Australia’s New Culinary Capitals: South Australia

Australia’s New Culinary Capitals: South Australia

This article appears in Volume 29: The Taste

an early flight from Victoria, I find myself ducking into
the shady halls of Adelaide Central Market.
Although there are a few chi-chi cafés where bearded graphic
designers sip flat whites among its 80 stalls, the floors are raw
concrete and there’s a twisted tube map of rusting pipes on the
ceiling. Mark Gleeson, who has run café Providore for more than two decades, sits on a spindly
chair outside Lucia’s Pizza and Spaghetti Bar.

As he drums his feet on the black-and-white lino, he tells me
the story of its founder, who introduced locals to “exotic”
ingredients such as olive oil and garlic through her secret tomato
sauce recipe. “She arrived from Italy in 1957 with nothing but a
suitcase and a sprig of grape vine hidden in her bra,” he says,
between enormous bites of pastia (a sweet cake containing egg
noodles and ricotta). “She was the mother of the thriving market
community you see today. I can still picture Lucia with her big
curly hair, standing in that doorway, sipping an espresso and
smoking cigarettes.”

A woman matching that description almost exactly suddenly
appears. The ghost of Lucia? No: her daughter Maria, who still runs
the café with her sister Nicci. “The market’s like a village green
where the community gathers,” Gleeson continues. “You’ll find
bankers and politicians rubbing shoulders with farmers and
tradies.” Maria gestures towards a gaggle of iron-haired academics,
the tote bags at their feet spilling over with heritage tomatoes
from Greenside Greengrocer and black angus beef from O’Connell’s
Meats. “They’ve been coming for spaghetti bolognese every Thursday
for more than 30 years.”

We drive into the textured tapestry of the Adelaide Hills. The
homesick European settlers who arrived here in the 1830s planted
oak and pine trees that still tower over the road, while apple
orchards and sheds selling free-range eggs slide by. However,
despite the region’s peacefulness, high up in the small Basket
Range town a rebellious micro-movement is gathering steam. “We call
it the beautiful wine movement,” laughs Taras Ochota, of Ochota
. “We’re all experienced winemakers and sommeliers who
have chosen to farm organically on a tiny scale and operate on
handshake agreements. It’s about respecting the purity of the
vineyard and everyone involved.”

Ochota reminds me of a modern Robin Hood, as he leads the way in
an algae-green shirt through an organic vegetable patch to a garden
shed filled with French oak barrels. Although he spent his youth
playing bass in punk bands and dreamed up the company on a surf
trip to Mexico, Ochota’s credentials are as impressive as the
rose-scented riesling he’s currently swishing around his mouth in
time to the Joy Division song blasting from the stereo. “My wines
have a foundation in science, but it’s a creative project really,”
he remarks. “At the end of the day, I’m not solving world peace.
It’s just a fucking drink.”

Fifteen minutes by plane and I reach Kangaroo Island. This is
the Australia I recognise from postcards: a wild place where there
are more kangaroos than cars on the road and white-bellied eagles
soar low over vast seas of eucalyptus mallee. The pale limbs of
narrow-leaved gum trees reach for each other over the road, until
it feels as if we are driving through a natural church.

Koalas blink from the canopy and our keen-eyed guide, Craig
Wickham of Exceptional Kangaroo Island Tours,
points out the golden spines of a young echidna (anteater) ambling
towards a Tate’s grass tree. Later that night, as I stare at the
horizon from the polished-stone lounge of the ultra-luxe Southern Ocean Lodge, I realise
with a jolt that there’s nothing standing between me and

Bound together by their geographical isolation and the economic
reverberations of the wool crash that decimated the island’s
farming industry in 1989, the island’s food producers are tight
knit and take an innovative approach to sustainability. There’s
Fooksy the fisherman, who flaps away curious pelicans as he shows
us the special net he uses to allow young fish to escape and
flourish to full growth; John Lark, whose award-winning craft gins
are made with 48 botanicals mostly foraged from his own 20-acre
garden; and Dave Clifford, who, with his daughters, runs Clifford’s Honey Farm, home to the world’s last pure
colony of Ligurian honey bees. “It’s the respect for nature and
sense of community that make our island’s food scene so special,”
says Craig, licking a drop of smoky sugar-gum honey off his

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