Photo by Jarrett Wrisley
For a list of six Australian foods worth trying, click here.
"Sydney has no real food culture. People here don't understand food. It's bullshit."
My driver, who was ferrying me from airport to hotel, smiled in the rearview as his odious claim hung in the air. "Of course there is steak," he continued, as if eating beef was heresy. "And there is Asian food. A lot of it, in fact, which I do not care for."
But the man behind the wheel was no ordinary chauffeur. He was a former restaurant owner, and his restaurant, the ill-fated Coco Roco, was at the center of a defamation case he eventually won in 2007. I had just stepped off a plane to attend the Sydney International Food Festival--a week of chef demonstrations, wine dinners, and market tours. And it was all beginning rather deliciously.
First I'll get this out of the way: my driver was a very nice guy, and I appreciate his candor. But I also feel bad for him, because he doesn't know what he's missing. After a week spent eating in Sydney, I'm convinced that the city has an uncommon and rewarding sort of cooking culture.
The foodscape is anchored by a youthful cooking scene that borrows at least as much from east as west. Chefs weave western notions of artisan produce--grain-fed Wagyu beef rump, organic micro-greens, line-caught ocean fish--with eastern techniques and tastes. Then they write cookbooks or make television shows about it, and people pay attention. Asian food is Sydney's muse, and for locals that's something to celebrate.