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.
Big frames. Bigger shoulder pads. The '80s is often remembered as a time of excess, but at its best it was a time of exuberance. That same rush of confidence that pushed the arts (and the stock market) sometimes that bit too far also resulted in the envelope being pushed in ways that weren't necessarily corrected by the recession, by grunge, or the movement of environmental concerns from the hippie fringe to the mainstream.
Herb pasta with sorrel butter and lemon thyme.
The idea of Australia having a cuisine it could call its own took hold. The term "modern Australian" was more kitchen-sink than concise definition, but came to signify a freedom with influences grounded in a nuanced understanding of the cultures that created them. And with immigration from (and business and leisure travel to) Asia reaching new heights, China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, India and Malaysia were particularly influential.
Raspberry and rose-geranium sorbet with honey wafers, raspberries and cream.
Australian wine and Australian-grown ingredients (some of them indigenous) were improving and gaining greater recognition. Restaurant kitchens opened up to diners and (perhaps not coincidentally) got char-grills and put them to heavy use. The decade might've kicked off with a lot of crossed chives, feathered sauces and tians, and gave rise to the vegetable stack, but it closed with a lean towards a less fussy plating style (and less fussy plates) and a celebration of grill-lines. We started to see more ginger and soy, and a lot more chilli. In addition to the chefs in the following pages, we began to pay attention to the movers and shakers in the Australian restaurant world, with names such as Serge Dansereau, Mark Armstrong, Tony Papas, Tansy Good, Greg Doyle, Tony Bilson, Mietta O'Donnell, Phillip Searle, Mogens Bay Esbensen, Jenny Ferguson, Paul Merrony and Anne Taylor looming large in the pages of GT. David Thompson made his first trips to Thailand, while back in Sydney a young Japanese man called Tetsuya Wakuda hung out his shingle, first at Ultimo's and then at Tetsuya's.
Lobster with artichoke hearts and chervil.
Gourmet embraced Australians' new-found worldliness and increasing affluence by becoming Gourmet Traveller. We revelled in the glitz and glam of resorts in the Whitsundays and baked ourselves on the Gold Coast. We chased Michelin stars around France, explored some of the world's great cuisines at the source in India, China and Italy, did Bali, and ate New York and Los Angeles.
We survived the crash of '87, the bicentenary of '88, the plague of sun-dried tomatoes and the reckless fanning of snow peas. We picked up (and then dropped) a column dedicated to microwave cooking. And got glass plates and really large floral table arrangements out of our system, ready to emerge blinking into the 1990s, hungry for more.
Recipes from the 1980s