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.