MSN Food talked to four of the UK's most prominent antipodean chefs to discover why their food and drink is so popular in the UK right now, including Mat Follas, Peter Gordon, Anna Hansen and Annabel Langbein.
Who among us doesn't look on that antipodean quality of life with a little jealousy? Sunshine, open spaces, fresh, healthy eating and a great cafe culture. Fortunately, rather than us having to schlep down under, the last few years have seen a massive influx of the best of antipodean culture.
Personalities like Australians Bill Granger and John Torode are regulars on TV and the bestseller lists, and Granger will soon be opening his first UK restaurant (in Notting Hill this November), while Torode already has two, Smiths of Smithfield and The Luxe.
From New Zealand lamb to world-class sauvignon blanc wines, our supermarket shelves already boast a host of antipodean-hailing ingredients. Aussies and Kiwis are also running some of our best coffee shops, including The Sensory Lab, ST. Ali, Allpress and Caravan.
Catering as a career choice
Bill Granger and John Torode are not the only antipodean restaurateurs succeeding either. Former Masterchef winner Mat Follas is winning great praise for his Dorset restaurant The Wild Garlic. Peter Gordon continues to take The Providores and Tapa Room in London's Marylebone to ever-greater heights, while in Clerkenwell, Anna Hansen is cooking up a storm at the acclaimed The Modern Pantry. So why are they all doing so well?
Acclaimed chef at The Modern Pantry, Anna Hansen
"One of the important things," explains Hansen, "is that when people travel from Australia and New Zealand they often end up staying, because there's so much opportunity here. London has variety and a willingness to try new things."
Follas also points out that perhaps Australians and New Zealanders have a different attitude towards restaurant work.
"In Australia and New Zealand, being a chef is a serious career choice," he explains. "Until recently, that hasn't been the case in the UK."
Antipodean restaurateur, Peter Gordon of The Providores and Tapa Room, along with new venture Kopapa
The influence of travelling
Coincidentally, the coming-together of cultures - and influences collected while travelling - is probably what also defines antipodean cooking, as Peter Gordon explains. The man behind The Providores and Tapa Room, along with new venture Kopapa, Gordon was at the forefront of 'pacific fusion' food when it first arrived in the UK over a decade ago, although the fusion label sits uneasily with him.
"In Australia it would mean the inclusion of many South East Asian ingredients, with hints of Italy, Greece, Turkey and France - all based on the immigration patterns of Australia's recent history. In New Zealand, it's more European, but also with those undercurrents."
Both Mat and Anna agree with this theory. "If I had to define 'Antipodean Cuisine,'" says Follas, "it would be fusion food, very much reflecting the culture of the countries themselves."
"When I was a kid," says Hansen "Kiwi food was a Sunday roast and mussels. But there are a lot of different nationalities converging on one point. There's a definite attitude of wanting to learn and embrace stuff."
Annabel Langbein, New Zealand's 'free range cook'
Recipe author Annabel Langbein is the Jamie Oliver of her native New Zealand (she's sold nearly one million books to date). Her TV series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook recently aired on the Good Food channel and is accompanied by her already popular book of the same name. So why is she only now coming to the UK? "The time just felt right" says Langbein, sat among freshly roasted bags of coffee at Caravan restaurant in London. "My kids are at uni now and I'm free to devote my time over here."
Part of the reason New Zealanders are making such an impact on British cuisine has, she says, "a lot to do with the fact we [New Zealanders] don't have a long culinary history... so we're not overly tied to culinary rules. There is a huge range of ingredients available there now and instead of building a meal from meat, potatoes and vegetables, we've realised you can start with saffron, lemongrass, ginger, soy and chilli instead. And New Zealanders have really embraced that."
And, Langbein says, this openness to trying new ingredients is also present in the UK. These days cous cous is now in the 'shopping basket' of common items used to measure food inflation, for example. That certainly wasn't the case 10 years ago.
Future restaurant trends
It's this ability to merge and innovate that perhaps explains the success Hansen, Gordon and Follas have found in the UK. Of course, restaurant trends are always moving forward so, we wonder, what do they think will happen next?
"The UK restaurant scene is driven by Michelin in many ways, which recognises a certain 'standard' of restaurant, not necessarily the best or most innovative food," says Gordon. "I think people want less formal, more relaxed dining. That doesn't mean it'll have be less precise or less focussed, but less fussy."
Hansen just laughs. "I'm never any good at spotting trends," she admits. "People are talking about tea like it's wine, and the way it's harvested, the terroirs, etc... I'm interested to see if that makes a mark but I'm a bit dubious: the reason wine is so popular is because it's got alcohol in it!"
Hansen does echo Gordon's sentiment however, with a belief that UK restaurant culture will continue to focus on more relaxed small-plate dining: a sort of tapas-like, sharing idea.
Follas too thinks simplicity is going to be the key. "I feel the biggest trend of the last 10 years has been molecular gastronomy," he says, "where the emphasis has been on the performance of cooking or presentation.
"I think the next trend will be the opposite. I think it'll be about getting to the heart of how to produce food that is real, tastes of itself and has fantastic flavour. We'll be using good quality ingredients, understanding the providence, appreciating British food traditions and crafts, traditional breeds and the natural produce that's all around us; it'll be a wonderful moment when a return to foraging and a revival of the lore of the countryside becomes mainstream. I think restaurants should lead the way with discovering new, great products that everyone can enjoy."
Whatever the next trend, one thing you can say with confidence is that Hansen, Gordon and Follas, and many of their countrymen, will no doubt be leading the way.
See Antipodean chef recipes on MSN Food:
- Mat Follas' chocolate fondant recipe
- Anna Hansen's roast leg of lamb recipe
- Peter Gordon's spinach and feta tortilla recipe
- Annabel Langbein's goat's cheese and spinach soufflé recipe
More on MSN Food:
- Five great recipes from around the world
- 10 new foodie things to try
- The 10 best chefs you've (probably) never heard of
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