Starting in the 1970s, Australian chefs began taking our tastebuds into uncharted territory, providing the talent and inspiration to revolutionise the kitchens of Australian restaurants. Unconstrained by notions of what was ‘right’, they began experimenting, freely mixing the cuisines of Asia and Europe, breaking most of the rules along the way and creating ripples that are still felt at restaurant tables today.
The success of chefs such as David Thompson, Christine Manfield and a multitude of other talented Australians in London is well documented. But Sydney chefs are feeding other parts of the world, too. They are now highly sought-after internationally and a new, younger group are leading the way. Many of these up-and-coming stars are alumni from Sydney’s two most consistently and widely acclaimed establishments, Tetsuya’s and Rockpool.
With world-class chefs such as Tetsuya Wakuda and Neil Perry (Rockpool) leading the way, Australia has become the breeding ground for a growing band of chefs who have honed their creative skills here before heading overseas. David Thompson who started Sailor’s Thai in Sydney, now has nahm in London, Matthew Crabbe has imparted ‘Mod Oz’ techniques at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo and Mark Best worked at L’Arpège, a Michelin three star establishment in Paris before returning to Sydney to open the much-acclaimed Marque in 2000.
We’ve also enticed to our shores, a number of European Michelin-starred chefs who are revelling in our open approach to cuisine in their fabulous new restaurants here – chefs such as Meyjitte Boughenout, Jan Gundlach and Bruno Loubet.
There are any number of our chefs who’ve written internationally acclaimed cookbooks and those, such as Luke Mangan, Neil Perry, and Kylie Kwong - who’ve been called to cook for overseas royalty, design menus for international airlines, front television cooking shows, and are coveted as guest chefs at the world’s top dining establishments.
And, let’s not forget the women who’ve led the way, broadened our palates and perceptions, written the ‘bibles’, inspired a new, younger generation of chefs, and taken the new trends into the kitchens and homes of everyday Australians. Women such as Stephanie Alexander, Maggie Beer, Christine Manfield, the high-profile Kylie Kwong and our first female three-hat (i) chef, Chui Lee Luk of Claude’s.
‘Modern Australian’ (or ’Mod Oz’) is a term that has been applied to Australian cuisine; it’s a promise that you will be tantalised, challenged, refreshed and always surprised. But in amidst all the Wagyu beef, warm salads, truffle oil, crusted salmon and noodles there’s also a return to classic or retro food, comfort food and even ‘Franglish’ - British-French cuisine. Whatever the latest trend, however, be assured our chefs will delight, surprise, even shock but ,above all, lift your expectations of what a great dining experience should be.
The philosophy of the grand dame of Australian cooking, author (The Cook’s Companion) and restaurateur Stephanie Alexander is, “Fresh is best and local is better”. That’s also the philosophy behind the cooking of many of our younger star chefs. Perhaps the last word should go to one of those new younger, up-and-coming two hat chefs, Geoff Lindsay: “I am a fifth generation Aussie boy who is seduced by ginger, chilli and palm sugar, turkish delight and pomegranate. My food is, I believe, intrinsically Australian and I am proud of that. It is multicultural, layered, with influences from all over the world and tinged with new frontier enthusiasm.”
Now that’s passion!