Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday Morning Snippets - Thai food, Cedric Emmanuel, Tibet Train Pastiche and Statistics

We are having Denise's extended family for lunch today - I think that there will be eighteen of us in all - so most of the morning will be tied up in preparation. Dee is cooking, so my job is to get the kettle BBQ going early for the three stuffed Greek style legs of lamb, then tidy up the back yard.

Given all this, I have very little time for my usual morning blogging excursions, hence the Sunday snippets.

Earlier in March I gave a shameless plug, Sydney's best value Thai restaurant - Thai Chef, to a local restaurant. I repeat that plug: their food is great, so do try.

The post led to a comment from Joy asking about Thai food in Australia. Joy has a rather nice blog on Thai food called, simply, Joy's Thai Food blog. I have bookmarked it for return visits.

In searching around quickly for material on Thai food in Australia I came across an earlier story on the Australian chef David Thompson who was going to Thailand to open a new Thai food centre showcasing Thai food. The story says in part:

It is extraordinary that an Australian chef should be needed to explain Thai food in Thailand. It is because Thai cuisine is not a restaurant cuisine, and David has devoted the last decade to making Thai food work in his Sydney restaurants. He is totally committed and passionate about the need to put Thai food properly into a restaurant context. This has meant exhaustive research into and experimentation with dishes. He has never taken the easy way out. There is, he says, much bastardisation of Thai food. It has, after all, become one of the most popular ethnic cuisines in Australia, the UK and America.

David hopes that the Bangkok project will be a way of protecting, as much as showing off, Thai cuisine, without compromising its integrity in the modern world. He has been doing just that in Australia, but using Australian staff and aimed at an Australian custom. David certainly does not see his role in Bangkok as being one of teaching locals how to cook, rather of how to present their food in a restaurant context.

The opportunity came after David had attended and spoken very vocally at a food conference in Bangkok in mid-1999. He was "shocked and appalled" by the damage fusion cooking was doing to Thai cuisine. He was confronted by some awful mixtures, such as mango risotto with olive oil, garlic, coconut cream, curry paste and lemongrass stock. He said that the Thais must stop, and try to preserve traditional teaching methods. He blamed European executive chefs in Thai hotels who read food magazines and believe they have to copy to keep up.

At the time this story was written the idea of fusion cooking was all the rage in Australia. Restaurants had started presenting a mixture of dishes from different food cultures on the one menu, also mixing ingredients. This was seen as somehow leading to a grand new Australian cuisine.

I really disliked the trend. It gave us menus that were neither fish now fowl, but a somewhat crazy melange. If I want to eat Thai, for example, I much prefer to go to a Thai restaurant, not select a single Thai dish or some odd taste mixture.

The trend has largely died, although it survives to some degree at times in the descriptor "modern Australian". I have asked many times what "modern Australian" means, but have never really got a satisfactory answer.

There is no doubt that Australian cooking has changed and for the better. However, to make sense fusion has to be a natural process, not one forced by chefs.

I have been meaning to mention for a little while that Rafe Champion put up a rather nice post, Cedric Emanual (1906-1995) Visual Historian, on the History of Australian and New Zealand Thought blog.

I found the picture of artistic life in Sydney over time very interesting. Note the importance of commercial art in providing a living, and of the private art schools. I have seen Emanual's work, it was very popular, but knew very little about his life.

Over on Floating Life Sans Words, Neil kindly endulged me in For Jim Belshaw: Tibet train pastiche by re-running the photo I asked for. I first saw it at work where I have a big screen monitor. Quite spectacular. While the pastiche loses something on the small screen, it is still good.

In Surry Hills is like… Neil also took the bait - I did not think that he could resist - and presented Surry Hills, his locality in Sydney using the census maps. For those who are interested, you will find my how to do posts here (1) and here (2).

I think that the Australian Bureau of Statistics deserves to be congratulated on the way it is making data available to us all. I still find their search facility a bit clunky, but in all they are doing a good job.

Well, its now 8.54 and I have to start tidying up. Talk to you all later.

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