Australia has some of the best, most exciting produce in the world. Put it together with diners who seem to have an insatiable appetite for memorable dining experiences and there’s no wonder the world’s best chefs are setting up shop Down Under. By Danielle Bowling.
Last year, Heston Blumenthal launched Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in Melbourne. A couple of years prior, chef David Chang launched Momofuku Seiobo in Sydney. And now Rene Redzepi is following suit. The man who operates Copenhagen's Noma, which has been named the world's best restaurant four times, is one of the latest in a long list of internationally acclaimed chefs who have decided Australia’s a good place to do business.
On Australia Day, and after much anticipation, Redzepi swung open the doors to Noma Australia, a pop-up at Sydney’s Barangaroo which will operate for a 10 week period. The island getaway gives his team back in Copenhagen time to relaunch the flagship restaurant, which is now ranked third in San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, on an auditorium-sized vacant lot, complete with its own urban farm.
In the lead-up to Noma Australia’s launch, Redzepi and his team made a number of trips to Australia, travelling across the country and to remote areas to track down some of the most unique, enticing flavours the country has to offer.
“I have always been attracted to the incredible diversity you find in Australia’s landscapes and ingredients, because they are like no other place I’ve seen before. Australia combines strong influences from its Indigenous people with new communities from around the world. When you mix it all together, the result is something truly inspiring. It really is the perfect place to come and learn,” Redzepi said when Noma Australia was first announced.
The $485pp menu at Barangaroo is complemented by a number of beverage selections including an all Australian wine pairing, a non-alcoholic pairing and a short global wine list. There's a strong focus on seafood, and a more refined interpretation of the classic Australian barbeque.
“We’re going to try to base our cooking on the ocean and the shoreline – that’s where we found unique qualities: in the ocean and just on the edge of the water, where the water meets the land. And we’re going to cook it in a way that to me signifies Australia. So if you go to the communities in the bush, it doesn’t take long before you’re gathering around a fire. [It’s the] same thing when you are with Aussies in an urban environment – somebody is making a barbeque very quickly and putting lamb chops on it. So fire will be a crucial way for us to actually cook these things, and we’re going to work with how to tame it in a way, so it doesn’t become this rustique cooking on fire. [We’re] finding ways we can gently cook things, in a delicate way,” Redzepi said.
The trip Down Under is also about educating and energising Noma’s team of chefs, floor staff and managers. Redzepi describes his time spent with aboriginal communities tasting our native ingredients as “like going to the moon.”
“Your national animal is a kangaroo. That sort of sets the tone for how different things are here,” he said. “There are very special flavours, [so it’s] very exciting, especially as a cook, to come and try something genuinely new. And we find that here; we find genuinely new flavours.
“It will be a different journey, but one that I am incredibly excited about – the opportunity to broaden our horizons, to expand our minds and our tastes, to make new friends, and catch up with old ones, as we delve into this magnificent landscape.”
Another world-class chef that wants a part of Australia’s booming foodservice scene is Danielle Alvarez (pictured below), who worked with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkerley, USA, for almost five years after spending the best part of a year with Thomas Keller at the three Michelin starred French Laundry.
She’s now part of the Sydney hospitality empire, Merivale, preparing to open Fred’s, a restaurant on Oxford Street that will be based on strong relationships with local suppliers, and a very hands-on approach, with Alvarez making her own bread, butter, pasta and charcuterie.
Alvarez says Australia’s foodservice scene is amongst the best in the world, and when she was presented with the opportunity to get involved, she couldn’t say no.
“I couldn’t be happier to be living and cooking in this great country. At the moment there seems to be an energy buzzing about in Australia, particularly in the hospitality world; you can feel it. [There are] so many inspired and talented chefs and hospitality workers coming together to showcase some of the best that Australia has to offer. It’s a great time to be here.”
In preparation for Fred’s launch, Alvarez has been working in a number of Merivale venues, “acclimatising” herself with her new head chef role and learning how to handle Australian produce.
“A great deal of that time has been spent in the kitchen getting familiar with the uniquely Australian produce that we have here. That has been the best part. No matter how long you have been cooking, there are always new and interesting ingredients to work with,” she told Hospitality.
David Thompson has opened Long Chim in Perth.
While she’s committed to forging strong relationships with her growers and suppliers, it’s been no easy feat. The sheer vastness of the country represents a significant challenge, but not one that can’t be overcome, she says.
“Because of the size of Australia and a much smaller population (compared to the US) spread over that huge size, logistically, it’s not easy, but it is possible. We just have to create a demand and a market for small farmers in the area to sell their produce consistently. Sourcing ingredients this way changes your relationships with people, and your product. When you know everyone along the food chain and you know how much care and effort is put into the things you serve, you take more care with them, and the people bringing that to your table take more care in your experience.
“I would like to see more of that happening in Australia. On the flip side, it is such a tight-knit community in the restaurant scene here. It’s been so wonderful to meet so many likeminded people that support each other; I’ve felt so welcomed here. It’s a beautiful thing that I haven’t seen anywhere else,” she said.
So it seems that 2016 is going to be a hugely exciting one for Australia’s restaurant scene. With creative minds like Redzepi and Alvarez adding their flare to the industry, and other recent high profile openings including that of Michelin-starred chefs Jason Atherton and David Thompson, Australia really is proving itself to be the land of opportunity.