While no-booking policies, done-to-death dude food, and massive ‘shared plates’ drove us crazy when recently dining out in Australia, the food scene in Australia has never been more exciting. Here are some of the Australian food trends we loved.
Australian Food Trends We Love
Baking bread and churning butter
While there’s one school of thought that goes “why would we bake our own bread when XXX bakery does it better”, and we get that and understand the space and time constraints in kitchens, there is something special about bread baked in house and butter freshly churned that morning.
Dan Hunter, whose chefs at Brae — well, Dan actually — begin stoking the outdoor wood oven the moment they arrive at work, says he loves the ritual of baking bread, and his dedication shows in the quality of his loaves. Having a little nibble of crusty sourdough with some decadently rich butter while sipping on some bubbles really enhances the expectation of the meal to come.
Even when chefs have to buy in bread, many are getting it baked to their own recipes and often churning their own butter daily.
Respecting the ingredients
This could also be called the ‘less is more’ trend in Australia. The focus here is on top quality ingredients and letting them shine. There’s a big movement to do very little to produce other than to cook it in whatever way enhances its natural flavours and lets us taste the ingredient in all its glory.
Now you might think that this is simple, but restraint is hard. Slathering a three-day old piece of fish in a cream sauce can hide a multitude of sins. Sending out freshly caught fish that’s just been cooked leaves the chef with nowhere to hide.
Nobody is doing this better than Firedoor restaurant in Sydney where wonderful Australian products, from shrimps to spring onions, are cooked on fire with little else but salt or olive oil to season them.
This is one of the most exciting Australian food trends for us, because it is the least intimidating. It shows diners how fantastic fresh seasonal produce can taste when cooked simply, demonstrating that they don’t need a spherification kit or sous vide machine to create a meal that will impress their dinner guests.
Crediting the source
Australia’s best chefs have long credited the talented producers who grow and raise the fine ingredients and produce they use in their restaurants, acknowledging their names in the back of the menu. We remember the first times we saw this was at Rockpool and Tetsuya’s over 20 years ago.
Today it’s wonderful to see that this is one of the hottest Australian food trends in eateries right across the country and to see that hardworking producers are getting credit where it’s due. We love that Bennelong in Sydney provides a whole separate menu listing the producers they use — chef Peter Gilmore is a champion of Australian farmers and growers.
Using native ingredients
A number of Australian chefs have been using indigenous ingredients like lemon myrtle, salt bush and bunya nut in their cuisine for some years now. One of Ben Shewry of Attica’s best-known dishes consists solely of native fruits that you’re unlikely to see at any other restaurants in Australia.
It may not be one of the biggest Australian food trends of the moment, but we’ve been seeing chefs, at all different levels of dining, right across the country, incorporating native Aussie ingredients in subtle ways that are far from gimmicky, as we saw in the 1990s. The standout, however, is chef Jock Zonfrillo at Orana in Adelaide who with his kitchen team are creating their own indigenous Australian cuisine based almost entirely on native ingredients.
Some chefs, who can still recall the experiments of the 1980s, are still wary of this trend, while younger chefs working in Australia think it’s odd that we’ve not been using these native flavours in our cooking.
Celebrating Culinary Heritage
Contemporary Australian cuisine is what it is thanks to our rich culinary diversity and the way in which our bowerbird chefs naturally reach for the ‘ethnic’ ingredients that have become our own, subtly incorporating them into their dishes. A new breed of Australian and expat chefs are highlighting their influences and celebrating their culinary roots.
Two standouts are Australian-Filipino chef Dennis Leslie whose Filipino-inspired Aussie cuisine at Hill of Grace restaurant in Adelaide features ingredients like longanisa, a sweet Filipino sausage, and techniques like ‘ginataan’, to cook in coconut, and South African expat chef Duncan Welgemoed who has introduced dishes and ingredients from across the African continent to Adelaide’s lucky diners.
Redefining and refining texture
Perhaps it’s that ubiquitous Asian — particularly Thai and Vietnamese — influence on Australia’s culinary culture again, but chefs have embraced texture in recent years, incorporating crunch and snap, crispiness and graininess, in their dishes like never before.
The king of texture for us on our last big eating trip back was chef Ross Lusted at The Bridge Room, but now that everyone’s doing it we note that the chef has redefined and refined the contrasting surfaces and consistencies and now has the balance of textures down to a fine art.
What have we missed? What Australian food trends of recent years do you love — or loathe?