Sydney’s The Fink Group had a stellar 2015, opening two of the hottest venues of the year: Firedoor and Bennelong. Here, director John Fink has a guess at which trends will be influencing foodservice over the next 12 months.
1. The ‘casual’ expansion
The coming year will see fine dining alive and well, and everyday dining getting finer, Fink says.
2016 will see smaller, less expensive venues opening, and being operated by business-savvy restaurateurs or alternatively, restaurant-savvy business professionals. Neil Perry’s Burger Project, is a good example. Having successfully opened two in Sydney, Fink says he’d be very surprised if Perry didn’t roll that brand out across the city and the nation. He’s also anticipating more strongly-themed hole-in-the-walls venues pumping out pulled pork rolls, lobster rolls, Bibimbap and the like. It makes sense in terms of streamlined production, food cost, and wage efficiencies.
2. A growing appetite
Some assume that with all these new restaurants opening, the customer pool must shrink, right? Wrong, Fink says. As the restaurant industry expands, so does the market. Australians are less inclined to get a new TV preferring to spend that money on creating joyous memories in a restaurant.
Expect more quality casual dining options in 2016
And with shows like Masterchef continuing to inspire the public about food and restaurants, the customer base is ever increasing and educated.The modern Australian diner is growing up, and fast.
3. Staffing struggles
Unfortunately, the growth of Australia’s dining scene is not matched behind the scenes, Fink says. From sink to stove, and floor to door, finding and keeping staff is an ever increasing challenge. Australian hospitality talent is by far some of the best in the world, but the pool is thin on the ground.
Some captains of industry are stepping up to the plate: James Packer has an indigenous traineeship, Neil Perry, Guillame Brahimi and Barry McDonald have swathed a similar path. Ren Redzipi’s NOMA SYD has a stage program set up in conjunction with Restaurant & Catering Australia. Eight years ago Masterchef hit the small screens and inspired young Australians to want to grow up and work in the industry. Many of these kids will be finishing their HSC and hitting schoolies before heading out to find a job. I hope to see more activity in the training and apprenticeship space in 2016 and beyond.
Rene Rezepi is launching a pop-up in Sydney in 2016.
The coming year will see a lot of conversations in as many forums, which is all well and good, but if the restaurant game is going to truly thrive, solutions to the immediate staff shortage problem need to land on the table. One valuable source of skill is international staff, most especially the Europeans, who consider hospitality a profession, not something you do while waiting to work out what you want to do with your life. The Australian restaurant industry needs more skilled labour, plain and simple. The 457 visa limitations and student visa working hours are highly regulated channels that need to be adjusted if the restaurant and associated tourism industry is going to survive and thrive. Tourism is one of Australia’s top industries, worth over $250 billion to the Australian economy, and deserves support from the Turnbull government to remove growth hinderances in this specific category.
4. The Australian story
The top end of town has never been so exciting as today. Recognising fine dining as one of Australia’s best assets, Tourism Australia invested many millions of dollars in the Restaurant Australia campaign. After a successful launch in May 2014, Restaurant Australia invited 80 of the world’s most respected fine dining opinion proscribers to quite possibly the biggest dinner party Australia has ever seen. Held at Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MoNA), it was a smashing success, and something I was very proud to participate in.
This 2015 year has seen direct benefits from the ongoing campaign, and there are more to come in 2016. Marry the Tourism Australia campaign with Heston Blumenthal opening a Fat Duck in Melbourne, and Ren Redzipi’s NOMA popping up in the Lend Lease Barangaroo district, the fine dining scene should expect a bumper crop for 2016.
Redzipi is a relentlessly inquisitive chef. How strange that it took a dane’s curious fascination with indigenous ingredients to re-ignite the question: “What is Australian Cuisine?” The question has ever been asked, but as Australian fine dining seamlessly slots into and contrasts with the international scene, the heat has been turned up.
Chefs at the top of their game like Ben Shewry, Peter Gilmore and Martin Benn are increasingly focused on the question. It’s not just about bush tucker; unless there is context for the use of indigenous ingredients, one risks falling into tokenism. Don’t get me wrong, chefs like Jock Zonfrillo are having a great time exploring bounty of the land, with stunning results, but that is only one piece of the puzzle.
When the world was invited to dinner at MoNA
Australia is a multi-cultural nation, with as many cuisines. Australia has Chinese, Afghan, Italian, Greek, British and Vietnamese cuisines, but Australia doesn’t have an Australian cuisine. So what is Australian Cuisine? To my mind Australian cuisine is an object in an empty box. It’s Shrodinger’s cat. A question with no answer.
While Shewry, Gilmore and Benn have different culinary approaches, all agree on two things. Firstly that Australian cuisine is centred around provenance; quality produce procured in a sustainable and ethical manner. Second, and most interesting: Australian kitchen technique is not cemented to any one discipline. Australian fine dining chefs are the bower birds of culinary method, borrowing from East and West alike. It’s really exciting to watch, and I look forward to finding out what they learn as they press in to the coming year. I hope they find the answer, because if they do, people around the world can finally go out to eat “Australian”.