Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine

  • Trade schools in Australia taught the classic French cuisine as the basic method in their cooking programs. Today, it remains the cooking application for the production of the “Contemporary or Modern Australian Cuisine”.
  • On many official Government and VIP Events, the menus were written in French to underline the quality of the cuisine.
  • French restaurants created the fine dining food scene with table cloth, good quality tableware, flowers on the tables and sometimes even live music.
  • Many young Australian chefs ventured to France for a “stage” (in training) in leading restaurants and worked with well-reputed chefs. They used that knowledge and skills to develop their own culinary vision and to influence others chefs to follow.
  • The French Mediterranean Cuisine was a perfect fit for Australia with a similar lifestyle, seasonality and produce. Therefore one could conclude that the Contemporary Australia Cuisine is in fact a fresher, lighter and spicier version of that Mediterranean Cuisine.

by Fritz Gubler

The French influence on the AussieCuisine started way back with the arrival of the First Fleet in January 1788.

Before his assignment to command the Botany Bay Project, Governor Arthur Phillip spent time in France becoming exposed their comprehensive cuisine and gaining an appreciation of their food culture. So it is of little surprise that when he arrived in Botany Bay in 1788, included in his personal staff were a French Chef and a French steward. Therefore, one could argue that food had a high priority in the new settlement right from the beginning!

So, perhaps not from the very beginning – and perhaps not for everyone. In the first few years it was a challenge to just regularly get enough food on to the tables, but a desire to consume good food was instilled by Governor Phillip onto the colonials as is evident on the menus of his official banquets.

Only a few days after Governor Phillip’s arrival, French explorer Comte de la Perouse landed just a few kilometres down the coast in a place now called La Perouse. He stayed for 6 weeks before he vanished never to be seen again. Other French explorers and expeditions visited the colony and left permanent footprints around the coast with many places bearing their French names such as D’Entrecasteaux National Park and South of Hobart the town of Huonville. A number of areas on the West Coast also bear names from their exploration; Faure Island and the Peron Peninsula, Cape Naturaliste and Geographe Bay are named after the two ships carrying the French Baudin expedition, just to mention a few.

Perhaps they did not only leave a few names scattered about our coasts, but also some of their passions and values – and maybe, they also planted the seeds to our culinary evolution at that time.

The classic French cuisine provides the ground rules on which most western cuisines are based. Part of that cuisine is the lighter French Mediterranean food preparation which turned out to be the perfect fit for Australia considering the similarities in the produce, the climates of the land, the coasts and our relaxed way of life.

Following in the footsteps

A few French chefs came to Australia in the early days and many opened restaurants that provided serious professional cooking, often emulated by Australian chefs. This improved both the quality and variety of food served in our restaurants. They also brought professional cook books with them which provided knowledge and instructions for many local chefs enabling them to perform and develop professionally. It was this input that assisted the substantial growth of the restaurant business in the 1970s.

Late in 1969 Patric Juillet arrived in Sydney for a 6-month adventure down under, but he stayed. Soon enough he had a project and he opened Juillet’s, a French bistro. As a novelty it had a blackboard menu and checkered tablecloths and on his menu were his famous French onion soup, mussels and venison.

It didn’t survive long and a few other restaurant projects followed. After a gig in France to get updated on the Cuisine Nouvelle, he and his wife Chrissie opened Le Café Nouveau in 1977. He offered a new approach to French food – lighter and more exciting – the first steps towards an “AussieCuisine”. It was an initial success, but three year later the show was over, Patric had given whatever he could. He provided a new culinary perspective, a French flair and introduced the Nouvelle Cuisine to Australia and we should be thankful for that. After that he left the heat of the kitchen and later even the shores of Australia.

Corsica-born Jean-Paul Prunetti wanted a break from tough chef jobs in Paris when he came to Australia in 1972. However, he was soon back to work, only this time as restaurant manager at the Les Halles in Richmond. In 1986 he opened his own typical Parisian bistro, France-Soir. For 30 years Prunetti has served hearty food cooked by his French chef Géraud Fabre, proudly providing a little corner of Paris to the Melburnians.

In November 1983 Jacques Reymond arrived in Melbourne after some extensive food trekking in South America. Promises for a special opportunity in Australia drove he and his wife and two daughters to immigrate to Australia. Unfortunately that special opportunity disappeared soon after his arrival. At Mietta’s he had a chance to promote His French Cuisine and in 1987 he opened with his wife Kathy his own restaurant, Jacques Reymond. After only a short time he gained professional respect and many culinary awards for his restaurant. During his time in Australia, Jacques influenced not only the quality of the food on our tables but contributed immensely towards the development of our young chefs.

Gwenael Lesle came to Australia in 1986 to assist the opening of the Observation City at the then Scarborough Hotel in Perth. Gwenael stayed on in Western Australia and he stayed true to his native cuisine at the Bouchon Restaurant and now at the Budburst Small Bar.

Romain Bapst hails from the Alsatian city of Strasbourg and immigrated to Australia in 1990. At Mietta’s in Melbourne he produced French-inspired food and was appreciated for his talent to teach young chefs the fundamentals of the classical cuisine. He still does that in his latest project the Lutèc Bistro & Wine Bar in Brisbane. As President of the Accademie Culinary de France he passionately promotes the cuisine he loves.

Philippe Mouchel was asked by Paul Bocuse to move to Melbourne to open his restaurant at the Daimaru Centre in 1991. During the next seven years Philippe served classical French cuisine at Paul Bocuse to the delights of the Melbournian culinary circle. Since then he maintained his contribution to the dining-out scene with stints at various restaurants and only recently opened Philip’s in the CBD

French born chef Meyiite Boughenot came to Australia in 1995, he was a young head chef in Belgium in a restaurant which was awarded 19.5 / 20 from Gault&Millau. He learned his trade from the very best – Chef Jacque Pic and George Blanc. In Australia he offered his own unique dishes some influenced by his hero, the famous and respected icon of French cuisine Pierre Gagnaire. At his restaurant Absynthe French Restaurant in Surfers Paradise he continues to do just that.

After his apprenticeship, Guillaume Brahimi worked in the very best restaurants in Paris; La Tour D’Argent and at Jamin with the famous chef Joel Robuchon. Arriving in Sydney in the 1990s he was successful in various restaurant projects but made his mark when he took over Bennelong at the Sydney Opera House in 2001. It quickly gained various awards and an international recognition. In 2014 he relocated his team to Paddington in Sydney’s east to open Guillaume and then expanded his brand to Melbourne and Perth.

In 1999 a charming young French chef arrived. Manu Fidel proved he can cook and he did that in various kitchens in Sydney. Tony Bilson offered him a unique chance to be the head chef for his new restaurant Bilson’s, offering French contemporary cuisine. He made his first TV appearances in 2005 on Ready Steady Cook and has promoted culinary cooking on various TV shows and charmed the audiences with his lovely French accent ever since.

One of the most passionate promoters of the French Cuisine – and one who substantially influenced the direction of our AussieCuisine – is the Australian-born Toni Bilson. With his legendary bow-tie crowning his chefs-whites he could almost pass as French. He is indeed a “Bon vivant” loving life and all kind of art, mostly the art on the tables.

As a young chef he opened his first restaurant in Melbourne in 1971. It of course it had a French name, La Pomme d’Or’ and it served French food. Over the following years Tony was involved in many restaurants projects in Melbourne and Sydney, always culinary leaders if not always financially successful.

There were many other French chefs venturing to Australia over the past decades and influenced our eating-out culture and provided the AussieCuising structure and direction.

Trade schools in Australia taught the classic French cuisine as the basic method in their cooking programs. Many young Australian chefs ventured to France for a “stage” (in training) in respected restaurants and with well-trained chefs, they now use that knowledge and skills to develop their own culinary vision and to progress their professional career in Australia.

Therefore, one could conclude that the “modern or contemporary Australian Cuisine” is in fact an updated, lighter and brighter variation of the French Cuisine.