Country 1 – Australia

Chef Explorer - Western Australia

I now live ‘Down Under’ (depending on your perspective!) and have done so since 1990. I originally came here in the late eighties backpacking and working as a Chef in Sydney and Cairns up in North Queensland and stayed with some cousins of mine in Melbourne.
Then I settled in Western Australia and have earned my bread and butter,as it were, as a Chef or Chef Lecturer since then.

The cookery around Australia is in one way very cosmopolitan and in another very localised. There was a basic early British influence of pies and roasts, then came American and Chinese fast foods. Then there was a great European influence in the sixties and seventies when Italians, Croatians and Germans for example planted vines and introduced their own foods and culture. Now Australian Wines are amongst the best in the World.

Australia is so near Asia that their cultural influences were inevitable.Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian Restaurants now flourish everywhere. Add to this great mixture of cuisines one of the most unique and oldest cultural influences in the World, that of the Aborigines, then you end up with a type of cuisine that is different to anywhere else. Broadly described as ‘Bush Tucker’, it could be any native food from Kangaroo, Crocodile and Emu to Fruits like Quandongs, Lilli-Pillis, Kakadu Plums and Lemon Aspen. I put them on my menu back in the ‘90’s and ‘Chicken Quandong’ was one of my best selling dishes.

The Aborigines have been eating these foods for thousands of years as well as delicious fish like Barramundi, Red snapper and Dhufish. Not to mention world-class shellfish like Crayfish, Marron, Yabbies and Balmain Bugs just to name a few.

On a recent camping holiday where I now live in Western Australia, I introduced my boys to the joys of Crabbing in the Mandurah estuary. There is nothing better than being in the great Australian outdoors with your family, in the sun chasing and scooping up fresh crabs for dinner, knowing that the local delicious Chardonnay is on ice, back at camp in expectation!

In the big cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, Chefs have scattered these native foods liberally throughout their menus to create a cuisine unique only to this part of the world. Add the other ingredients of lots of sunshine, beautiful beaches, sophisticated boutique beers and wines and a friendly sporting lifestyle and you have in a nutshell (Macadamia nut that is) Australia, mate!

In the 2020’s I have been exploring the magnificent Kimberly in the north of WA and it is ancient and spectacular! Otherwise, I have already told a few tales about Australia and especially when I put Bush Tucker on the Menu in Book 1 – ‘A Taste of the World’. But here is a tale published in 2008 in the ‘Swan Magazine’ when I wrote a regular article as the ‘Chef Adventurer.’ It’s about when I first arrived in beautiful Western Australia:

‘Go West Mate!’

It’s not often that I get out and about in the city of Perth these days, but I managed to go ‘chef adventuring’ there last week checking out the local food and beer and it occurred to me how far Perth has come since I first arrived here back in 1990!

It was in the middle of a cold winter in England in 1990 when I set off around the world via the States and New Zealand, returning to Australian soil after my initial 80’s backpacking discovery. I arrived first in Melbourne to stay with my long-lost cousins, then boarded the bus heading West for the first time. Back in 1988 my old mate from Bunbury, who had worked as my Kitchen hand in Queensland, told me to:

“Go west mate and head to WA, the land is cheap.” (Boy, has that situation changed!)
So, there I was on a three-day journey across the Nullabor, from Melbourne to Perth.
What a distance. I thought I would never get there! I only had a suitcase and a few hundred $ to my name, but wherever I have travelled in the World I have always got work as a Chef.

I still say this to my students at college. If you want to travel the world, get qualified in the hospitality industry, you will always find a job. But would you believe it, the only place I ever struggled was Perth! Unknown to me, there had been an internal airline strike in Australia, and it had nearly crippled the Hospitality Industry in Perth. So initially there were no jobs around, and to top it off it reached 40 degrees! For a Brit who had just arrived from a cold winter, and a flat in Inglewood with no Air Conditioning, it was a dodgy start!

Persistence finally paid off as I got my first job as a Sous Chef (= Second Chef) in a hotel called the ‘Chateau Commodore’ in the City, and celebrated by renting a flat with a beach view in Cottesloe. However, I could not afford a car at first and had to get the bus to work. But what a difference in scenery. This time last year I’d be on a No 53 double decker bus in downtown Manchester, England, peering through the cigarette smokey haze into the equally hazy foggy winter streets, still dark, with big grey buildings. Compare this to a clear view over the lovely Swan River travelling alongside people water-skiing!! I knew then that I was truly in the ‘Lucky Country’!

Chef Explorer

The recipe for Almond balls below has nothing to do with this story except that I have recently demonstrated it to Year 12’s in a school and they loved it. So, cook it for your teenagers.

Recipe for Australian Macadamia & Almond Cheese Balls.