I think there is an exciting and significant push from a few restaurateurs and chefs in Australia that bring a very fresh and perhaps even unique aesthetic to the sourcing, cooking and presentation of food. It seems that the conditions have been just right for a new school of cookery to emerge from what has been to date, the conventionally accepted hierarchy and status quo of hatted establishments ruling the roost.
This has had some of our traditionally recognized arbiters of restaurant criticism scrambling to bone-up on the current state of play and many of them are not happy campers, in fact some our downright hostile to this apparent changing of the guard. The fact is, while they were dozing, fretting about next year’s contract and dishing out praise on the anointed, the language of food, ever evolving, has once again morphed into something else entirely.
These days it’s not uncommon to find some of the most exciting cooking and ideas coming from what would have been previously thought of as the most incongruous of places. Adding to this confusion, many exponents are not coming from the established kitchens of the greats, instead many are self-taught, confident and sure footed which confounds the logic of the ‘everyone must do their time and pay their dues’ school of thought. Like music, the classics remain but the pop music of the day reflects the people it is made by and listened to. Where rules were rigidly adhered to and boundaries were set have given way to a breezy embrace of whatever works and tastes good, go onto the plate. Of course some advocates of this route don’t always get it right but those that do are game-changers of sorts and to deride them because they are ahead of a curve is to air one’s ignorant laundry in public.
In an attempt to remain topical and hang onto what remains of their relevance, many critics feel the need to put these young Turks in their place and remind them of the generally accepted state of play by typing some sense into them via an ambivalent review or worse, an unsympathetic one. One could argue that in order to keep a vice-like grip on the King-maker status bestowed upon some reviewers, it might be necessary to slay a few industry icons so as to, you know, keep everyone on their toes. In fact, I believe that this very action occurred this year when several of our most venerable restaurants were given a shellacking all in the name of what? Was it to get them to reclaim their esteemed status? Was it a tap on the shoulder of sorts? I believe it was a mechanism to re-calibrate the perception that the reviewers in question could still influence and determine. All it achieved though, in my opinion, was to expose what we might have suspected all along: the death rattle of the broadsheet reviewer as we know it. These places were easy targets. They’re like some doddering uncle in a threadbare cardigan, blissfully unaware that he’s not a cavalry officer in the last days of the Raj. He’s not hurting anyone, he’s entertaining, people love his stories so leave him be.
Emboldened, fresh from the kill and with a developing appetite as an iconoclast, some set their course to collide with this new push only to find themselves out of touch and as a tragic lone voice of misplaced dissent.
Instead of pointing out what these places are not perhaps a more constructive pursuit might be to highlight what they are, exuberant, optimistic and uncompromising, surely that’s more of a legacy to leave than one of bitterness, resentment and retrospection?