Discover Australian Fare

Australia has a cuisine?

‘Advanced Australian Fare’ is the evolution of Australia’s national cuisine. ‘Modern Australian Cuisine’, with all its multicultural influences and creativity, is being enhanced with the use of native Australian produce. These ingredients are strengthening our culinary identity and adding to the development of a unique Australian cuisine.

Tukka Restaurant is dedicated to innovation and remains at the forefront of this culinary advancement. Tukka’s menu incorporates ingredients from Australia’s bountiful countryside, oceans and bays, and combines them with native herbs, spices and berries to produce a true taste of Australia. The team is passionate about showcasing Advanced Australian Fare to lovers of fine food at home and from across the world.

The following sections explore the use of Australia’s native foods, the evolution of Australian cuisine, and the future for Advanced Australian Fare.

Australia’s native foods

Many people are familiar with the terms ‘bush tucker’, ‘bush food’ or ‘native Australian cuisine’. These terms are generally used to describe native flora and Australian game meats. However, Australia’s native foods also include many established staples such as oysters, prawns, and most seafood. The commercial development of Australia’s flora and game meats only started relatively recently and many Australians aren’t yet familiar with their use in modern cooking. This section explores why native foods have not been developed to their full potential before now and why the future of these foods is so exciting.

Long before European settlers approached the shores of Australia, many Aboriginal tribes lived and thrived in diverse ecosystems throughout this country. They lived on a diet exclusively comprised of native foods. “As hunters and gatherers, Aboriginal people trapped and hunted game, collected fruit, harvested nuts and berries and fished the bounty of the ocean with great success” (Bruneteau, 1996, pp8). The land was able to support significant numbers of people on a rich and varied diet. However, the settlers largely ignored these foods in favour of cultivated crops introduced from Europe. In many ways this was not surprising, as the flavours of native foods were very different and quite intense. “Over a hundred years ago the eminent English botanist, J. D. Hooker, writing of Australian edible plants, suggested that many of them were ‘eatable but not worth eating’” (Cribb, 1975, pp13). As Australia developed as a British colony, Aboriginal tribes were displaced, many natural habitats were destroyed and the potential of these foods was ignored.

Successfully cultivated crops had higher yields than the wild native foods and the priority of the new colony was survival, rather than the utilisation of native foods. “In Europe and Asia, for example, the main food plants have had the benefit of many centuries of cultivation which in many cases has led, through selection and hybridisation, to the production of forms vastly superior to those in the wild” (Cribb, 1975, pp16). The cultivation of introduced crops had its disadvantages over the years, such as the higher water demands, crop failures, the need for fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides, and the subsequent damage to the soil and the environment. Regardless of these disadvantages, the cultivation of these crops enabled the colony to grow and prosper. The marginalisation of native foods and the reliance on a small number of introduced species was not a situation unique to Australia. The proportion of plants used in cultivation is a tiny proportion of the world’s edible plant species. “There are about 250,000 species of higher plants in the world. Given this biodiversity it is perhaps surprising that with 10,000 years of settled agriculture only about 100 species have been developed as commercially significant food plants, and only about 20 of these constitute the staple foods of the developed and developing world” (Mitchell, 1999, pp24). It would have taken a huge investment in time and money to create commercially viable native crops and there was simply no immediate need.

Australia’s native foods were largely ignored for 200 years. Today, there are still obstacles to their widespread cultivation, but a new and vibrant industry has been developing since the 1970’s based on a number of compelling advantages. Native foods are naturally adapted to Australia’s environment, they are ecologically sound, and they are more resistant to Australia’s extremes in temperature and rainfall. The development of a unique cuisine based on our native foods represents a huge export potential, and there are many other economic, social and political advantages including a greater appreciation of Aboriginal culture. The number of Australian native foods is astounding and most of them are unique to Australia. “It is estimated that there were upwards of 5,000 different bushfood species across Australia that were utilised and harvested seasonally by the Aboriginal people…Australia has about 10% of the world’s biodiversity of higher plants (upwards of 20,000 species) in natural ecosystems. Some 85% of these species are endemic (meaning that they occur nowhere else)” (Mitchell, 1999, pp24). In terms of potential, we are better positioned than any other country in the world to take advantage of our native foods and there is a bright future for Australia’s native food industry.

Although the early botanists did not extol the virtues of Australia’s native foods, this is not the view held by leading chefs today. In recent times the flavours of native foods have been recognised for their enormous value on a world stage. “Many chefs, gourmets and food writers have become interested in the creation of an ‘Australian’ cuisine through the exploitation of indigenous ingredients” (Symons, 1993, pp67). The historical exclusion of native foods (excluding seafood) from Australian cooking has overlooked the vast potential of these resources in terms of their practical advantages and their amazing flavours. Fortunately, the evolution of Australian cuisine from ‘Modern Australian Cuisine’ to ‘Advanced Australian Fare’ is not only incorporating these incredible ingredients, it is also showcasing them on a world stage.

The evolution of Australian cuisine
Anglo-Celtic influence: 1777 – 1950

The arrival of British settlers in Australia changed the mode of food production from a reliance on hunter-gathers to European agricultural techniques. From this point Australian cuisine was based on traditional British cooking. “This generally consisted of pies, roast cuts of meat, grilled steak and chops, chicken and other forms of meat generally accompanied by vegetables (the combination known colloquially as ‘meat and three veg’)” (Wikipedia, 2007). This is an obvious simplification of the culinary influences during this period (such as the German communities in South Australia and elsewhere), but in general terms Australian cuisine was grounded in British traditions.

Multicultural influence: 1960-1980

This period was heavily influenced by the rapid growth in Australia’s population after WWII through immigration. This added Mediterranean and Asian cooking to Australia’s developing cuisine. Mediterranean foods came from countries such as Italy, Greece and Lebanon. Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese migrants were responsible for introducing a range of Asian influences. “Our exposure to these communities through the medium of food has contributed significantly to the acceptance in Australia of a multicultural society. From an English-based meat-and-three-veg nation, we now have in our shopping trolleys Thai fish sauce, fresh lemongrass and sun-dried tomatoes” (Robins, 1996, ppix). These new ingredients, recipes and cooking techniques laid the groundwork for ‘Modern Australian Cuisine’.

Modern Australian Cuisine: 1980-Today

There has been a lot of discussion about what exactly is ‘Modern Australian Cuisine’. One of the difficulties in defining it is that it’s constantly changing and developing, but that’s also what makes it so interesting and appealing. “The undoubted glories of modern Australian cuisine are just the local variant of a global phenomenon of eclecticism, melding, fusion and confusion” (Saunders, 1999, pp13). After a brief flirtation with nouvelle cuisine and an increase in French influence in the early 1980’s, Australian cuisine began to explore its identity. “In 1986, ‘Australian’ had been an uncertain label applied alike to steak houses and to places that offered you duckling with cherries. Difficult and interesting restaurants were described either … as ‘international’ or … as ‘individual’” (Saunders, 1999, pp10). It wasn’t until 1996 that the term ‘Modern Australian Cuisine’ was first used to describe restaurants in the Sydney Good Food Guide and this category was made up of styles previously included under ‘International Cuisine’ in the 1986 edition and from a huge increase in the number of restaurants offering ‘fusion food’.

The idea of ‘fusion food’ (a fusion of culinary styles and influences) became popular with chefs during the 1990’s and played a large part in providing Australia with a new culinary direction. “Australian cuisine is the best in the world with its mixture of food cuisines…Australian cuisine has taken on the world in its search for its roots, in which the basics of French cuisine and Asian fusion have proved very successful, but only from chefs who understand their craft” (Saunders, 1999, pp24, original quote from Raymond Capadli). The very fact that Australian chefs were not tied to one traditional style of food meant they were free to experiment with flavours and they could define Australian cuisine as they went. “Other Western nations had developed traditional dishes and techniques. Australian had none; it had the luxury to be different…Whereas other national cuisines are defined by their dishes, Australian chefs and commentators would never – could never – develop such a codified means of identification. There is just too much going on” (Downes, 2002, pp274). This freedom from tradition allowed innovation to flourish, but it’s arguable that it did not produce a cuisine that was completely unique to Australia. Parallels have been drawn with Californian cuisine and in many parts of the world menus we describe as ‘Modern Australian Cuisine’ would be referred to as ‘International Cuisine’.

Some food commentators looked beyond the food in an attempt to define Australian cuisine. “I think Australian cuisine is defined by an approach to food and service, by a style of eating, by the way we handle ingredients. It’s the friendly way of serving – we like to learn from the waiter. Our food embraces multiculturalism – it’s one of the cornerstones of this county” (Saunders, 1999, pp22, original quote from Geoff Lindsay). Whilst this viewpoint is valid, it does little to strengthen the identity of our national cuisine. ‘Modern Australian Cuisine’ can be described as a fusion of culinary influences from all over the world, producing imaginative dishes inspired by local and regional produce. The limitation of this definition of Australian cuisine is that it draws from every corner of the world except Australia.

It is against this backdrop of defining Australia’s culinary identity that interest in native Australian cuisine began to grow throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, and it is continuing to gather pace today. Native produce started to be developed by pioneering restaurateurs and chefs such as Jean-Paul Bruneteau, Vic Cherikoff, Andrew Fielke, Craig Squire, Benjamin Christie and Jennice and Raymond Kersh. These ingredients were uniquely Australian and they could be incorporated into the fusions within ‘Modern Australian Cuisine’ to create flavours that set Australian cuisine apart from the rest of the world. Whilst this interest in native produce did not create an immediate revolution in Australian cuisine, it began a slow movement towards what we describe as ‘Advanced Australian Fare’.

Advanced Australian Fare: The future?

‘Advanced Australian Fare’ is the evolution of Australia’s national cuisine. ‘Modern Australian Cuisine’, with all its multicultural influences and creativity, is being enhanced with the use of native Australian produce. These ingredients are strengthening our culinary identity and leading to the development of a unique Australian cuisine.

There are many people within the native food industry that believe native foods from Australia will eventually become accepted within the mainstay of Australian cuisine and be celebrated across the globe. “The authentic Australian flavour of our bush foods will undoubtedly soon become world flavours” (Saunders, 1999, pp15, original quote from Vic Cherikoff). Vic Cherikoff is one of the pioneers in identifying, marketing and distributing native foods within Australia and internationally. He shares a common view among many of those involved with the development of this cuisine. “Our passion is to introduce the world to Australian indigenous flavours…Australian cooking still is this fusion, melting pot style of cuisine…and yet the thing that makes it uniquely Australian are these herbs [and] spices” (Benjamin Christie, 2007).

On the other hand, there are others who believe native products have a limited application within contemporary Australian cuisine. “Despite the pioneering work of Cherikoff and others, the use of indigenous ingredients in Australian cooking remains minimal. Yet many of the ingredients are fabulous, providing unique, concentrated and fascinating flavours…In short, adopting Australian foodstuffs in bulk in Australia is simply too hard for all concerned…Australian cooking does not need to contain indigenous ingredients. It is a way of doing things” (Downes, 2002, pp272-273). This is not an uncommon viewpoint, and indeed there are others who are unaware of or dismiss the potential of Australia’s native foods. There seems to be a tendency to explore the rest of the world before looking in our own ‘back yard’, and this is undoubtedly true of native foods. The very first native food from Australia to be commercialised, was not even done within Australia. The macadamia nut (or Queensland nut) was first produced commercially around 1900 in Hawaii and it took until 1963 for commercial development to begin in Australia. Macadamias are not the only Australian native food to be cultivated overseas. Unless we develop the amazing culinary potential of these foods, other countries will do it for us and we will lose the opportunity.

Australian cuisine is constantly changing and evolving and it is arguably still searching for its identity. The supply of native produce is increasing rapidly and it has become relatively easy to gain a reliable supply of many native products. The development of ‘Advanced Australian Fare’ only started building momentum in the 1980’s, but there are increasing numbers of people joining this movement, and for good reason. “Being involved with bushfoods has really opened my eyes, and my family’s, to the way we relate to our landscape. Despite being born in Australia, I was largely unaware of my own land. Here we are, surrounded by coasts, forests and plains that once supported large tribes of people and nurtured them, and yet, I was still ignorant of the food potential of many of our native plants” (Robins, 1996, ppvii). The potential of these foods is not in question and their availability is becoming more widespread.

There are chefs, food writers and diners all over Australia who are embracing this cuisine, and over the coming years, ‘Modern Australian Cuisine’ will begin to incorporate more and more of these flavours. The term ‘Modern Australian Cuisine’ only became dominant in the mid-1990’s, so will our cuisine become known as ‘Advanced Australian Fare’ in the future? Only time will tell. What we call our national cuisine is in many ways unimportant. What is important is that we recognise all the cultural influences and natural food resources of this country and we use these to define a unique and exciting identity for Australian cuisine.

The vision behind Tukka Restaurant is “to take the flavours of the bush to the tables of the world”. This vision will not be achieved solely through one restaurant or even ten, but through the widespread adoption of native foods into the mainstream of Australian cooking. Tukka is deigned as a showcase for the use of native foods in contemporary Australian cuisine. The online store, Gourmet Australia was created by Tukka to supply ingredients and retail items to Tukka’s customers all over the world. As more chefs adopt these incredible flavours and more Australians embrace these products in their own cooking, our vision will gradually be achieved. Your choices make a huge impact on the speed Australia develops this cuisine, so seek out dining opportunities, ask for the products, try these ingredients in your own cooking and encourage others to discover Australia’s unique cuisine. Advance Australian Fare!

Written and compiled by Alistair Roberts – January 2007.
Thanks to Doug Brownlow, Sammy Ringer, Vic Cherikoff and Craig Squire for their generous contributions.

Bibliography

  • Benjamin Christie, 2007, Cherikoff V. & Christie B., viewed 8th January 2007
  • Bruneteau, J.P., 1996, Tukka – Real Australian Food, New Holland
  • Cribb, A.B & J.W., 1975, Wild Food in Australia, Collins
  • Downes, S., 2002, Advanced Australian Fare, Allen & Unwin
  • Mitchell, R., ‘Why we should commercialise and cultivate native plants’,
  • Bushfood Magazine, Issue 13 Oct-Nov, 1999, Editor Sammy Ringer
  • Robins, J., 1996, Wild Lime, Allen & Unwin
  • Saunders, A., 1999, Australian Food, Lansdowne Publishing
  • Symons, M., 1993, The Shared Table, AGPS Press
  • Wikipedia, 2007, viewed 8th January 2007,

History of Advanced Australian Fare

1975 ‘Wild Food in Australia’ written by A.B. & J.W. Cribb is first published.
1977 Peter Hardwick began the first research into native food plants for their culinary and cropping potential.
1980 South Australia legalises the sale of kangaroo for human consumption.
1981 ‘Edna’s Table’ restaurant was first opened in Sydney by brother and sister team, Jennice and Raymond Kersh (although relatively few native foods were used at this time).
1983 ‘Bush Tucker Supply Australia’ is established by Vic Cherikoff in Sydney as the first bush food distribution company in the world.
1984 ‘Rowntrees – The Australian Restaurant’ is opened in Hornsby by Jean-Paul Bruneteau and Jenny Dowling. It was the first ‘Australian’ restaurant listed in the Yellow Pages.
1986 ‘Robin’s Foods’ established by Ian and Juleigh Robins to produce and distribute a range of native retail and value-added products through mainstream retailers.
1988 Australian cuisine recognised as legitimate at the 2nd International Cooking Festival in Tokyo, Japan, where Jean-Paul Bruneteau was awarded the gold medal for ‘The Most Original Cuisine’.
1989 New South Wales legalises the sale of kangaroo for human consumption.
1989 ‘The Bushfood Handbook’ written by Vic Cherikoff is first published.
1990 ‘Flamin’ Bull Indigenous Restaurant’ opens in Melbourne.
1991 ‘Riberries – Taste Australia’ is opened in Darlinghurst, Sydney by Jean-Paul Bruneteau and Jenny Dowling.
1992 ‘Red Ochre’ restaurant is first opened in Adelaide by Andrew Fielke, Craig Squire, James Fielke and Neville.
1992 ‘Uniquely Australian’ written by Vic Cherikoff is first published.
1992 ‘Australia Native Food Industries’ (ANFI) is established by Andrew Fielke in Adelaide as a distribution company for bush foods.
1993 ‘Edna’s Table’ restaurant had its second incarnation in Martin Place, Sydney, once again headed by Jennice and Raymond Kersh and specialising in native Australian cuisine.
1993 Queensland and Victoria legalise the sale of kangaroo for human consumption.
1994 ‘Red Ochre Grill’ in Cairns is opened by Craig Squire and James Fielke.
1994 The Australian Rainforest Bushfood Association (ARBIA) formed (now defunct).
1996 ‘Tukka, Real Australian Food’ written by Jean-Paul Bruneteau is first published.
1996 ‘Wild Lime’ written by Juleigh Robins is first published.
1996 The term ‘Modern Australia Cuisine’ first appeared in the Sydney Good Food Guide making up the largest category of restaurants (almost all excluded the use of native Australian ingredients).
1996 ‘Red Ochre’ Alice Springs is opened by Andrew Fielke.
1997 ‘Red Ochre’ Melbourne is opened by Andrew Fielke.
1997 The ‘Bushfood Magazine’ is first published by Sammy Ringer.
1998 ‘Red Ochre’ Brisbane is opened by Andrew Fielke.
2000 ‘Cherikoff Pty Ltd – The Rare Spice Company’ is created by Vic Cherikoff by re-branding his companies: ‘Bush Tucker Supply Australia’ and ‘Australian Native Fine Foods’.
2000 ‘Wild Classics’ written by Juleigh and Ian Robins is first published.
2000 The Queensland Bushfood Association (QBA) is formed.
2002 ‘Cumquats Restaurant’ in Brisbane is opened by Alistair Roberts and Tom Williams, specialising in Advanced Australian Fare.
2003 ‘Dining Downunder’, a cooking show promoting authentic Australian cuisine, created by Vic Cherikoff, Benjamin Christie and Mark McCusky is first aired (screened in more than 48 countries and re-screened in 2004 and 2005).
2004 ‘Dining Downunder Cookbook’ written by Vic Cherikoff and Benjamin Christie is first published.
2005 ‘Tukka Restaurant – Advanced Australian Fare’ is created by Alistair Roberts and Stéphane Brémont by re-branding ‘Cumquats Restaurant’.
2006 ‘Australian Native Food Industry Ltd’ is established as the national peak body for the industry.
2007 ‘The Upside Down Kitchen’, a cooking show promoting authentic Australian cuisine, created by Vic Cherikoff and Benjamin Christie is first aired in the USA.

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