Published in the City Hub and City News.
When a copy of acclaimed Melbourne chef, Jacques Redmond’s, latest book Cuisine du Temps (RRP $60) landed on my desk, I was astounded. Redmond’s unique cooking style is both passionately Australasian and decidedly French. The heavily pictorial style of the book shows off the wonderful dishes from his Melbourne restaurant by the same name. Turning the pages you’ll find clear, simply formatted recipes that incorporate ingredients easily found in Sydney. It is, of course, a book of serious food; so when you pop out your own version of Jacques’ Black Lasagne of Crab and Dragonfruit, don’t count on it looking as good as his beautifully plated exemplar!
As I drooled over a photo of Steamed Coral Trout with Choko and Olive Dumpling, Lemon Yogurt and Apple, I was inspired to think about Modern French cuisine; in particular the way that it has developed here in Sydney. I love the way French chefs let technique be the common bond, freeing themselves to incorporate unique, fresh, local products.
Peter Robertson, the newly appointed chef Baroque believes: “French cuisine will always be unique to the region it is prepared in.” He explains, a meal in Hanoi and a meal in Montreal will both have significant French influence, but “there is a massive difference in cuisine.” This comes because “French cuisine has always focused on regional produce, taking products that grow locally and highlighting them.”
His new environment in the gorgeous rose-copper industrial setting of Baroque has provided some Robertson with excellent ‘local’ products too. They come from my favourite man of macarons, pastry chef Pierre Gobert who has been amazing Robertson with his creations in the production kitchen, causing him to invest “some time in trying to match his efforts in the bistro.” This exciting fusion has produced a Summer Berry, Stone Fruit and Violet Crumble Salad made from “violet bavarois poached in nitrogen and crumbled over the salad based on fresh and freeze dried berries.” I’m itching to try it!
I’m also hankering for a bite of Tony Bilson’s Tartare of Abalone and Black Angus, Beetroot Carpaccio and Horseradish Ice-Cream. Bilson, who is recognised as one of Australia’s leading chefs for the past forty years, likens Modern French to art - and “like all art, it reacts and reflects the values of contemporary society.” The dishes he presents at Bilson’s incorporate “visual appeal, clean flavours on the palate, homage to seasonality and the quality of the prime ingredients.” Bilson attributes some of our local specificity to the “surplus of sunshine” here that gives our produce an extra flavour hit. This makes the “flavours of French cuisine in Australia more robust”. Add to this that our “beef is younger, our fruit is built for travel rather than palate, our leaf vegetables are less delicate,” and you end up with dishes like Redmond’s Lamb Cutlet Farcie with Silverbeet Tamarind and Ginger Dressing.
Frederic Booms, a classically trained French chef currently manning the pans at Helm Bar agrees that Australian chefs “typically introduce more Asian influences into our dishes,” updating traditional French dishes “using contemporary methods and local produce.” He stresses that “fresh ingredients are very important to all French dishes – both modern and traditional.” For Booms, Sydney’s Modern French dishes are lighter in style and use less offal. He has adapted his own Confit Duck Leg accordingly, with “more spices and garlic to give it more of a modern flavour.”
So don’t be trapped by any misconceptions about heavy and rich flavours preventing you from enjoying Modern French food as you find it now, today, in Sydney. Or if you’re a deft hand in the kitchen, pick up a copy of Cuisine du Temps (RRP $60) and start your experimentation at home!