Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine

  • Chef Martelossi believes that ‘there is a general lack of understanding about seasonality, and how the different seasons affect the size and flavour of produce’ in Australia, as the country can produce fresh food all year round due to its vast climatic differences. Meanwhile, the Italian cuisine stems from a traditional culinary culture with social and religious meanings for food. Italian cuisine comprises of different cooking styles based on seasonality. As an example: ‘in the middle of winter, we [Italians] don’t eat tomatoes for a few reasons, firstly due to availability – and secondly, what is available doesn’t taste how it should’.

  • Commenting on the difference between Italian and Australian cuisine, Martelossi points out that ‘in Italian cuisine there is a strong connection to regional produce, with each region (and the towns within each region) having their own specialities. A great example is the difference in flavour and texture of prosciutto, each type is named and produced in a particular way according to its region.’ Regional Italian cuisine is usually based on the local supply of produce and historically was developed by the peasant classes. This evolved into the essence of Italian food, which consists of delicious and simple recipes where the fresh ingredients speak for themselves. Italian food that is globally known today is a collection of food styles from different regions of Italy brought and disseminated by Italian immigrants around the world.

Dane Richards speaks with Chef Jacopo Martelossi from Sydney’s NU 56 to get his take on our nation’s cuisine.

“I would like to see in the future, a stronger connection with native Australian produce, and the concept of “foraging”. Also, I believe an education program focusing on seasonality, and the environmental impacts that affect our food bowls in schools. This would benefit the children and the generations that come after them.”

Our cuisine

DR: What is Australian cuisine?

Chef JM: I view Australian cuisine as history in the making. Australia is a relatively new country with only a couple of hundred years of predominately English cuisine as its base; however, there are thousands of years of history of Indigenous Australian cuisine, or “bush tucker”. The “Modern Australian cuisine” as I understand it, has a strong focus on the beautiful produce our great food bowl provides us, cooked with French techniques, and has influences of spices from around the globe, due to our fantastic multicultural fabric of society.

The cultural side of Australian cuisine, I believe, is our cafe breakfast/brunch and coffee culture. This has evolved strongly in the last ten years. I believe that we have the best coffee roasters and baristas in the world here in Australia, and our coffee culture is always evolving and pushing the boundaries.

I always think about what Australian cuisine is when my family comes to visit, and the staples that we make them try are; the meat pie, the Australian hamburger from the local shops, vegemite, BBQ Chicken, salads, and of course our fresh seafood, or fish and chips on the beach. Even though each item isn’t uniquely Australian, it is a base of Australian culture.

Influences

DR: What do you think were the primary influences behind its evolution?

Chef JM: The primary influences behind the evolution of Australian cuisine are definitely the wonderful multicultural fabric of our society, the accessibility to international travel for Australian families, and the lack of binding tradition that allows for more creativity, growth and experimentation.

I would like to see in the future, a stronger connection with native Australian produce, and the concept of “foraging”. Also, I believe an education program focusing on seasonality, and the environmental impacts that affect our food bowls in schools. This would benefit the children and the generations that come after them.

Italian heritage

DR: You are of Italian heritage – what do you feel is the main difference between Italian and Aussie cuisine?

Chef JM: The difference between Italian cuisine and Australian cuisine really isn’t that big now. The main difference is that Italian cuisine has a very old tradition, and strong regional differences, driven by seasonality of produce. For example, in the middle of winter, we don’t eat tomatoes for a few reasons, firstly due to availability – and secondly, what is available doesn’t taste how it should. It is a little different in Australia, as there is a vast climatic difference between the North of the continent and the South. You can have warm summery conditions in the North, where tomatoes and tropical fruit grow, and alternatively, Jerusalem artichokes growing in the Southern winter conditions.

There is also an underlying expectation that produce has a consistent supply and a general lack of understanding about seasonality, and how the different seasons affect the size and flavour of produce. I feel strongly that there has been a missing link of education in Australian cuisine, about seasonality and the origin of produce, and how the importance of the natural environment, affects and changes the flavour of the produce that is grown.

In Italian cuisine, there is a strong connection to regional produce, with each region – and towns within each region- having their own specialities. A great example is the difference in flavour and texture of prosciutto, each type is named and produced in a particular way according to its region. For example, Prosciutto di San Danielle has different characteristics to Prosciutto di Parma. There is protection for wine, wheat, grains, bread, coffee, vegetables, fruit and chocolate, which are regionally produced, and then commercialised throughout Italy and the world.

Another example is the most beautiful pistachios grown in Sicily from a town called Bronte. These pistachios are not mixed with other pistachios from other regions, and their cultivation is protected, and they are named Pistachio di Bronte. You know exactly the product you are buying, and the quality based on the regional reputation.

It would be nice to see something similar to the slow food movement occur more in Australia, where people understand and know, which region their produce is actually coming from. It is about creating a precedent that begins with wine and certain meats, but it would be great to see it isolated further down to the specific town that the produce is grown in. That way, the produce is known to come from that particular area. This in effect creates a micro-economy, and food tourism for our country towns and producers, who are the silent heroes of our food bowls.

Image:

Hudec, B. (17 December 2016). Dining review: La Crema Lounge, modern Italian food in Allambie Heights. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/northern-beaches/dining-review-la-crema-lounge-modern-italian-food-in-allambie-heights/news-story/4bc6fd73d43a2618eb238a74e3282d8 9