On the wake of his second book, Organum being published, while on the brink of heading up the Sydney Opera House's famous restaurant, Bennelong, chef Peter Gilmore thinks about what it is to be an Australian chef.
"With my new book, I wanted to look more deeply into the philosophy of food and what makes me cook the way I do. I wanted to explore the idea of Australian food. Is there such a thing as Australian cuisine? I came to the conclusion through looking at my own work and where my influences come from, that I don’t think we will ever have a traditional, identifiable food that is based on recipes and ingredients," he says. "I think when traditional cuisines such as French or Japanese were developed centuries ago, those countries were in relative isolation. They didn’t have the communication or the availability of different ingredients that we have today. They had a small set of produce that they worked with, and they developed methods and traditions over centuries."
Gilmore's conclusion was that rather than having a nationaI cuisine, what Australians have is a particular spirit of cooking. "It is something that can be recognised, and it has to do with the freedom of not having a traditional cuisine to pin your creations upon. You are not forced into a narrow ideal of what a national cuisine is. So that gives Australian chefs the freedom to explore and embrace our multicultural food traditions."
Like many Australians, Gilmore grew up eating Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Italian, French, Greek, Lebanese and so many other types of cuisines.
"I've always embraced a lot of those traditions, and then formed my own opinions and ideas about the flavours within them," he says. "That, combined with an openness to be able to express yourself, and the endless great quality of produce here, has given chefs in Australia a great sense of creativity and freedom that doesn’t necessarily exist everywhere. I think that spirit, and the spirit that we have of friendliness and the casual nature that we can bring to the table – alongside professionalism – is quite identifiable as an Australian style. So we have a certain style rather than a set type of cuisine, and I think every chef working in Australia will interpret what it means to create Australian style in their own way.”