Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine
Chef Khodja believes that produce plays an important role in the development of Australian cuisine: ‘produce is paramount to what we know as Australian cuisine. Freshness and quality is a definite priority for customers who are prepared to spend money on dining out, as they want the best. People are becoming more health and environmentally conscious all the time and they want to know where the food on their plate comes from.’
Khodja’s heritage and work experience have an influence on the menu’s creation in his restaurant. He points out that ‘the dishes I create today are very evocative of my upbringing in Algeria, so I use a lot of spices, such as cumin, cinnamon, and paprika. The French training plays a role as well, and I think this is why my food works in Australia – it too represents many different places.
The multicultural background of many chefs in Australia has helped to further develop Australian cuisine, says Chef Khodja: ‘Australian cuisine has mostly been influenced by the cultural origins of Australian chefs and communities. Each has brought something from their homeland, and it’s grown into a wonderfully diverse palate. I think as well that the Australian public are very open to new food, and to adopting tastes from international origins. This has definitely helped the Australian food culture to develop, particularly in urban areas.’
Speaking of the development of the Australian regional cuisine, Chef Pierre Khodja thinks that ‘regional cuisine is quickly becoming a destination of its own. It speaks to people’s growing desire to know where their food comes from and to get a sense of simplicity, a farm-to-plate feeling, in their dining experience. This is a sophistication that Australia is quickly developing and is attracting people from both the cities and internationally.’
Pierre Khodja, Head Chef at Melbourne’s Camus, is interviewed by Dane Richards from AussieCuisine.
Dane Richards: What is Australian cuisine?
Chef Pierre Khodja: I don’t think Australian cuisine can be defined by any one ingredient or product. The cuisine here today is very representative of its population, which is constantly evolving culturally. One thing that is consistent, I would say is that Australian cuisine is largely driven by produce. The availability of fresh seafood, access to meat that’s been farmed locally or organically – all of which feature in many different Australian dishes. Having not arrived in Australia until later in life, to me Australian food has always been made up of a melange of different cultures and influences. Living down on the Mornington Peninsula, seafood was always a fairly iconic aspect of that coastal area.
DR: What do you think were the primary influences behind its evolution?
Chef PK: Given its diversity today, I would say that Australian cuisine has mostly been influenced by the cultural origins of Australian chefs and communities. Each has brought something from their homeland, and it’s grown into a wonderfully diverse palate. I think as well, that the Australian public are very open to new food, and to adopting tastes from international origins. This has definitely helped Australian food culture to develop, particularly in urban areas.
DR: What is your heritage, and what part has that played in the dishes on your menu?
Chef PK: I was born in Algeria, and spent much of my childhood there. Much of my inspiration for food came from my mother, who was a master at combining spices and creating beautifully simple dishes. I then spent the rest of my adolescence in France, where I was trained as a chef. The classical technique I acquired in Paris, gave my Algerian food a great deal of finesse. I ended up in London for over twenty years, working in highly acclaimed starred restaurants, and further developing my love of cross-cultural dishes.
It is really this journey that plays out on the plate for me. The dishes I create today are very evocative of my upbringing in Algeria, so I use a lot of spices, such as cumin, cinnamon, and paprika. The French training plays a role as well, and I think this is why my food works in Australia – it too represents many different places.
DR: How important is the integrity, provenance and sustainability of produce in both inspiring and influencing your dishes?
Chef PK: Everything I cook must begin with a high-quality product; otherwise it is a waste of time. I am very particular about suppliers, and the love that goes into a single ingredient. My goat for instance, is sourced from Seven Hills in the Yarra Valley. I do try to source produce as locally as possible, to ensure the sustainability of smaller growers etc., and to cut down on long transport of produce.
DR: What part has produce played in the overall development of Modern Australian Cuisine?
Chef PK: I think that produce is paramount to what we know as Australian cuisine. Freshness and quality is a definite priority for customers who are prepared to spend money on dining out, as they want the best. People are becoming more health and environmentally conscious all the time and they want to know where the food on their plate comes from. I think it’s an integral part of Australian cuisine today.
DR: What particular produce in your opinion quintessentially represents Australia on a plate?
Chef PK: For me, it’s the meat that is produced in Australia. The highest quality Sher wagyu beef is something you just can’t find elsewhere. I remember back in London, we had plenty of fresh seafood coming from France, but it was the Australian beef that was always highly sought after.
DR: Is Australia properly showcasing the diversity of its produce to international visitors?
Chef PK: Yes, I think that restaurants and chefs, more and more, are drawing on the country’s resources to produce food that they can be proud of. In urban and regional areas, the emphasis on good food is being highlighted as a destination for international visitors.
DR: How important is it for the untapped potential of Indigenous influence on
Australian cuisine to be fully realised?
Chef PK: Most of what we think of as Australian cuisine, actually started somewhere else, and was brought here. Indigenous knowledge of truly Australian food and produce is still largely unknown, and isn’t brought to mind when people are asked what Australian food it. I think it is an enormous untapped resource, and a very large gap in the Australian food industry.
DR: What native Australian ingredients have you successfully incorporated into your dishes?
Chef PK: I love to use Murray Cod; it’s got such a distinctive flavour to it. Bush salt and lemon myrtle, are occasionally included as well.
DR: Are the hospitality industry, and various levels of government, doing enough to encourage young Indigenous chefs?
Chef PK: To be honest, I don’t think so. Whilst there are many well-known incentives for businesses to take on young apprentices in general, you don’t come across many that specifically work to encourage young Indigenous people into the industry. Perhaps plenty of these organisations exist, but I don’t think they are given enough exposure.
DR: What is your understanding of bush tucker?
Chef PK: I think of bush tucker as food that comes from the land, which remains in a very natural state. Its food that is native to Australia, and to Indigenous Australians.
DR: What is your quintessential memory of an iconic regional Australian dish?
Chef PK: Rather than one specific dish, I would always say my quintessential memory of regional Australian food comes from the Mornington Peninsula. It’s made up of Red Hill cheese, these incredible tomatoes you can find in Flinders, and strawberries from Merricks. These staples never fail to impress me every time I go there.
DR: Did the foundations of regional cuisine influence Modern Australian Cuisine in anyway?
Chef PK: Definitely. I think that as Australia becomes more urbanised, and people flock to cities for work and lifestyle, they bring with them food from their regional roots. I think this is where the importance of fresh produce originates from.
DR: Do you think regional cuisine of recent times has developed its own sense of sophistication and identity?
Chef PK: Regional cuisine is quickly becoming a destination of its own. It speaks to people’s growing desire to know where their food comes from, and to get a sense of simplicity, a farm-to-plate feeling, in their dining experience. This is a sophistication that Australia is quickly developing, and is attracting people from both the cities, and internationally.