in Africa, it's often a porridge made of millet. In each case, the cuisine is given its local twist by the flavours--deriving from animal proteins, vegetables and spices--that are used to lend interest to the starchy staple. International cuisines, however, operate rather differently. What makes them special is their technique.     So let us ask ourselves how the French and the Chinese came to be so firmly established in the first and second, or joint first, positions in the global league table of great cuisines. In the case of China, size certainly helps. China is a huge country with varied climates, varied produce and a gastronomic history stretching back at least as far as the Zhou Dynasty, which began in the eleventh century before Christ. It also has boundless national self-confidence, surpassing even that of the Americans. It's true that China has often sold its food to the rest of the world in quite modest terms, but this is an expression of confidence rather than the lack of it: the ideas behind Chinese food are so clear that they will survive any number of alterations in basic ingredients.     Twenty years ago, Kwang-chih Chang, in the editorial introduction to a valuable collection of essays called Food in Chinese Culture , pointed out that Chinese cuisines distinguish between a staple of rice, millet or some other starch (which in both Mandarin and Cantonese is called fan ), and vegetable or meat dishes ( t'sai in Mandarin, sung in Cantonese), and that this principle of division is so fundamental that it will continue to operate even where Chinese ingredients are not available: Send a Chinese cook into an American kitchen given Chinese or American ingredients, and he or she will (a) prepare an adequate amount of fan, (b) cut up the ingredients and mix them in various combinations, and (c) cook the ingredients into several dishes and perhaps, a soup. Given the right ingredients, the `Chineseness' of the meal would increase, but even with entirely native American ingredients and cooked in American utensils, it is still a Chinese meal .     And it's a Chinese meal even if the fan is fried rice and the t'sai or sung consists of little balls of minced pork fried in a thick batter and then served in a sticky orange-coloured sauce filled with lumps of canned pineapple. If that or chop suey are what the rest of the world wants, the Chinese have been quite happy to provide it.     The French, though they cannot claim anything like so ancient a tradition, are nonetheless heirs to a technique which has turned out to be both highly refined and highly exportable. They, too, do not entirely lack self-confidence and, even when they're trying to be nice, know that what they have to offer the world is better than what the world has to offer them.     In the early 1990s--which some might think was rather late--a serious attempt was made to export French technique to Australia in the form of a branch in Sydney of the Cordon Bleu cooking school. But what, the sceptical observer might have asked, could a French school possibly have to say to Australia in this day and age? It's true that we are wide open to whatever influences the rest of the world has to offer us--how, without a commanding culinary identity of our own, could we not be?--but these days an Australian chef is far more likely to look to Bangkok or Marrakesh for ideas than to Paris or Lyons.     `Probably I'm biased, but I do believe that this is the only training which really allows a full mastering of cuisines, probably because French people have been writing on cuisines for the past five hundred years,' André Cointreau, Chairman of Cordon Bleu, told me when I put this objection to him. France is the focal point at which many national cuisines meet, he told me, and in its capital they are synthesised and codified: `So I do believe that French cuisine is really a cuisine which is at the service of worldwide cuisine.'     I wondered at the time how, say, the sushi chefs of Japan would welcome the glad tidings that French cuisine was at their service--and I still wonder--but there's no doubt that the French way, and more specifically the Cordon Bleu way, has international appeal and that it was something of a coup for Sydney to be only the fifth city in the world (after Paris, London, New York and Tokyo) to have its own Cordon Bleu school.     And what would Australian cooks learn at the school? According to M. Cointreau, they would learn how to bring French technique to bear on Australian ingredients: `Ten or fifteen years ago, I would have thought that New York or California would probably have had the leading role in this kind of fusion cuisine. Today, I believe that Australia is where things are happening, blending this kind of European traditional feeling with this kind of modern cuisine and Asian flavours. But, I would add, with a kind of--and that's very French--full respect not only of balance, but also of the taste of what you have in the recipe.'     So can this possibly mean that Sydney is the world's next great city, now that it, too, like Atlanta, will host the Olympics? One hopes not: only parvenu metropolises worry about their ranking in the world order. The mere possibility that Sydney, in particular, or Australia in general, might worry about questions like this is, perhaps, an uncomfortable reminder of how far we have to go before we acquire the French virtues of balance, moderation and calm confidence in a technique which can safely be placed at the service of the world.     Balance, moderation, calm confidence--above all else, these are adult virtues, and what, in the face of such maturity, can a younger culture offer? Well, of course, what we have is that adventurous eclecticism, that `blending,' that `fusion,' of which M. Cointreau speaks. But, as I've said, the trouble is, we're not the only ones. So does this mean that the undoubted glories of modern Australian cuisine are just the local variant of a global phenomenon of eclecticism, melding, fusion and confusion?     To some extent, this is exactly what it means: the Australian table changed because everything else changed--the world shrank, distances meant less and you could learn in Brisbane what somebody had eaten in New York a minute or so after they'd eaten it. But this cannot be the whole story. Cuisine today is global not just because Ronald McDonald embraces the world, but because chefs in fine restaurants, whether in Melbourne or in Massachusetts, approach their work in quite similar ways. The Australian contribution to global, cuisine, however, is particularly inventive and particularly lively. Why is this so?     Before we can answer that question, we need to remind ourselves of what things used to be like. (Continues...) Copyright © 1999 Lansdowne Publishing Pty Ltd.. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Alan Saunders
The Flavour of Australiap. 7
Soups and Startersp. 43
Salads and Vegetablesp. 71
Meat and Poultryp. 95
Fish and Shellfishp. 123
Barbecuesp. 159
Fruit and Dessertsp. 175
Brief Biographiesp. 207
Further Readingp. 221
Indexp. 222