Manu, not a clue

24 Jan

In ‘The Age’ greenguide today TV chef Manu Feildel  (from Gaul) grumbled that he was unimpressed with Australian food when he arrived here. It was ‘behind’.

Now, I know nothing about the man or when he came to Australia. But he would have needed to have trod the tarmac at Sydney Airport more than three decades ago for French food to have been ahead of Australian.

He needs to read my book ‘Advanced Australian Fare’, which details how far Australian cooking developed beyond the rest of the world’s from the early 1980s onwards. And why. In inventiveness and originality, it is still ahead. French chefs only now are discovering the diversity and characters of South-East Asian ingredients. But they use them tentatively and boringly.

It’s less than 10 years since Alain Senderens led other top Gallic chefs towards bistros. I looked at his lists eight years ago, and it was as if pineapple and curry had only recently been discovered. He’s one of several top chefs, by the way, who publicly stated in the 1990s and later that France had fallen way behind the culinary creativity of other countries. And as for London, where Manu worked, he says, don’t even talk.

I’m technically as French as he is, but at least I have a perspective on Gallic cooking. Reading my book ‘Paris on a Plate’ would help him to gain it.

His views about our being ‘behind’ also insult one of our compatriots, Jacques Reymond, who since the late 1980s has been in the forefront of Australian cooking, using ingredients and techniques as they suit the dish he is creating.  His cooking is brave, unlike most French chefs’, which is sternly traditional.

Doesn’t Manu know about Neil Perry’s new seafood cooking at Bluewater Grill in the late 1980s? Isn’t he aware of the Italo-Australian dishes of Stefano Manfredi of the same period? Hasn’t he heard about the guys at Bayswater Brassier, who started three decades ago with post-modern bistro tucker? Or Tetsuya’s Australian dishes with Japanese leanings? Or David Thompson’s high Thai cuisine in a Newtown pub? There are many other examples.

France’s significant culinary tradition has stifled originality and a wider use of ingredients and techniques. Many experts — I’m not alone — say so. And because Australia lacked a food culture, originality and inventiveness have flourished. (It has little to do with emigrants.)

And isn’t it interesting that Pascal Barbot, the chef-owner of Astrance, the most celebrated restaurant in Paris, told me that his creativity was spurred by the couple of years he spent cooking in Sydney. Australian food ‘freed’ his head.

Have a bit of a read up, Manu, before you open your mouth next time about something you seem to know almost nothing about.

3 Responses to “Manu, not a clue”

  1. Elliot 25 January, 2013 at #

    I am in Paris now and have been here for five weeks. I am shocked at how bad the food is at the very many cafes and bistros at which we have eaten. Certainly three-Michelin-star restaurants put on really top quality meals demonstrating the highest culinary skills. But the average place is woeful compared with Melbourne, or Sydney or New York counterparts or those in a heap of other places.

  2. Elliot 26 January, 2013 at #

    Apart from the fact that Manu irritates me, I find your remarks about cooking in France and Australia particularly apt. After five weeks in Paris, I must say the average restaurant here is dreadful. At the upper end the food can be brilliant. It does hark back more to its origins through Careme and Escoffier, but I prefer a brilliantly executed menu in the old style to most of the culinary adventurism of many modern chefs. There is, in my mind, a place for both the modern and the old. It’s a matter of bringing out fine combinations of flavours and textures. A bit of theatre is OK and so are the great techniques developed by the Feran Adria’s and Heston Blumenthal’s and their colleagues, but classical French cooking is wonderful. The problem is we see it so rarely.

  3. Peter Symonds 11 February, 2013 at #

    Succinct and to the point… so many more examples from Greg Malouf’s (to) original gastropubs, to modern Middle Eastern..

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