Acclaimed Perth chef and restaurateur Russell Blaikie at award-winning restaurant Must Winebar talks with Carolina Holzmeister about his favourite ingredients and producers in Western Australia, and the evolution and future of Australian cuisine.
“We moved from a heavier cuisine to something that is light and fresh and produce-driven. I think that’s where the change is happening. Chefs are giving the ingredients the integrity they deserve because they have great ingredients to use. They are treating them more simply, but they are really refining their style and technique to ensure they are bringing out the flavour in a great produce.”
CH: How would you define Australian cuisine?
Chef RB: Contemporary Australian Cuisine is all about the ingredients. Chefs are basically on a ‘discovery tour’ in Australia and we are blessed with the best ingredients in the world.
Whether if it’s foraged greens from the beach, beef grown in the South West of Western Australia, fish from of one the most pristine aquatic environments, or fruit and vegetables grown in an unspoilt land, we are blessed with the best of everything. Our chefs are representing great produce on a plate and that’s what’s all about it when it comes to cooking. I think that great chefs don’t mess around too much with the ingredients and that’s what our chefs are doing at the moment.
Our proximity to South-east Asia means that there is also a lot of influence of Asian cuisine in our food. Not necessarily with me when I’m cooking professionally, but when I go home I often cook Balinese food because I love those flavours and spices.
Really we are a melting pot of cuisines, of flavours and influences, and Australian chefs take a wonderfully fresh approach to the use of ingredients.
CH: What are some examples of your favourite Australian produce and why?
Chef RB: I can’t name one because there are so many ingredients that I love using, however, if I have to pull some out of the hat it would be regional Australian produce that I regularly use. It might be in season right now, for example, Turbay asparagus grown by Phillip and Sheelagh Marshall down in Denmark, Western Australia. They grow the most amazing fat asparagus spears, thick and tender. It could be the Kingfish with one of my favourites farmed in Geraldton, Western Australia. It’s served raw with delicate Japanese flavours that are silky and sensational. It may be a dairy product as we have wonderful dairy producers such as Over the Moon Organics, based in Albany, Western Australia. Their feta is the best made in Australia. When we go to beef, Harvey Beef – from the farming town of Harvey, Western Australia – is a fantastic producer. I love using fresh produce and I love representing food from the regions of Western Australia, it’s such a joy.
CH: Can you tell more about the evolution of Australian cuisine in the past 10 to 15 years?
Chef RB: Probably over the last 30 to 20 years, in particular, we came out of the shadow of our British culinary past. As I mentioned we started taking more and more influence from South-east Asia, with more interest in lighter and spicier foods of Asian influence as we moved from a heavier cuisine to something that is light and fresh and produce-driven. I think that’s where the change is happening. Chefs are giving the ingredients the integrity they deserve because they have great ingredients to use. They are treating them more simply, but they are really refining their style and technique to ensure they are bringing out the flavour in a great produce.
There have also been lots of fads, crazes, and cooking styles over time as yes we go through phases. We see many of them and after working so long in the industry as I have been for 40 years, I have seen a lot happening in the industry. Ultimately, what I love about where Australian food is going now is the high standard of food in Australia. If you visit the Margaret River region, for instance, not only will you have the opportunity to see amazing rugged coastal scenery with surfers riding some of the greatest waves in the world, then when you drive inland less than 15 minutes you will be able to eat some of the greatest food available in any wine region in the world and there are numerous wineries in the Margaret River region. We are blessed with chefs using great ingredients in this region, and the sense of place, of terroir, that you get from the ingredients adds a special character. Today there is certainly a great following for using native Indigenous ingredients, although that’s something that I don’t do so much. But there’s a huge push in using foods that our Indigenous forefathers used in a whole range of modern food and it’s really exciting and flavoursome, that’s a really good push.
CH: What’s the future of our cuisine?
Chef RB: The future of our cuisine is going to stay pretty stable because it will rely on people who are using produce that is getting better and better. It will certainly head to the use of more Indigenous ingredients, it will head to chefs using high-skills with minimal intervention in food, but some key components in dishes to make them really exciting. Is our cuisine going to change a lot? I just think it’s going to become more refined and even better. To me, great food is becoming more deceptively simple, less on the plate, wonderful textures, and a great use of produces with what seems to be a minimalist approach, but it is, in fact, really hard to do.
Russel Blaikie | Must Winebar (12 March 2018). OZ Eating. Retrieved from https://www.ozeating.com.au/WA/Feature/russell-blaikie-must-winebar