Most city dwellers don’t get to meet their meat. Rare as well is the person who sows their own seeds and months later plucks the results of that labor. But a growing number of Australian diners want to know that what they’re putting in their mouths has come from sustainable, local sources. No longer is the average Aussie content with just throwing another shrimp (who knows where it’s from?) on the barbie.
“Australians will always love a good barbecue, but now they’re using grass-fed beef and dad’s no longer standing over the steaks, turning them until they’re charred black,” says Hamish Ingram, executive chef at The Woods restaurant and Bar H, both in central Sydney.
The land down under has raised its culinary game. An increasing number of chefs and producers are catering to a burgeoning community of educated, discerning diners, says Ingram.
It wasn’t so long ago that a meal in Sydney or Melbourne included ingredients from China, New Zealand, tropical Queensland, or Indonesia. Fish, fresh vegetables, garlic, and tomatoes, all in boxes shipped over seas and land to get to the dinner plate.
Dan Hunter (above) recently left the acclaimed Royal Mail Hotel in regional Victoria to open Brae, a 90-minute drive west from Melbourne. He says Australians are more connected to food than they were in the past—they care about where, what, and how far.
Hunter has made a name for himself cooking with ingredients he grows himself, plucking carrots or kale from the restaurant garden and serving it to customers within an hour or so. He has become Victoria’s poster boy for paddock to plate, a homegrown pundit on the global culinary phenomenon.
“There are more people waking up in their inner-city suburb on a weekend, doing the farmers’ markets in one suburb and then the markets in another suburb the next week. They’re talking to the farmers, to the producers; they want to know how an ingredient is grown, where it comes from.”
Hunter says a dialogue between chefs and farmers drives a close connection with seasonality and locale. “Farmers are growing for restaurants now, there’s a connection with production, and as a result the flavors in restaurants are more clean, focused.”
Hunter says people are closing their old recipe tomes, and instead of fastidiously slaving over a heavy sauce, are enjoying produce for what it is. “There’s a trend now, people have a garden, people grow food, and they are quite proud to cut you up a tomato they have grown, put some salt on it.”
Alla Wolf-Tasker, the executive chef behind Lake House in Daylesford, Victoria, has long championed seasonal cuisine. The area’s naturally occurring mineral springs and volcanic plains have literally enriched local farms, allowing Wolf to service the restaurant’s tables often on the same day produce is harvested. Menus include butter-poached pheasant, black truffle, and foraged mushrooms, each item sourced locally.
Chef Wolf-Tasker will create a custom menu and wine tasting to tap into Australia’s innovative food and wine scene as part of Evenings AFAR, sponsored by Tourism Australia, to be held at the famous James Beard house in NYC on November 22. For more information visit the website.
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