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The restaurant scene never stands still. Great chefs constantly flex their creative muscle, always seeking new ways to express their cooking philosophies.
This innovative spirit is personified by Australian food luminaries Peter Gilmore, revered Executive Chef at two-hatted Bennelong and three-hatted Quay in Sydney, and Daniel Puskas, chef/owner at Sydney's three-hatted Sixpenny. Both creatives have been instrumental in shaping the Australian restaurant landscape - and they're excited about where it's at right now.
"I think it's a really interesting and challenging time for Australian restaurants," says Peter Gilmore. "In a competitive market you need to stand out with an original and innovative offering and continue to excite the guests, pushing boundaries, coming up with new flavour combinations and being able to tell a story about the ingredients."
Peter Gilmore is renowned for his passion for plants. An avid grower, he champions a cooking process that flows through from seedling to serve and his latest book, From the Earth: World's Great, Rare and Almost Forgotten Vegetables, explores the world's most unique and exotic heirloom vegetables.
He believes the plant food movement is hotter than ever.
"We are really only scratching the surface of what amazing produce is out there," says Gilmore. "There are so many edible plant-based ingredients yet to be fully utilised. The key is working really closely with like-minded farmers and growers, and committing to a program of testing and experimenting with lesser known ingredients."
In his Northern Beaches garden, Gilmore cultivates rare vegetables, then experiments with various cooking techniques to extract their finest flavours.
"For example, we are serving Kulli Corn which we grew last summer," he says. "It's served as a porridge with a smoked oxtail consommé . We enjoy being able to show the customers the beauty of this corn, which is a 4000-year-old heirloom."
Expect to find an ever-evolving flavour adventure on your plate at Quay and Bennelong, he says.
"I'm continuing to work closely with our farmers to have more variety of heirloom vegetables grown this coming season," adds Gilmore. "Things like Chinese pink celery, Italian Red Tropea onions, Python Snake beans. Growing vegetables that are new to our market often sparks ideas for dishes, and I'm also interested in delving deeper into extracting even more flavour from our ingredients using traditional techniques in new ways to create dishes that are still very elegant but layered in flavour and texture."
Eating local is more than a movement – it's the only way forward for many, as leading chefs celebrate their native ingredients.
At Sixpenny, in Sydney's inner west, Daniel Puskas creates his ever-changing tasting menu from the season's finest Australian produce.
At this time of year, says Puskas, Australian truffles take centre stage. "Australian truffles are exported all over the world now," he says. "The Western Australian truffles, and now the east coast ones from near Canberra, are really special [and] Tasmanian ones of course. It's a great time of the year for enjoying them and the season isn't a flash in the pan; it's two to three months." Even then, the fun's not quite over, he says. "We stock up and preserve them, then bring them back in later on and use them in different things."
Puskas' local delights include a fruit called Poor Man's Orange. "It's like a hybrid of a grapefruit and orange, he says, and ours are grown near Peats Ridge, just north of Sydney. We use them to make marmalade, very simple but delicious."
Big taste, small footprint
Sustainable sourcing, cooking and eating has never been more popular – or as necessary, says Daniel Puskas. "Restaurants are especially concerned with where ingredients are coming from. We support local growers and ethical farmers as much as we can.
Puskas is constantly seeking low-impact suppliers. "Recently I spent a night aboard Gravity, a New Zealand fishing boat, and this guy is probably the most sustainable fisherman I've ever come across," he says. "He will only catch to order from restaurants, bringing in exactly what they've requested. All by-catch gets thrown back in, he doesn't trap any fish, it's line caught and iki jime spiked."
He adds: "I think and hope we will see more ethical, sustainable farmers and fishermen. It is super important and hopefully it is a trend we won't have to think about, it will just become normal."
New flavour frontiers
The culinary scene is a hotbed of innovation, and both Gilmore and Puskas enjoy experiencing other chefs' work.
Says Puskas: "I get inspired by my peers and I've recently had some lovely meals by Paul Carmichael at Momofuku Seiobo [in The Star, Sydney]. He's such a skilled chef, who cooks in a way that's homely and friendly and yet at the same time so refined. All the detail is in the taste."
Puskas says you'll currently find influences from Carmichael's spice-infused Caribbean dishes in his own cooking at Sixpenny. "I've been playing with a few different spices too, using them with braised winter greens like kale, different spinaches, broccoli leaves."
Meanwhile, Peter Gilmore finds Asia a rich source of inspiration, and particularly admires the foraging-focussed work of ex-Noma chef Thomas Frebel at Tokyo's new hotspot Inua.
"Says Gilmore: "I'm inspired by chefs that are delving deep into traditional cultural ingredients and applying new techniques to them. I'm about to do an in-depth trip to Korea which is something I'm looking forward to."
Cooking collaborations between big name chefs are a trend that's taking hold around the world – with delicious results.
"Collaborations and one-off experiences engage the diner more personally, making them feel more involved in the overall experience," says Peter Gilmore.
In coming months, Sydney will host an array of chef collaborations, including Alain Passard from Arpege, the world's eight best restaurant, cooking a multi-course dinner at Restaurant Hubert on 20 October as part of Good Food Month. Gilmore himself will join forces with Jock Zonfrillo from Adelaide's Orana at Quay for a dinner on 24 October.
Meanwhile Dan Puskas is heading stateside in October for a collaboration with USA star chef and Noma graduate Blaine Wetzel, at Wetzel's Willows Inn on Lummi Island. The restaurant, just off the Washington coast, is a trailblazer in the local and sustainable food movement, with ingredients foraged from the island and transformed into simple but exquisite dishes. Puskas can't wait to get there, and suggests you try to visit, too. "Blaine is a tremendous cook who just works with what's around him. I am really loving what he's doing," he says.
Are you a Citi customer? You can enjoy the culinary delights of Quay, Bennelong, Sixpenny and many more restaurants in the Citibank Dining Program. Just pay with your Citi card for a free bottle of wine when you dine.