Australian Cuisine – How the Culinary Wizards From Australia Conquered the World
DESPITE A NATIONAL OBSESSION with gardens, England is a country whose food has traditionally had very little to do with what grows in them. In the past decade, as the words ‘‘local,’’ ‘‘seasonal’’ and ‘‘vegetable-driven’’ have pervaded restaurants around the world — as New York and Los Angeles have become awash in organic kale chips and wheat-grass margaritas, and Copenhagen in foraged kelp and wood sorrel — London has stubbornly remained a place where meals have starred meat. It’s not that the city is short on good food — the idea that you can’t find superlative fare in London is a cliché that went out with the turn of the century — but it is true that its best-known chefs (Fergus Henderson, Marco Pierre White and Heston Blumenthal among them) specialize in food that sticks to your ribs, to animals battered or roasted from nose to tail.
So while for the rest of us, a garden- or forest-to-table menu is a fact of life, to Londoners, it’s still relatively novel. The city’s growing field of lighter, brighter and markedly vegetable-centric restaurants is crowded and diverse, but several of the most celebrated have in common something important: They are helmed by chefs from Australia, who are collectively introducing Londoners to a cuisine marked by an unfussy approach; to fresh herbs and raw greens and the humblest of roots; and, belatedly, to avocado toast, the pork belly of the 2010s.
These chefs and their peers follow in a relatively brief tradition of people who’ve radically changed the British palate by exposing it to food from elsewhere: the cookery writer Elizabeth David, who introduced the vibrant flavors of the Mediterranean in the 1950s; Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, who began serving seasonal, authentic Italian food at London’s River Café in 1987; and, most recently, the Israeli transplant Yotam Ottolenghi, who made a whole generation of Brits familiar with theretofore unheard-of ingredients like za’atar and pomegranate molasses.
But the best equivalent of the influence the Australians are wielding in the U.K. today may be that which Alice Waters has had on the U.S. since the 1980s, when her farm-fresh, vegetable-heavy nouvelle California cuisine began to change how East Coasters (and, eventually, the rest of the country) ate and considered food. Here are the three chefs to know now.
You might expect the basement kitchen at the Ledbury, Graham’s Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant, for which it can take months to get a reservation, to have the kind of militaristic air we’ve come to associate with establishments that offer a certain caliber of tasting menu. And yet the tone is more summer-camp-mess-hall than ‘‘Yes, chef,’’ with Graham gently needling his line cooks about their wild, lads-on-tour holidays and for the way they pronounce ‘‘herbs’’ — which he harvests from his own backyard garden, along with lemon cucumbers and mustard flowers.
The easygoing 36-year-old, who opened the Ledbury in 2005, grew up in Newcastle, a small seaside city two hours north of Sydney, where he got his start at a casual fish restaurant. While his approach to food today is rigorous and formal, centered around small, tightly composed courses, his flavors are simple and intensely pure. A late-summer salad, served only during the short tomato season, may look like a relic of ’90s-era modernist food styling — precise, carefully arranged rectangles and half moons of heirloom varieties, punctuated with dots of ricotta and gelée and crowned with an ovoid of tomato sorbet — but it tastes like the essence of a garden, evoking sun-dappled grass, a plot of rich soil, clusters of fat, fragrant, dusty fruits on the vine.
Graham tries not to rely on butter, cream and starch as much as possible, working instead to source the best ingredients and then to extract as much flavor from them as possible, taking cues from, say, Japanese cuisine — one of the Ledbury’s signature dishes features a square of crisp-skinned mackerel atop creamy avocado and a bite of shiso-laced tartare cut from the same fish.
His latest project tackles the very definition of English cooking: the pub. The Harwood Arms, in the sleepy residential neighborhood of Fulham, may look like nothing special, but it serves an extraordinary Scotch egg made with local, sustainably hunted venison and chanterelles with carrots cooked in hazelnut oil. The chef in the Michelin-starred kitchen is a Brit who got his start at the Ledbury — but Graham is the ‘‘director.’’ And on the roof? A garden.