'Exciting, innovative': World's food luminaries share their views on Australian fare

A seafood barbie ... Marron on the grill.
A seafood barbie ... Marron on the grill. Photo: Supplied

What happens when 80 top-tier chefs, food writers, bloggers and restaurateurs from around the world are sent all over Australia to eat and drink as part of Tourism Australia's $40 million Restaurant Australia campaign? We asked 10 of them what they really thought, what they loved and what they'll be saying about Australian food and wine when they get home.

Alice Waters

CHEF/ACTIVIST, CHEZ PANISSE, CALIFORNIA

Well, what did you think?

Global foodies: Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor and food writer Rashmi Uday Singh in Hobart.
Global foodies: Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor and food writer Rashmi Uday Singh in Hobart. Photo: Supplied

Australia could most certainly become a serious food destination. If you can gather the forces of the environmental movement and put it together with the extraordinary chefs and make it all one, it could be really dramatic.

What did you love?

I went to Kitchen by Mike in Sydney and I loved it. I loved the garden, I loved the wood oven. Then Sean Moran cooked me some wonderful pippies steamed with garlic scapes (stalks) at Sean's Panaroma; it gave them the effect of seaweed.

Sampling seafood on the tour.
Sampling seafood on the tour. 

What will you be talking about when you get home?

That Australian chefs should prepare something similar to the Nordic Manifesto, in which Scandinavian chefs set out their desire to build their own cuisine in partnership with farmers and small-scale producers.

Jonathan Waxman

CHEF/OWNER, BARBUTO, NEW YORK

Le Bernardin's Eric Ripert from New York.
Le Bernardin's Eric Ripert from New York. Photo: Supplied

What did you think?

The coolest thing about Australia is the attitude. It's intrinsically Australian. You don't worry about the crap. That's very refreshing.

What did you love?

'Could not have been better': the banquet at MONA.
'Could not have been better': the banquet at MONA. Photo: Supplied

I had a Moreton Bay Bug and I fell in love. It's the perfect food. Moreton Bay bugs are all those things I love about crabs, urchins and prawns but they're sweeter and more beautiful.

What will you be talking about when you get home?

You guys get better produce than I get in New York.

Critic A.A. Gill.
Critic A.A. Gill. Photo: Supplied

Colman Andrews

THE DAILY MEAL, USA

What did you think? 

Australia has everything a food tourist could want. Everything's here. Wineries, world-class restaurants, casual restaurants. The problem is that it is so far away. The Concorde would help.

A creation from the MONA gala dinner.
A creation from the MONA gala dinner. Photo: Supplied

What did you love?

I loved eating at Billy Kwong restaurant in Sydney. And I love that I have finally learnt how to pronounce "Shiraz", not Shiraaaaahhhz.

What will you be talking about when you get home?

The Australianness. People don't want to come here to eat in a French restaurant or an Italian restaurant. They want to eat something that is unique to this country.

Sanjeev Kapoor

INDIAN CHEF, RESTAURATEUR AND TV HOST

What did you think?

Like India, you have a lot of influences, but we have taken ownership of them. They are Indian now. So you need to define Australian cuisine, because food is not only ingredients. It's how you convert them, with your style, your attitude, that makes it distinct.

What did you love? The wild barramundi.

What will you be talking about when you get home?

The huge variety you have here. The world is available to you.

Rodrigo Oliveira

RESTAURANT MOCOTO, SAO PAOLO, BRAZIL

What did you think?

I didn't know what to expect from Australian food. And it seems to me that Australians don't know what Australian food is either. When I asked to try the national dish, there was no direct answer. But this is a blessing, not a curse.

What did you love?

There is a special rustic beauty of the desert that makes you look deep inside yourself. I tried what they call a desert fig. Wow. So sweet.

What will you be talking about when you get home?

Kangaroo. I've had it as a hamburger, as carpaccio, as tartare. It's a lovely meat. I would love to work with these things every day.

Eric Ripert

CHEF/OWNER, LE BERNARDIN, NEW YORK

What did you think?

I didn't know there was such a big difference between the different regions, nor what a big hand the chefs of Australia were playing in promoting the indigenous culture of Australia. It's a food heaven.

What did you love?

Marrons and spanner crabs, of course, but I was also very impressed with the fruit and vegetable farming. In many countries, farming has been focussed on making the produce look good but not necessarily taste good.

What will you be talking about when you get home?  

The saltbush we foraged for in Western Australia.

Andre Chiang

RESTAURANT ANDRE, SINGAPORE & PARIS

What did you think?

When I first came to Australia years ago it was all about fusion, with European and Asian influences. It was not as clear as it is today. Now it has its own character and identity.

What did you love?

That it's not just the food in Australia that is important, it's the combination of food and lifestyle.

What will you be talking about when you get home?

The value you put on having local produce.

Alexander Thian

CELEBRITY BLOGGER AND FOOD WRITER, INDONESIA

What did you think?

It's beyond my expectations. I am out of words.

What did you love?

Mud crab! In Darwin, we caught the mud crabs in the morning and cooked them right away. They were huge, beautiful. And in Alice Springs, I had a kangaroo salad that was exceptional. 

What will you be talking about when you get home?

I don't have to try hard to convince my 27,000 followers to come to Australia. Just by posting my photos, two of my followers have already booked tickets to come here!

Walter Kei

CELEBRITY CHEF, AUTHOR AND TV HOST, HONG KONG

What did you think?

You guys are a mix of everything. Your secret is that there are no boundaries.

What did you love?

The coolest thing was a progressive dinner I did in Sydney. First we gathered at the Blu Hotel in Woolloomooloo, then took a cruise, where chef Mark Best provided the first course. At Double Bay we got in a vintage car and went to Pinbone in Woollahra. Their food was very cute. Then we took a bus to Yellow in Potts Point, but on the way, we stopped in Oxford Street and met two drag queens. Then we went to Quay for the famous snow egg dessert - and there were fireworks!

What will you be talking about when you get home?

That the new Australian cuisine is like eating the food we know, but on a different planet.

A.A. Gill

RESTAURANT CRITIC AND TRAVEL WRITER, SUNDAY TIMES, UK

What did you think?

Australia's early fusion Pacific Rim cooking was always interesting, but you were never going to buy a ticket to Australia to try it. Now I can't think of a better reason than food for coming.

What did you love?

I have never experienced a banquet as successful on a purely gastronomic level as the one prepared by Ben Shewry, Neil Perry and Peter Gilmore at MONA in Tasmania. It was really interesting, really well-made. It could not have been better.

What will you be talking about when you get home?

The thing that makes food interesting in different regions is the quality of the cooking, more so than the produce. Australia now has the most exciting, innovative, and coherent new food anywhere in the world. There are more great chefs working in Australia than in any comparable area in the world right now.