Today on twitter there was a comment that said maybe Andy Warhol should have included 'bringing out a cookbook' with his famous quote ''everyone has 15 mins of fame". It made me think of a post I had written back in 2007. Back then I thought that cookbooks were a way for restaurants to live on in the memories of their customers.
In a post a while back I discussed the many names that were prevalent in the Melbourne restaurant scene two decades ago. It made me think about how many hours these people would have worked and how many meals they would have served.
It is interesting to note that every generation of people will have their favourite places and on how they imprint themselves on our memories. They can stir some pretty big emotions. Memory is such an unreliable and subjective thing.
Look at how Guy Grossi and Iain Hewitson tussled over the rights to Tolarno in St Kilda. Guy’s lineage could be traced through its kitchens and Iain owned it for years. Both covet its special place in Melbourne’s restaurant history and both sought to gain leverage from its colourful past as a legitimate link to a world most of us never knew.
There are very few connections these days to the kitchen of yesterday. Many chefs are now retired, burnt out or have simply dropped out of the industry.
It is interesting that whilst there are many memories of restaurants, front of house staff and chefs that linger, it is not a history that has been well documented.
The Tasmanian book, ‘Before we eat’ (cheers Paul for correcting me!) is a notable exception. I was amazed reading this book that there was not a similar one for each State. It is a very readable and informative account of the history of Tasmanian dining, food culture and the colourful characters that inhabited it. Interestingly it was Tasmania that produced the nation’s first cookbook, ‘The Colonial Cookbook’ by ‘an Australian Aristologist’, Edward Abbot.
It is surprising that there is so little information around on our food culture and history. Of course Michael Symons books, ‘One continuous picnic’ and ‘The Shared table’ set the standard. Barbara Santich, Gay Bilson, Cherry Ripe, Marion Halligan all have contributed to an overall picture of the historical State of play. However there is not much around on say Sydney or Melbourne’s restaurant scene through history.
Speaking with older waiters and chefs who were working way back when, one can begin to join the dots and colour in the detail of what was a very interesting time.
So many people are drawn to this industry and so many have contributed. It’s as though it has always been there that we have ignored its additions and influence on our cultural landscape. This is intriguing when so many of us are eating out, blogging, comparing and gossiping about restaurants and cafes.
Perhaps it’s because restaurants are so much ‘of their time’ that we don’t see them out of their context until we move on, they close or they change. In this light we can see that they are to a degree part of the fashion industry. One can observe cycles returning, re-invention and retrospection and sometimes in a post modern kind of way, all three at once! Knowing that there is generally a limited life cycle for restaurants, perhaps this is why some take a stab at immortality to stave off the inevitable.
Cook books, it could be argued, have become the new epitaph or headstone, validating that a particular restaurant or cafe existed and will outlive them in the long run, long after the last meal was served. In another way they are also about branding as they seek to capture the athstetic and the spirit of a place. It is interesting that both Grossi and Hewitson have released cook books borrowing heavily on the art and influence of Mirka Mora who is their conduit to the glories of the past. It is as if they have set each book into the arena to do battle over which has the most legitimate link to past. Both obviously feel the need to map their own place in the restaurant family tree of Melbourne and as we all get older, that tree gets just a little bigger.
Is it about knowing where we fit in? Where we come from and what legacy we’ll leave? The contributions of Hewitson and the Grossi family to the Melbourne scene cannot be overstated and I believe history will demonstrate that their influence will be felt for a long time to come, book or no book, Mirka or no Mirka.