Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine

  • Despite the ‘native foods craze’, Chef Parry believes that the Indigenous influence on Australian cuisine is excessively promoted by some Australian chefs. ‘Indigenous ingredients in my opinion will only ever represent a small part of “Australian cuisine” as it stands now, unless the Indigenous produce industry starts producing/harvesting native foods on a large scale. The European food influence is deeply ingrained, and at the moment I can’t see Warrigal greens out selling English spinach anytime soon.’

  • ‘Native Australian ingredients attract a premium price at the moment and are not always available to me.’ Due to ever-rising costs to run a restaurant business, restaurateurs and chefs must monitor every expense. Parry prefers to invest his budget on quality proteins instead of native ingredients, as they can add more value from the customer’s point of view.

  • ‘When kids go to school they are told if you don’t have a degree, you will never amount to anything. Trades are no longer as attractive to school leavers, and it is notoriously bad hours and pay in the culinary trade. If you want to be any good as a chef, you have to give up your life to train. Chefs are born, not made, and this is becoming more apparent with shortages all over the world.’ In Australia, there is a huge shortage of chefs, mostly apprentice chefs. Professional chefs have to be born with a natural talent for cooking, such as dexterity, a developed palate and nose, a sense of food balance and creativity, good organisation skills and an ability to multitask. Moreover, the passion for cooking has to overcome the dim reality of the chef’s job: long and irregular work journey, little social time, low remuneration, stressful and hard working environment.

Chef Grant Parry of Benowa’s Videre Restaurant chats with Dane Richards from Aussie Cuisine.

“Integrity is very important until it starts to reflect too much on the price, as generally the more integrity a product has, the more it costs. Saying that, with integrity and provenance, people love to hear about where their asparagus came from, and who picked it. Often, the story of the provenance can be better than the dish itself. These days sustainability seems to be at the forefront of our cuisine, as education surrounding produce has increased. Chefs used to have no idea that an item was unsustainable, but nowadays they do.”

General

Dane Richards: What is Australian cuisine?

Chef Grant Parry: A melting pot: Australian cuisine is anything and everything that is influenced by a person’s own food experiences in Australia. Simply put, it could be indigenous food or pipis in xo. They are to me, all part of the rich food tapestry in Australia.

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

Chef GP: Immigration and new ingredients; you can’t have new recipes without new ingredients, and with new people coming into the country, come new cuisines and food ideas that may or may not be accepted straight away. However, Australians are very open to trying new things and learning new techniques, where often Europeans may be less open and stand strongly behind tradition.

Produce

DR: How important is the integrity, provenance and sustainability of produce in both inspiring and influencing your dishes?

Chef GP: Integrity is very important until it starts to reflect too much on the price, as generally the more integrity a product has, the more it costs. Saying that, with integrity and provenance, people love to hear about where their asparagus came from, and who picked it. Often, the story of the provenance can be better than the dish itself. These days sustainability seems to be at the forefront of our cuisine, as education surrounding produce has increased. Chefs used to have no idea that an item was unsustainable, but nowadays they do.

DR: What part has produce played in the overall development of modern Australian cuisine?

Chef GP: Produce has played a huge part, and with new ingredients comes the new recipes, and the evolution that follows. Heritage vegetables are a good example of this, normal or baby carrots used to be the only ones you could get, now you’ve got people farming all sorts, and they are sought after.

DR: What particular produce in your opinion quintessentially represents Australia on a plate?

Chef GP: Tropical fruit like mango or pineapple. Sitting in the sunshine eating some tropical fruits is what I picture when I think about quintessential Australian produce.

DR: Is Australia properly showcasing the diversity of its produce to international visitors?

Chef GP: Not at the moment, however, it is improving. If I want to get asparagus from France, I can get it easily within a few days. If I wanted to get some wild Australian asparagus, I’d have to go and pick it myself, as it just wouldn’t be possible to order it. It is hard to show off what you can’t order.

Indigenous

DR: How important is it for the untapped potential of Indigenous influence on Australian cuisine to be fully realised?

Chef GP: Moderately important; as indigenous ingredients, in my opinion, will only ever represent a small part of “Australian cuisine” as it stands now, unless the produce industry really goes large scale and starts producing/harvesting native foods on a large scale. The European food influence is deeply ingrained, and at the moment, I can’t see Warrigal greens out selling English spinach anytime soon.

DR: What native Australian ingredients have you successfully incorporated into your dishes?

Chef GP: Unless it’s for a special occasion, I don’t have any on my menu. Native Australian ingredients at the moment attract a premium price and are not always available to me. I have successfully used finger limes amongst others in the past, although they are pricey and with margins as tight as they are, I am always trying to find a saving, so I can put more value into the protein. To be honest, I like the flavour of mint over eucalyptus anyway, as well as lime over finger lime.

DR: Are the Hospitality Industry, and various levels of government, doing enough to encourage young Indigenous chefs?

Chef GP: No, and this is the case for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous chefs. When kids go to school they are told if you don’t have a degree, you will never amount to anything. Trades are no longer attractive to school leavers, and it is notoriously bad hours and pay. If you want to be any good as a chef, you have to give up your life to train. Chefs are born, not made, and this is becoming more apparent with shortages all over the world.

DR: What is your understanding of bush tucker?

Chef GP: Any Indigenous ingredient endemic to Australia

Regional

DR: What is your quintessential memory of an iconic regional Australian dish?

Chef GP: Whole roasted pumpkin on an open fire, lashed with butter, and then ripped apart and simply eaten with some bread and lashings of honey.

DR: Did the foundations of regional cuisine influence modern Australian cuisine in any way?

Chef GP: Modern Australian cuisine has had many influences, and regional cuisine is one of them.

DR: Do you think regional cuisine of recent times has developed its own sense of sophistication and identity?

Chef GP: Yes, successful regional restaurants are popping up everywhere, with big names attached to them, at a time when opening a restaurant makes less and less sense due to huge costs. Moving to a regional area makes more sense, as there is less competition and lower costs involved, so you can also have a good size growing patch to further reduce your costs, and give greater provenance to your dishes.

Image:

Schon, J.(19 December 2016). Interview with Grant Parry. Style Magazine. Retrieved from http://stylemagazines.com.au/food/interview-grant-parry/Grant Parry.