Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine
Australian processed food, beverage and fresh produce are valued and highly sought after in the world, in particular in China. Being the world’s most populated country and the second largest economy, China is a key importer of Australian premium foods. Since 2014, it is estimated that China has become the largest importer of our food produce. If this data remains current, agriculture will represent the next boom for the Australian national economy. According to this scenario, many Aussie quality foods are being internationally exported, which in turn makes their availability scarcer and more expensive in their domestic market. Chef McIver recognises that: ‘many of our foods and livestock are exported and highly sought after, but I think that this is something which should be governed a little tighter, and I also believe we should be making sure that our products are accessible to us as Aussies, as much as possible. We all feel the after effects of a product that becomes a sought after commodity to the international buyer’s market.’
Chef McIver firmly believes in the importance of the integrity, provenance and sustainability of produce in both inspiring and influencing your dishes. He points out: ‘if you don’t start with the best produce possible, it’s unlikely that the overall dish will be outstanding. There’s a big difference between a farmed barramundi and a wild caught for example. Of course, we consider the product and the current supply of each ingredient, but it’s not always the governing factor when we create a dish, meaning it’s not always an idea built around an ingredient; quite often it’s the opposite.’ A growing number of Australians chefs are focusing their menus on high-quality local produce, as they can speak for themselves. Invariably, talented chefs who use only the finest produce will create the best quality dishes.
In McIver’s opinion, an iconic Australian dish is any food that has been barbecued. ‘I would definitely say something that’s been in contact with a little fire and smoke. I’ve had many memorable dishes based on local seafood, and also vegetable interpretations that have been treated with great respect, and allowed to showcase its own integrity.’ BBQ is integral to the Aussie lifestyle and sizzling BBQ sausage can be considered a national dish. However, mastering the secret of the perfect barbecue requires time and experience. The delicious light taste of burnt and smoke adds flavour to a BBQ dish, while an overcooked dish on the BBQ has an undesirable bitter flavour. The role of a skilled chef is to create dishes with a perfect balance and intensity of flavours.
Clinton McIver, Head Chef at Melbourne’s Amaru, is interviewed by Dane Richards from AussieCuisine.
Dane Richards: What is Australian cuisine?
Chef Clinton McIver: Australian cuisine is something that I believe is really still evolving, and at rapid rate. It’s also something that can’t be pigeon-holed in the sense, that we as a country are so diverse in our people, culture, and history. But taking into context, the Australia as we know today is still a very young country. We are also very fortunate to have access to an abundant variety of foods, both native and cultivated, and it’s for this reason that we are also so diverse.
DR: What do you think were the primary influences behind its evolution?
Chef CM: Imagine life without your favourite Chinese or Vietnamese restaurant? I think that without doubt, it’s something that’s owed to our multicultural dynamic of Australia, that’s helped shape our fabric of what we currently consider Aussie cuisine. Without our immigration, we wouldn’t have anywhere near as much access to the restaurants and foods that we have today, and ones that we all now consider to be a normal part of the dining scene in Australia.
DR: How important is the integrity, provenance and sustainability of produce in both inspiring and influencing your dishes?
Chef CM: It should be a no brainer, but if you don’t start with the best produce possible, it’s unlikely that the overall dish will be outstanding. There’s a big difference between a farmed barramundi and a wild caught for example. Of course, we consider the product and the current supply of each ingredient, but it’s not always the governing factor when we create a dish, meaning it’s not always an idea built around an ingredient; quite often it’s the opposite.
DR: What part has produce played in the overall development of Modern Australian Cuisine?
Chef CM: Like any cuisine, it helps shape the format of what we as chefs create in our restaurants. We are very fortunate for the variety and quality that we can all source. The library of ingredients and flavours we have access to, is certainly a privilege for Australian chefs.
DR: What particular produce in your opinion quintessentially represents Australia on a plate?
Chef CM: Anything seafood, of course we have our own native game etc., but I believe it’s our diversity of seafood that represents us. When you look at Australia on a map, there is a vast difference in climate between the far North, and the far South, and nature certainly provides us with an abundance of different fish, shellfish, and everything in between for these regions.
DR: Is Australia properly showcasing the diversity of its produce to international visitors?
Chef CM: Yes absolutely, in many ways. Again, from our seafood to our native ingredients, to our own chocolate and vanilla beans grown in the North of QLD, there is a lot to show and tell on our ingredients, but one thing I would like to mention is our exports. Many of our foods and livestock are exported and highly sought after, but I think that this is something which should be governed a little tighter, and I also believe we should be making sure that our products are accessible to us as Aussies, as much as possible. We all feel the after effects of a product that becomes a sought after commodity to the international buyer’s market.
DR: How important is it for the untapped potential of Indigenous influence on Australian Cuisine to be fully realised?
Chef CM: Like anything, it will take shape and integrate, as we learn from its knowledge, and the product becomes more accessible in many forms. It will certainly play a part of evolution of Australian cuisine.
DR: What native Australian ingredients have you successfully incorporated into your dishes?
Chef CM: We use it mostly as a seasoning on a lot of our dishes. When we have access to fresh ingredients, we always take as much as we can to use right away, but to also preserve and try familiarising ourselves a little better with each ingredient.
DR: Are the hospitality industry, and various levels of government, doing enough to encourage young Indigenous chefs?
Chef CM: I’m not sure about that. I think that this is a completely different conversation. I believe that there’s likely a much bigger problem with the growth and status of Indigenous communities, which would most likely benefit from more assistance from governments.
DR: What is your understanding of bush tucker?
Chef CM: In my opinion bush tucker is still something that we only scratch the surface on. It’s something that’s not governed by the common seasonal calendar that we adhere to. Australia has some of the harshest environments on the planet, and also some of the most diverse. Of course it would make sense for our native flora to be adapted and evolved to survive in these conditions, so I would imagine that this also makes cultivation and understanding of these varieties a little more difficult to understand.
DR: How influential was the Country Women’s Association to Australian cuisine in the post war years?
Chef CM: Apart from just having an impact on Australian cuisine, I think the single most important influence the CWA had on Australia, was the sense of community and strength it brought to many families and people in need. There is nothing more Australian than that, in my opinion.
DR: What is your quintessential memory of an iconic regional Australian dish?
Chef CM: As a dish it’s hard to pick just one, but I would definitely say something that’s been in contact with a little fire and smoke. I’ve had many memorable dishes based on local seafood, and also vegetable interpretations that have been treated with great respect, and allowed to showcase its own integrity.
DR: Did the foundations of regional cuisine influence modern Australian cuisine in anyway?
Chef CM: Like anything, that’s still evolving of course, as many other cuisines do.
DR: Do you think regional cuisine of recent times has developed its own sense of sophistication and identity?
Chef CM: Certainly, many of the top restaurants I’ve been too in Australia have been regional. It’s also with the support of farmers and growers who work regionally, which really play a part of the support and identity of what makes a great regional restaurant. When I think of a regional restaurant, one of the first things that come to my mind is generosity, and also outstanding produce.