Gone to Church: A New Culinary Doctrine in Rural Australia

Gone to Church: A New Culinary Doctrine in Rural Australia

This article appears in Volume 29: The Taste

I tell the sun-wizened taxi driver ferrying me along
Southbank that I’m planning to write a food story on rural
Australia, he pulls a face. “There’s fuck all out there, mate,” he
says, demonstrating a very Aussie fondness for swearing, despite
his thick Italian accent. “If you want to write about food,
Melbourne’s your place.”

For a moment I chew my lip and try not to panic. It’s too late
to change the two-week road trip I have planned through the vast
states of Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, eschewing
the more conventional pit stops of Sydney
and Melbourne for rustic farmsteads, small-scale winemakers and the
wave-beaten wildness of the rocky coastline. However, despite my
cabbie’s misgivings, I’ve heard rumours that something is afoot in
the regions – something that legendary chef Dan Hunter of Brae, the
award-winning restaurant in rural Victoria, tells me is akin to a
revolution. “Over the last five years, there has been a gastronomic
shift in the outer regions because house prices in the cities have
spiked incredibly steeply,” he explains. “Creatives, retirees and
young families have been pushed out to the country, bringing their
attitudes, money and priorities with them.”

This impression is confirmed the night before I embark on my
food-fuelled odyssey following dinner at Matilda, in the heart of Melbourne’s fashionable South
Yarra district. Head Chef Tim Young pulls up a stool at the bar
next to me after a particularly hectic service. Draining a negroni,
he sums up what modern Australian cuisine is all about: “It’s the
Australian dream of owning a bit of land and having a real
relationship with the produce you grow. These regional restaurants
have a family feel, like you’re visiting ma and pa’s homestead.
Except the food they produce is fucking world class.”

Over the next two weeks, I learn how much this sentiment
captures the spirit of Australia. It’s a place with big dreams and
old-fashioned values, where anyone with a patch of land can plant a
vineyard and chefs are on first-name terms with their suppliers. As
we drive past golden surf and dense eucalyptus forests filled with
the call of animals so strange even the locals don’t know their
names, we frequently pass baskets of homegrown fruit on the side of
the road with signs reading “please help yourself”. It’s this
combination of community and nature that sets Australia’s food
scene apart – that, and the passion of a people for whom food seems
to have replaced religion as the thread that binds them


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and Sydney from London with economy fares from £779 and
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