Healthy Eating

We're championing fresh food that packs a flavour punch, from salads and vegetable-packed bowls to grains and light desserts.

Subscribe to Gourmet

Subscribe to Australian Gourmet Traveller and receive a copy of Nordic Light - offer ends 23 April 2017.

Gourmet digital

Subscribe to Gourmet Traveller for your iPad or Android tablet.

The Royal Mail Hotel is changing

Executive chef Robin Wickens has a stronger influence at the Royal Mail Hotel's upcoming restaurant, slated to open later this year.

Adventuring along America's north-west rivers

The rivers of America's north-west running through Washington state and Oregon form the arteries of epic landscapes and bold discovery routes. Emma Sloley follows in the wake of Lewis and Clark.

The World's Best sommeliers are coming to Australia

For the first time, the world's top international sommeliers will take part in the World's 50 Best Awards too.

Seven Italian dishes that shaped fine dining in the 2000s

Italian food in the restaurants of Australia blossomed into maturity in the new millennium, as the work of these trailblazers shows – dazzling and diverse, a successful balance between adaptation and tradition.

Steam ovens: a guide

Billed as the faster, cleaner way to cook, are these on-trend ovens all they’re cracked up to be? We take a close look at their rising popularity, USP versus the traditional convection cooker and how each type rates in terms of form, function, and above all, flavour in this buyer’s guide.

Our chocolate issue is out now

Our April issue is out now. In his editor's letter, Pat Nourse walks you through what to expect.

Roast pork with Nelly Robinson

Nelly Robinson of Sydney's nel. restaurant talks us through his favourite roasting joints, tips for crisp roast potatoes and why, when it comes to pork, slow and steady always wins the race.

Water carafes

More than mere vessels, these pieces bring a cool breeze of style from the fridge to the table.

Flour and Stone Recipes

Baker extraordinaire Nadine Ingram of Sydney's Flour and Stone cooks up a sweet storm for Easter, including the much loved bakery's greatest hit.

Fast autumn dinners

Autumn weather signals the arrival of soups, broths, roasts and more hearty meals.

Roasted cauliflower salad with yoghurt dressing and almonds

The cauliflower is roasted until it starts to caramelise, which adds extra depth of flavour to this winning salad. Serve it warm or at room temperature.

1980s recipes

Australia saw some bold moves in the ’80s, and we’re not just talking hairstyles. Greater cultural references started peppering the menus of our restaurants, and home-grown ingredients won a new appreciation. The dining scene was coming of age and a new band of pioneers led the charge.

New cruises 2017

Cue the Champagne.

All Star Yum Cha

What happens the morning after the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards? We treat the chefs to a world-beating yum cha session, as Dani Valent discovers.

Melbournes finest meet Worlds Best

Leading chefs descend on Melbourne in April for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. We asked local hospitality folk who they’d abduct for the day and where they’d take them to show off their city. There may be coffee, there may be culture, but in the end it’s cocktails.

Savoury tarts

Will your next baking project be a flaky puff pastry with pumpkin, goat's curd and thyme, or a classic bacon and Stilton tart? As autumn settles in, we're ticking these off one by one.

Restaurants cooking with seaweed

Sepia, Sydney

Sepia, Sydney

With its complexity in flavour and texture, seaweed is the culinary trend taking diners' palates to another dimension, writes Richard Cornish.

There is a particular deliciousness to Martin Benn's food, a mellow, mouth-filling and pleasing sensation that continues from dish to dish like a culinary leitmotif. Benn, chef and co-owner of Sydney three-star restaurant Sepia, has ditched the chicken stock and veal jus of European tradition as the flavour foundation for his cuisine and turned instead to seaweed. And where 20 or even 10 years ago this might've seemed unusual, today he's just one of a raft of top-end chefs in Australia who are embracing a global trend towards making greater use of the plants of the sea. It's a profound shift, and one that's coming to a kitchen near you soon.

The background note to many of Benn's dishes is dashi, the Japanese stock made with a combination of kombu seaweed and shavings of dried and fermented bonito. Although Benn worked for many years under Tetsuya Wakuda, and was exposed to the use of dashi during that time, he says it's at Sepia that he has greatly developed and expanded his understanding and use of seaweed. The likes of dashi stocks and subtle garnishes of powdered nori, shaved kombu, native sea vegetables and rehydrated imported seaweeds provide much of the savoury deliciousness of his dishes.

The unusual textures of seaweeds, too, play a distinctive role in Benn's cooking. "Some are fresh and light, but also have a slight crunch, like wakame, and used in soups and salads," he says. "Then there's hijiki, with its earthy, woody texture, again used in soups."

He also uses kombu to tenderise squid by first soaking it in sake and then laying the it over the squid. "Seaweeds have diverse flavour profiles, from very delicate to very robust, very fresh to extremely earthy; each one is different," Benn says. "Seaweed makes food taste good."

In Beechworth in Victoria's north-east, chef Michael Ryan of Provenance explains a little of the science. "Seaweed, particularly kelp, is naturally high in an amino acid called glutamate," he says. Combine kombu with dried shiitake mushrooms, which are high in guanylate, a natural flavour enhancer, or with bonito, which is high in inosinate, and something amazing happens. "There's a synergy between these compounds that gives you a very strong sensation of umami," says Ryan. "The effect is remarkable."

Ryan demonstrates this with kingfish that's poached in dashi and then brushed with iwa nori jam, made by cooking down iwa nori, a rock seaweed, with sake and sugar. This is served with a salad of cucumber and sea spaghetti, sea lettuce imported from Spain, plus a little native seaweed from East Gippsland, creating a rich, meaty-tasting dish with a slight sweetness that still preserves delicate flavours.

Ryan recently visited farmer Andrew French at Snowy River Station near Orbost, 350km east of Melbourne. French's paddocks lie below sea level, and floods have rendered them too saline for crops or grass, so he now grows indigenous salt-tolerant food plants such as samphire, beach bananas and sea parsley. The channels that once drained the flat paddocks now flood-irrigate the farm with saltwater from the Snowy River estuary. They're now naturally stocked not only with schools of tiny flathead, tailor and mulloway but tonnes of thread-weed, a fine, ribbon-like seaweed. "It's very tasty," says Ryan.

"But it's not quite as good as the seaweed imported from Spain. They know how to process it."

The Australian seaweed business is in its infancy. Global edible seaweed production is around 15 million tonnes and worth around $7.79 billion, according to figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization; in 2012 Australia produced just several hundred tonnes. Investment worth millions of dollars by Chinese companies in sites in South Australia, and some boutique harvesting of invasive Japanese wakame in Tasmania hold promise. Sadly a recent high-profile venture, Coral Coast Mariculture, which was growing sea grapes in Queensland, is now in the hands of administrators.

Research under way at Deakin University in Warrnambool in south-west Victoria, however, has proven that local seaweed is just as tasty as imported seaweed when handled properly. Taste tests conducted by Dr Alecia Bellgrove, senior lecturer in marine biology and ecology at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, saw local bull kelp perform just as well as Japanese kombu in controlled taste trials. "We're questioning if we have the possibility of a local industry," she says. "The taste and nutritional side looks good, but there's a lot of work around the environmental side of things." (Bellgrove notes that although Australian bull kelp is both edible and delicious, its harvest restricted by differing state and local laws.)

While it may be some time before our native seaweeds are recruited into commercial production, chefs are making the most of seaweed imported from Asia and Europe. The emergence of experimental cuisine in Spain over the past decades created a resurgence in seaweed consumption. Previously the food of the poor, and something used to fatten pigs in coastal areas, wild seaweed is now hand-harvested off the Galician coast by a company called Porto Muiños, which exports to Australia.

One of Spain's biggest proponents of cooking with seaweed is Ángel León. Known as the Chef of the Sea, he was last year anointed as Spain's best chef by the Royal Spanish Academy of Gastronomy. Working with the University of Cádiz, he developed a method of extracting micro-seaweeds from ocean water, which he then uses in his signature dish - a bowl of rich, creamy, vibrant green rice that tastes deliciously of the sea. His "Taste of the Biological Bottom of the Sea in a Wedge Sole", meanwhile, is a dish of white prawns romping about a piece of sole decorated with various types of seaweed made to resemble a garden on the ocean floor. A visit by León's right-hand man, Aponiente chef Juan Luis Fernández, during the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival in March has inspired Frank Camorra and the MoVida team to host a "Seaweed Salon" at MoVida Aqui on 3 May to better explore the subject.

"I'm more than passionate about the sea," León says. "I'm obsessed. But as we consume more seafood there is becoming less of it. In the future, if we want to taste the flavour of the sea we will have
to turn to seaweeds."

Read more: GT's guide to edible seaweed.


Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

Latest news
The Royal Mail Hotel is changing
Happy first birthday, Bar Brose
Happening Hobart
Neil Perry pulls out of haute cuisine; Eleven Bridge to close
Aaron Carr to leave Vasse Felix after 21 years
Momofuku takes over Lee Ho Fook
Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
Recipe collections

Looking for ways to make the most out of seasonal produce? Want to find a recipe perfect for a party? Or just after fresh ideas for dessert? Either way, our recipe collections have you covered.

See more
2017 Restaurant Guide

Our 2017 Restaurant Guide is online, covering over 400 restaurants Australia wide. Never wonder where to dine again.

See more

You might also like...

Australian chefs to follow on Instagram in 2013

There are a lot of food shots on Instagram: the good, the ba...

Where our chefs want to eat

We asked Australia's leading chefs to name the restaurants t...

Hot 100 2015 - Restaurant news

The world is getting hotter and we’re not talking about glob...

What the hell is Gelinaz anyway, and why is it shuffling?

On the eve of the second outing of one of the world’s strang...

Grant Achatz interview

Pat Nourse talks to the chef of Chicago’s Alinea ahead of hi...

Nahm named best restaurant in Asia

The 2014 50 Best Restaurants in Asia were unveiled this week...

get the latest news

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.