Chef Alex Jackson works at O Bar and Dining, an awarded contemporary Australian restaurant in Sydney. He chats with Dane Richards about Australian produce, native ingredients and regional cooking. 

“Knowledge of produce has played a major role in the development of modern Australian cuisine. When businesses use locally sourced products, it’s a great showcase to the rest of the world to what Australia can really offer the global culinary landscape. We have some of the greatest indigenous ingredients in the world, and I think as we learn more and more about them, it will push Australian cuisine to a whole new level.”

Australian cuisine

DR: As a young chef, what is your understanding of Australian cuisine?

Chef AJ: I personally think that Australian cuisine is focused on the environment we are in, the sustainability of that environment, and the quality of produce used to make food. Currently, restaurants adopt the ‘nose-to-tail’ ideology; a method of minimal wastage that uses all parts of the particular produce, whilst also respecting the life that was taken.

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

Chef AJ: I think that an understanding of native Australian culture and ingredients, mixed with a respect of the processes that go into obtaining, not only native but all ingredients, have led to currents chefs wanting to get the most out of their produce, and wasting very little in that process.

Produce

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

Chef AJ: Knowledge of produce has played a major role in the development of modern Australian cuisine. As chefs and cooks alike learn more about what really happens behind closed doors of the big industrial supplier chains, it leads them into going to smaller more hands-on businesses, as they can guarantee quality with more of a personal touch. When businesses use locally sourced products, it’s a great showcase to the rest of the world to what Australia can really offer the global culinary landscape. We have some of the greatest indigenous ingredients in the world, and I think as we learn more and more about them, it will push Australian cuisine to a whole new level.

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

Chef AJ: In my opinion, you can’t go past saltbush without thinking, “This is Australian”. Its versatility in dishes is outstanding, as you can fry it, bake it, blanch it, turn it into a sorbet, and make oils out of it. There are so many ways you can incorporate it into food, and I think that’s a good representation of our produce.

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

Chef AJ: Personally, I think we are off to a good start, with more restaurants showcasing the Australian produce they use, either in menus or in their advertising. We have a few world-recognised pioneers, with restaurants like Quay, Lûmé, and Attica.

Indigenous influence

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

Chef AJ: I think that it is extremely important, as it showcases our heritage and history. Even though we are using more indigenous ingredients and techniques than in the past, I think the increasing number of chefs incorporating Indigenous aspects to dishes, helps the wider population becoming more open to trying these aspects.

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

Chef AJ: I’ve been extremely lucky in that I’ve worked in some great restaurants where native ingredients were very commonly used. Ingredients such as wattle seed, lemon myrtle, saltbush, quandongs, rye berries, dune spinach, Geraldton wax, pig’s face, coastal rosemary, and samphire, have all been incorporated into dishes that I’ve been taught.

Regional cuisine

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

Chef AJ: For me, it would be the memory of having a pavlova. Our family friends back in Perth used to make the best pavlova you’ve ever had, and it always followed at the end of a massive barbecue. The trick was to not eat as much of the BBQ to save room for it!

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

Chef AJ: 100 per cent. Restaurants are using minimalistic techniques to present regional dishes, to give them their own light, letting the quality of the produce speak for itself. Restaurants such as Brae do this very well in my opinion. What they are doing for Australian cuisine, and our identity in the culinary world is amazing.