Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine

  • The realization in 1956 that Australia was not ready to impress our visitors from around the world with our cuisine during the Olympic Games in Melbourne might have been one of the most important mile stone in our culinary journey.
  • The 100 imported chefs from Central Europe “saved our bacon” at the time and brought professionalism and diversity to our restaurants in Melbourne.
  • 44 years later we were ready to serve a unique cuisine to our visitors to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Our culinary journey moved forward since the 1956 Olympics and evolved into a more International cuisine including some exciting Asian flavours and influences.
  • That journey has continued unabated since then. One could now argue that the two Olympic Games gave the impetus to develop a culinary cuisine for Australia.

by Fritz Gubler

While steady immigration over more than two centuries has been a driving force shaping Aussie cuisine, the impact of short-term “immigration” associated with key events in our history should not be overlooked. Perhaps none more so than the times Australia played host to the Olympic Games.

It was 1955. The preparations for the Olympic Games in Melbourne were not going well resulting in Committee’s President Avery Brundage describing the city’s preparation as “deplorable” and even suggesting the Games could still be moved to another city. It was clear support from overseas was needed.

Besides expertise and skilled labour, the country needed chefs as it was felt the local “tucker” would not have been appreciated by the athletes and visitors from around the world.

Advertisements for chefs were placed in various European cities for a culinary adventure “Down Under” with very good results. Hundreds of chefs applied for the position to make the long trek to Australia with about one hundred chefs ultimately arriving from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Britain. While they were expected to stay for two years, many would make the move permanent.

One person to answer the call was a young Swiss chef named Hermann Schneider. At the conclusion of the Games Schneider worked at various Melbourne establishments before taking a job at Antonio’s in South Yarra. By 1960, he – along with a financial backer – would open his own restaurant. Beginning as an after-theatre supper club, “Two Faces” quickly gained a reputation for its culinary delights and in 1975 the National Times declared it the “Best Restaurant in Australia”. Schneider would go on to introduce a number of new trends to the eating scene in Melbourne and in turn contributed greatly to the culinary development of Australia.

If the Melbourne Olympic Games could be viewed as a “dress rehearsal”, then the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 was the “real show”. Not only were the venues ready, but the country was ready too. This time there would no need to import chefs. It was ready to host athletes, their families and friends and spectators from every corner of the world.

Our culinary credentials were impressive; we served a decent cappuccino (most of the time), we offered olive oil and Murray River salt on restaurant tables and our Australian wine was a surprise discovery for most of our visitors. However it was the variety of ethnic cuisines offered in well-established and professionally operated restaurants that was the talking point among the epicurean tourists. Australia had come of age.

And this was merely the beginning. It could well be argued that the past sixteen years have seen a more rapid evolution in our cuisine than the previous two hundred.

Perhaps the success of the 2000 Olympic Games was confirmation of our ability? Or perhaps it merely provided us with the motivation to push ourselves even further. Whatever the reason, a visitor to the 2000 Games would be delighted to see our further culinary development upon their return.

While there may not be another Olympic Games in our immediate future, when that day arrives, Australia – and our cuisine – will be more than ready to once again play host to the world.