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Witchetty Grubs
Australian Cuisine

Breaking the Rules of Fine Dining

For its first 150 years, the Australian cuisine fluctuated in flavour somewhere between salty lard and shoe leather spiced with charcoal. Without doubt, it was the most boring food in the world. It is tempting to blame the English for the blandness. After all, they transported criminals who were able steal bread, but lacked the imagination to steal the condiments to give the bread some flavour. They also transported the Irish whose experience with exquisite meals amounted to little more than adding some grass clippings to potatoes.

Sadly, as unpalatable as it may be to let the Poms off the hook, the more probable explanation is that the harshness of the Australian environment offered little material to work with when creating recipes. Because the poor soils were unsuited to agriculture, it was only basic vegetables that could be grown with any reliability. Furthermore, chefs had to rely upon a limited range of domesticated European animals because, unlike native animals, they could be contained. Kangaroos won’t herd nicely towards an abattoir and jump most fences. Likewise, Wombats are individualistic creatures that if fenced in, tunnel their way to freedom. Possums and Koalas just climb over the top of fencers.

Aside from being shackled with a narrow range of meats, the lack of refrigeration forced Australian chefs to burn, salt or coat the meat in fat in order to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Perhaps some flavour could have been achieved by making sausages or salamis like many Mediterranean nations. Unfortunately, the menace of blowflies posed a significant risk of infusing a maggot flavour.

With ingredients scarce and the risk of contamination high, it was left to the ladies from charity organisations like the Salvation Army to save Australia's culinary soul. As part of their fund-raising drives, the ladies utilised two ingredients that were in abundance, wheat and eggs. They subsequently made pumpkin and mango scones; pavlovas; Anzac cookies, lamingtons and the humble slice. Till this day, the charitable recipes of Australia's culinary soldiers remain of the few that are recognised as Australian in origin and style.

Pav

Pavlova

After World War II, Australia underwent a culinary explosion. It is generally accepted that this explosion was due to the influx of Asian and European immigrants who subsequently expanded the Australian pallet. However this explanation seems flawed as Australia also received massive migration from China, Germany, Italy, and France during the gold rushes of the 1850's yet the basic burnt meat and boiled potatoes prevailed. The only lingering change was the addition of the dim sim to the fish and chip shop.

The more logical explanation for the culinary explosion is that the Snowy Mountains Scheme increased the productivity of the land. Furthermore, improvements in transportation and refrigeration allowed food to be transported over vast distances. As the great economist Adam Smith noted "specialisation is limited to market size." As refrigerated transport expanded the size of the farmer's market, the more they could grow niche products with confidence that they could be sold. As the range of produce in Australia increased, immigrants were able to access the ingredients necessary to continue their culinary traditions. Over time, they introduced Australian chefs to the great meals of the world.

Of course, Australians have never showed much respect to traditions and were soon corrupting recipes that have been considered perfect for centuries. They tested the boundaries of Japanese politeness by using sun-dried tomatoes and brie to make sushi. They bemused the French by marinating escargot in beer and throwing them on the barbie. They have even provoked knife sharpening amongst hot headed Italians by using tandoori paste and yoghurt to make pizza bases. The name given to this style of food is " Modern Australian. "

Confusion Cuisine

King Fish Tataki with shredded wonton, and cress in an Asian sauce

Today, the average Australian has a great deal of Mediterranean and Asian ingredients to work with when creating recipes. For example, a bachelor may host a party and buy some ham slices, sundried tomatoes, crackers, avocado, olives and cheeses to make some finger food. After the big night, he may wake up in the morning and wonder what he will eat for breakfast. In his pantry, he finds an old packet of Thai rice paper and sees the leftovers from the night before. Soon, the hungover bachelor is wrapping various combinations of leftover cheese, avocado, ham and olives in the rice paper. The result is some very imaginative recipes. Of course, the food that appeals to a bachelor with a hangover doesn’t always appeal to the wider population.

Australia’s café culture and “modern Australian” restaurants create recipes in much the same way. They creatively combine Asian and Mediterranean ingredients in ways that are very unique. Sometimes the combinations appeal to a wide variety of people. Sometimes they only appeal to bachelors with hangovers. Sometimes bachelors with hangovers prefer their own combinations. This diversity of tastes, diversity of ingredients, and diversity of recipes has made it difficult for modern Australian to be defined by a common style or common recipes. Furthermore, the diversity has made it difficult for modern Australian chefs to refine their recipes or create recipes that appeal to a broad audience.

While the Frankenstein recipes are generally coming from Australians with European heritage, Australians with Asian heritage are attaining more refinment by integrating different ideas into existing national cuisines. The most notable of these chefs is Tetsuya Wakuda; a Japanese migrant who blends French concepts with those of his homeland. Other Asian chefs have mixed recipes from different Asian countries to create Asian restaurants that are not indigenous to any Asian country. Such restaurants are highly prized because as well as serving extremely high quality food, they also serve in the Asian social style. Unlike European Modern Australian that serves food in the European style for individual consumption, the Asian Modern Australian serves food for group consumption; thus retaining the social element that is prized in social gatherings and business meetings.

A small minority of Australian chefs have also strived for a distinctly Australia cuisine via the use of native ingredients such as snake, witchetty grubs, crocodile and emu, which are all available in short supply. So far, most Australians have been reluctant to eat the native produce. Perhaps because the native produce still can't be supplied in sufficient quantities to generate a culture.

Questions to think about

Aussie cuisine

  1. Make a list of Australian animals that could be eaten
  2. Make a list of Australian fauna that could be eaten or used to add flavour
  3. Find a recipe in which an Australian product could be used as a subsitute to make a recipe like the one below

 

Crocodile Meat

Crocodile Kebabs with Native Pepperleaf Mustard

Chef: Jayne MacLean
Muddies at Illawong

Degree of difficulty: Medium

You need:
500 grams Crocodile tail Fillet
2-3 Kiwi Fruit
1 cup of wholeseed mustard
1/4 cup of Hone
2-3 desertspoons of dried Native Pepperleaf (infused in warm white vinegar)

Method:
To prepare the mustard, combine roughly chopped Kiwis, purchased mustard, honey and Pepperleaf in a food processor until kiwis are pureed.
Cut crocodile tail into strips and thread onto bamboo skewers.
Cover with mustard mix and put in fridge to marinate for at least 3-4 hours (or overnight if possible)

To Serve, preheat a frying pan, or the barbie, and cook kebabs for about 2 minutes on each side and serve ona salad of mixed greens, slow roasted tomato and warm char grilled eggplant and zucchini

Serving Suggestion: To serve, pre-heat pan, or the barbie, and cook kebabs for about 2 minutes on each side and serve on a salad of mixed greens, slow roasted tomato and warm char grilled eggplant and zucchini.

 

Fusion

Combine an Asian recipe with a European recipe to make an Australian recipe. To begin,

  1. Think of elements of an Asian meal that could work on a pizza
  2. Think of Mediterranean elements that could work in sushi
  3. Combine fried rice with a European meat dish
  4. Try to make sushi with something other than white rice
  5. Try to make pizza dough with something other than white flour

 

Emu

Macadamia stuffed Emu Fan Filled with red pepper just on summer salad

 

 

Famous chefs

  • Neil Perry (Rockpool) - Credited with refining the art of blending European and Asian recipes and introducing bread and olive oil as a side dish
  • Tetsuya Wakuda (Tetsuyas) - Blends Japanese and French food with immaculate presentation and consistent taste.
  • Steve Hodges (Pier, Fish Face) - Credited with introducing a Japanese style obsession with freshness to seafood.

 

Persisting against adversity - The story of Vegemite

Australia has few meals that are recognised as Australian and which can be found in the majority of Australian households. One of the very few is the 'Vegemite Sandwich'.

Vegemite dates back to 1922 when the Fred Walker Company hired a Dr. Cyril P. Callister to develop a spread from one of the richest known natural sources of the vitamin B group, brewer's yeast. Following months of laboratory tests, Dr Callister developed a tasty spreadable paste.

Walker then conducted a national trade-name competition, offering a 50 pound prize for the winner. The winning entry was drawn out of a hat and in 1923 Fred Walker launched his product under the Vegemite brand.

Even though Dr Callister's invention has proved to be a formula for success, success was not instantaneous. When Australians first heard about Vegemite, a English spread called marmite dominated the spread market and Australians were reluctant to try Fred Walker's locally made product. In 1928, four years after it's initial launch, Vegemite was relaunched as "Parwill". Walker's rationale behind the name was the slogan "If Marmite . . . then Parwill" . Walker's creative marketing idea was not successful.

Walker persevered but reverted to the Vegemite name. In 1935, a 2-year coupon redemption scheme was launched whereby a jar of Vegemite was given away with every purchase of other products in the Fred Walker range. Australians tried the product and loved it! In all, it had taken almost 14 years before Walker's beloved product finally gained acceptance and recognition.

As for the world's view on Vegemite, frequent comments included that it is the most disgusting, vile and haness spread ever invented. Many uninitiated foreigners have even angrily accused Australians of coating bread with faeces so as to laugh at their misfortune.

Curiously, world rejection seems to have strengthened Australians fondness for the product. Today, it has become tradition for Vegemite sandwiches to be eaten on Australia day and Anzac day. Furthermore, Australian travellers frequently take a jar of Vegemite when venturing overseas.

As for the marketing, despite the failure of the 'Parwill' campaign, it seems the bad puns have also continued. On every jar of Vegemite is the woeful slogan: 'Vegemite - Australian born and bread'

How to make Vegemite.

Brewer's yeast is a good source of vitamin B, but live yeast tastes boring, it is poorly digested. Inactivated yeast lacks the disadvantages, but is still bland. The inventor of vegemite solved this problem using autolysis: a process where the yeast's own enzymes break it down.

Spent brewer's yeast is sieved to get rid of hop resins, and washed to remove bitter tastes. Then it is suspended in water at a temperature greater than 37 C with no nutrients: the yeast cells die, and vitamins and minerals leach out. Then the proteolytic (protein-splitting) enzymes take over, breaking the yeast proteins down into smaller water-soluble fragments, which also leach out. The yeast cell membrane is unruptured during this time, and can be removed by centrifuging. The clear light brown liquid is then concentrated under a vacuum to a thick paste (the vacuum helps preserve flavours and vitamin B1, thiamine). It is seasoned with salt, and a small proportion of celery and onion extracts to increase the palatability.

 

 

 

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""Shouting", or rather its meaning, is peculiarly Australian. The shortest and most comprehensive definition of "shouting" is to pay for the drink drunk by others." Drinking

"Australia has been hailed as a saviour of our soi-disant movie industry. So it could be, irrespective of its box office earnings, if it leads to recognition that we don't have a film industry, despite expenditure over 20 years of $1.5billion in subsidies and perhaps another half billion in tax concessions." Movies

"Australians are very difficult to impress; even if you do manage to impress them, they may not openly admit it." Social Rules

" What sort or peculiar capitalist country is this in which the workers' representatives predominate in the upper house....and yet the capitalist system is in no danger?" Economic Reforms

"a confused mix of landscape, animals, and Aboriginal culture, with a kind of Bible overtone." Painting

"A determined soul will do more with a rusty monkey wrench than a loafer will accomplish with all the tools in a machine shop" Wisdom

"Gallipoli tends to seem strange to outsiders, as it appears to be a celebration of Australia's greatest defeat, but in essence it is rather a commemoration of those who died serving Australia in battle, be it warranted or not." Anzac

“We must be the only country in the world that marks its national day not by celebrating its identity, but by questioning it.” Australia Day

"He declared, confidently, that an immense number of women were dying for his diminutive highness, but became terribly angry, when an ugly, red-nosed publican with a hump-back, pretended to recognize him as an organ grinder strolling about with a monkey." Egalitarianism

"Yet there are some like me turn gladly home
From the lush jungle of modern thought, to find
The Arabian desert of the human mind,
Hoping, if still from the deserts the prophets come
" Poetry