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World's top chefs put Australia on the menu

Ask most people what they'd include in a defining Australian meal and the answer may well incorporate Asian nuances, a hunk of beef, a grilled sea creature and a cold beer.

  Australian cuisine ... Have you ever tried rosella buds?
Australian cuisine ... Have you ever tried rosella buds?

Others may make a nod to frontier food, settlers stamping their marks onto New Holland.

Take it one step further and some may add elements of bush tucker and our vast native larder, with its birds, berries and barnacles, to their menus.

To the world's best chefs, this Sunday's Great Australian Dinner, the piece de resistance of Sydney's Good Food Month, is all of the above. But the night is especially set to be a collective Akubra-tip to what has for so long been ignored on our plates: the land beneath our feet.

As David Chang, the US-based impresario behind Momofoku Seiobo, told Good Food: "That's one of the great things: diversity. People are learning that diversity is more than meat pies, it's also about the food that was here before Australia became Australia."

Another outsider looking in, Rene Redzepi, from Noma in Copenhagen, agrees.

"This dinner is a clear example of what I think has changed the most about Australian culture: it's the growing popularity of the idea that people should celebrate indigenous ingredients," Redzepi says.

"They belong on — and distinguish — the Australian plate."

The men and women behind the event at The Star are not constrained by tradition - they've been given empty pots, woks and baskets to fill, and fill they have. Native plants and meats add notes that many will never have tasted: Muntries, quandongs, native rice, wattle seeds, lemon aspen, wallaby, green ants, Angasi oysters, saltbush and riberries.

Where Noma treads, alliums play a starring role. Doing away with the pine, kelp and apple that feature on his signature dish back home, Redzepi looks to the great southern land's green ants, rosella buds and samphire to accompany his famed onions and garlic.

Ants, mealworms and saltbush have been chosen by Kwong. "Our indigenous Australians have always known best: native green tree ants are absolutely perfect in their natural state, bursting with a delicious, tangy, fresh flavour of the Australian bush," Kwong says.

There are elements of settlement - "Johnny cakes" or pancakes of Mary River native rice - and childhood - collecting field mushies, in Marque's Mark Best's take on the remit.

Kangaroo is given a run by Brent Savage of Bentley, wallaby and wattle seed by Dan Hunter of Brae. James Viles, from Biota Dining, combines dried lactose, oats and sorrel with lamb breast.

For Rockpool's Neil Perry foraging means a day in Chinatown, searching high and low for the flavours that introduced us to the exotic. Australia is part of Asia, he says, so it makes perfect sense for us to look to those flavours to shape our cultural identities.

"Things have changed dramatically in my lifetime, I'm 56, I grew up with the White Australia policy. Now we have a beautiful, rich, multicultural melting pot," he says.

Perry has opted to serve dumplings, then bar cod with pickles, chilli and sesame dressing and steamed custard, while Martin Benn of Sepia pairs West Australian marron with yuzu, ginger and shiso.

The menu is a no-rules, go-for-your-life burst of colours, flavours, textures and treatments. And its energy and indefinability is probably what makes it so Australian.

As Chang puts it: "Australian cuisine is still a work in progress. The future is unwritten, and no one can say exactly what it is yet. Australian food can be anything. There really isn't a ceiling placed on what is possible."

Bon appetit, generations past, present and future.


Source: Good Food, 23 October 2013