Damian Heads, Head Chef and owner of award-winning Woodland Kitchen & Bar in Sydney, talks with Carolina Holzmeister about our produce, national dishes, immigration and the future of Australian cuisine.

“Because of our export situation, a lot of ingredients that we were able to get in the past 10 years we can’t afford anymore. That’s actually driving a new cuisine that makes us chefs use cheaper cuts, cheaper ingredients or more adventurous ways to work with secondary items to make them mainstream. It’s always a challenge because we can’t take anything for granted. Our food suppliers are always changing and our staff base is always changing. Being a chef is not what it used to be.”

Produce

CH: What would you say is your favourite Australian produce?

Chef DH: I do love the Australian cheeses and our fruit and vegetables. We get local produce such as heirloom carrots and baby zucchinis, zucchini blossoms and mushrooms, and they all come from around Sydney. I feel blessed with the quality of the produce we get in our restaurant Woodlands Kitchen & Bar.

National dishes

CH: In your view what are the Australian national dishes?

Chef DH: Having grown up in Brisbane, I can say that our traditional dishes are a rump steak and salad, a burger with pineapple and beetroot, fish and chips – commonly eaten on the beach – or a classic meat pie. We don’t have the traditional concept of national dishes in Australia, but we are recreating our own identity.

Our cuisine

CH: What is Australian cuisine?

Chef DH: I think that Australian cuisine is all about the bounty of produce we can get, with the influence of all the people that moved to our country and working out their ideas about food.

Immigration

CH: Can you tell me more about how immigration has influenced our cuisine?

Chef DH: After the war (WWII), it all started with the Greeks and Italians. Then we had the Vietnamese and now we have people from all over the world. I know some Korean, Japanese and Sri Lankan cooking as well as French, German and Spanish cuisine. It is very liberating because we don’t have to stick to any rules and we can cook as we please to fit in with our produce. There isn’t a culinary traditional here as in Europe.

International influences

CH: Can you elaborate on the international influences on Australian cuisine?

Chef DH: When I first started cooking 20 years ago it was all in the five-star hotel scene and it was all about European chefs teaching us apprentices on how to cook classic French and other sorts of European cuisine, whereas now there is a really big push towards street food and fresh flavours. Today I think we are more interested in the Asian influence than we are in the French influence. Perhaps because the food that we grow and the seafood we catch better suits to the Asian way and the Mediterranean life. We got away from traditional butter-rich, heavy flavours.

Evolution

CH: How has Australian cuisine evolved?

Chef DH: It’s the way that we managed to have the strength to do what we believe in – if we do a beef joint, we do it really well by using quality Australian beef and local vegetables with simple sauces and garnishes, we don’t have to turn it into anything fancy other than the simple and real flavour. If we do a fish restaurant, we do a really good fish restaurant. If we do a Spanish restaurant, we do a kick arse Spanish restaurant. There was a phase in the 1980s when we were trying to mix different cuisines and it was a disaster. I think now we are learning what we like and how you cook. If you go to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, each city has a completely different mixing pot. Even in my restaurant, I have a wood-fire grill and I buy lots of Australian fresh seafood. I make everything in-house from scratch. So all the ice creams we make, all our sauces we make. We do Japanese ways of cooking fish. We use Indonesian and Vietnamese inspiration on some of our dishes. These ingredients and techniques suit our menu containing dishes that are light, fresh and using local produce. That’s what really drives it and that’s what people want to eat.

Future

CH: What do you think is the future of Australian cuisine?

Chef DH: Because of our export situation, a lot of ingredients that we were able to get in the past 10 years we can’t afford anymore. That’s actually driving a new cuisine that makes us chefs use cheaper cuts, cheaper ingredients or more adventurous ways to work with secondary items to make them mainstream. It’s always a challenge because we can’t take anything for granted. Our food suppliers are always changing and our staff base is always changing. Being a chef is not what it used to be. Now anyone can be a chef and how much they are professional or old-school is up to them.

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Chef Damian Heads – Woodland Kitchen & Bar. Smooth. Retrieved on 24 March 2018 from https://www.smooth.com.au/callebaut-test-kitchen/damien-heads-woodland-kitchen-bar