Food – a national obsession. Everybody has memories (recent or distant) of someone on the box telling you at home how your food should be cooked. Today’s guest writer took it one step further and decided he could become part of the obsession and change food culture internationally.
My bogan culinary awakening occurred one afternoon after school at home in Boronia watching Bernard King on TV turn a bottle of Fanta and a tin of Golden Circle pineapple chunks into a tropical chicken extravaganza. It was the 70s, I had no idea what anything in life was or could be, and here was this cheeky chap explaining — well, insisting really — that you don’t have to bother with all the nonsense you read in complicated books and how his glamorous dinner party friends had no idea what he snuck into this dish.
What King was saying to us, well at least to me I thought, was “live it up, girlfriend, grab all the colour and fun in life that you can” and the food you cooked was one way to do that. Of course Australian food became much more, world class. I can be anywhere on the globe and know that the moment I say to a chef, “I come from Australia” they’ll say, “I wanna go there some day”.
But what inspires them, they tell me, isn’t just the quality of the ingredients, the baking or the cooking, but rather the sense that as Australians we live it up and squeeze the most out of what we have.
Australian TV lives it up for sure, exploring life through food in more detail and with more vigour that programmes would dare to in Europe. If you bundle together everything from the suburban kitchen rumble that is My Kitchen Rules, the old-style Masterchef where people like us at home — rather than trained chefs and Marco — bizarrely wrestle with foams and jellies to produce wannaby “chef” creations (the AUS version transformed the UK version, remember), with the serious detail that SBS gives to kitchen programmes and you have an awesome output. I watch loads of it here in London, as do my chef friends.
For example, with The Great Australian Bake Off on Channel Nine, without overtly raving about it (even though it is intense, punchy, detailed and fantastic… and yes, I’ve seen more than the journos to be able to say that), when I mention it to people here in Europe or talk about it a big food festivals, the excitement they show me by asking “surely we’re going to see it here”, is — at it’s heart — all due to the stimulus Australian food programming gives. Even where we’re not the originators of formats, our producers look afresh at the idea and give it loads of zest.
I can be sitting here in London on a cold snowy afternoon, turn on the tv and watch Luke Nguyen’s Greater Mekong. A show where a hardcore food expert, rather a ditsy fraud presenter, explains just what I’d eat if I travelled there. It takes some bravery in programming to do that, and it gives me a swell of pride to think that it’s Australian made too. Likewise with Matt Preston. I love his Frank Thring pizazz but the man also knows his onions: he’s both a star and serious food expert.
So when people say to me that Australia makes great food television I simply say, “Yes. We do.” It’s a matter of record, simply a matter of fact. It’s a testament to our producers, our crew, our camera operators, our editor and sound people… well, to all of us. We’ve gone from Fanta chicken to fantastic, and I like to think that if Bernard King is looking down on us he’d agree.Melbourne-born artisan baker, food writer and journalist Dan Lepard is one of the world’s most renowned baking honchos and a judge on Nine Network’s new reality tv series “The Great Australian Bake Off”. He writes a weekly food column in the UK for The Guardian Newspaper, has many bestselling award-winning books and is a regular on BBC radio and online.
The British press call him “the Lewis Hamilton of breadmaking” (Observer), in Spain he’s “uno de los panaderos más reconocidos en Europa” (El Pais), in the US “one of the world’s best bakers” (Food & Wine) but to his family back in Melbourne he’ll always be a right little bugger.
He’s fun to have a beer with, tells the worst jokes known to humankind, and gay as a box of frogs. He lives in London with his partner David and returns to Australia every year for sunshine and great food. Not once has he baked Steve Molk anything.