Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine

  • Indigenous Australians innovatively hunted and gathered their produce to primarily sustain their existence. They were the first, and most practical, foragers.
  • The scope of post-colonisation produce was largely based around European preferences set by British rule.
  • Our remoteness, and lack of any culinary identity in our post-colonisation formative years, influenced a more produce driven cuisine.
  • Immigration widened the diversity of our produce.
  • The recent ‘Paddock to Plate’ movement has refocused both the Chefs and diners attention to produce that is sourced sustainably and showcased in an uncomplicated manner.

By Dane Richards

Australian produce is recognised as being amongst the best in the world. Recently, the highly acclaimed Chef Rene Redzepi focused his Noma pop-up in Sydney primarily around showcasing local native ingredients, with his personal interpretation of our cuisine. How relevant that outside perspective was and ultimately what contribution and legacy it left behind, will be judged over a longer period of time when the context becomes clearer. However, produce undeniably influenced both the dishes and the underlying narrative of that restaurant.

Nonetheless, the question of what influence produce overall has had on the evolution of Australian cuisine remains an entirely valid one. Once we accept the most obvious conclusion, that without it the industry or indeed our cuisine would not exist without it, the importance of it is defined without equivocation. The Indigenous Influences and Immigration Paddocks will examine in more detail how our cuisine was shaped, both culturally and conceptually from both those factors, however the effect of the latter on the diversity of produce that is now available, is unquestionable.

Our Indigenous Australians hunted and gathered what was available to sustain their existence, and did so in both a time-honoured and innovative manner. Post-colonisation produce was largely determined by what the British planted in the early experimental farms they established. There is little doubt those fundamental choices were based primarily around their European preferences; however as our own cuisine slowly emerged and developed; it changed those perceptions of what produce we required. To measure how far we have come since colonisation, Darling Mills Farm at Berrilee in NSW, which supplies many major restaurants in Sydney, grows over a hundred varieties of herbs and salad plants.

There is little doubt the most recent part of our culinary timeline has seen produce significantly influence our cuisine more than in our formative stages. However, some may say that philosophically we have come full circle, where the value placed on the simplicity and quality of the ingredients has returned with a greater emphasis, and is once again driving what is on our plates. It could also be argued that it is now just underpinned by more refined techniques, and a greater diversity of ingredients to choose from, but the underlying premise is not that dissimilar at all.

Other factors that we will examine in far greater detail as both the project and discussion progresses, is the impact of climate change, the Supermarket duopoly, mining activity, and foreign prime farming land purchases. Additionally, the noticeable lack of a long term agricultural sustainability policy from both sides of the major political divide, not only for our population, but assisting others as the global population heads towards an inevitable tipping point, are all a critical part of the bigger picture.

The successful journey of quality produce from “paddock to plate” requires a meaningful collaboration between farmer, provedore and chef, with an unwavering commitment by those on the land often underpinning that challenging process. The reward is the simple joy of a plate of food that showcases beautifully fresh and seasonal locally grown produce, well executed, that encapsulates its origins and sense of place. When the narrative of that dish also incorporates and celebrates our national identity, then the work of the chef has been done.