Notable Presentations from Four Australian Chefs

Picture-snapping tourists in Australia tend to think of exotic ingredients—emu eggs, the odd ostrich steak, anything done on the ‘barbie—as the distinguishing elements of the country’s cuisine. But local chefs know better. Because any country that has to wrestle agriculture out of a continent dominated by an unyielding, ozone-depleted Outback is going to take serious care of their indigenous products. And that’s exactly what we found with these four high-caliber chefs, the rank and file of the country’s top culinary talent, whose dishes were a visual and culinary homage to the precious largesse of Australian agriculture. Chefs Matthew Wilkinson of Circa, the Prince, Andrew McConnell of Cutler & Co., Ben Shewry of Attica, and Dan Hunter of Royal Mail each work within a distinct perspective, employing classic techniques and integrating many modern culinary influences. But these dishes share a common trust in the integrity of the products of Australia’s farms and gardens. And what distinguishes their plating is the visual echo of this trust, a look of naked restraint, an organic naturalism that minimizes flourish without sacrificing finesse.

Vegetables: Raw, Pickled, and Cooked Heirloom Carrots, Beets, String Beans, Radish, Nasturtiums, Beet Root Stems, Potato Glass, Dehydrated Beet Powder, and Herb Salt
Sometimes, it is all in a name. Chef Matthew Wilkinson’s Vegetables dish at Circa, the Prince, is exactly that: an assortment of the region’s tender young produce assembled like a gardener’s palette on a naked wooden slab. More than just a compositional salad, this dish is an organic mosaic of local baby vegetables: the orange and golden sweet heirloom carrots, the deep purple beets, the ivory baby turnips, and the bright pop of green string beans. Chef Wilkinson respects the inherent quality of his products, barely kissing them with a gentle pickle or delicate smoking, leaving others totally raw and untouched. And he uses modern techniques without interruption to the organic nature of the plating—dehydrated beet powder, or a clear golden shard of “potato glass.” The result is a seamless integration of modern and rustic: products plucked fresh from the earth, transcending and imitating nature in a single plate.
Pressed Quail Terrine, Foie Gras Cigar, Orange, and Pistachio
Chef Andrew McConnell combines elements of naturalism and geometry for his quail terrine at Culter & Co. The dish is a kind of visual yin yang between free form, random nature and linear, logical structure, a dynamic that Chef McConnell plays with both in the kitchen and on the plate. The centerpiece is a rectangle of tender pink quail terrine, glistening with rich, bronzy orange reduction and anchored by a dramatic line of pistachio that essentially underlines the elegant visual interplay of shape and form. Against these angular, dramatic lines falls a tumble of delicate parsley and translucent radishes—the visual romance of the plate made all the more striking by their contrast with its thematic angularity. Two golden cylinders of crisp foie gras cigars rest, precisely parallel, on the other end of the terrine, at the same diagonal angle as the salad, emphasizing their opposition in form while uniting them as elements of the dish.
Selection of Heirloom Carrots with Yellow, White, and Red Carrot Juice, Aged Goat Cheese, Walnut Powder, and Nasturtium Leaves
Besides the refreshingly uncommon combination of heirloom carrots with tawny aged goat cheese (nary a beet in sight on this plate ), Chef Ben Shewry of Attica combines the sweetness of red carrot juice, nutty walnut powder, and peppery nasturtium leaves for a dish that is elegantly composed and meticulously executed. The plating combines free-form naturalism with a modernist’s eye for simplicity. “I try to keep [the elements] as pure as possible,” says Chef Shewry. The simple color palette—red, yellow, white, and green—combined with the basic shapes would be blunt but for their delicately random placement, with nasturtium leaves and carrot slices floating like lily pads atop stumps of tender heirloom carrot. And a shallow pool of glistening red carrot juice makes the composition look like an oasis of carrot suspended in the center of a white dish with wide horizons.
Egg Yolk, Toasted Rye, Legumes, and Yeast
Royal Mail Chef Dan Hunter pays homage to one of nature’s most inimitable creations, the bird’s nest, with a dish that both imitates and expands on the concept. A single, very lightly poached farm-fresh local egg yolk is the center of the composition, an orb nestled in a tidy pile of brown, toasted legumes. The nest is essentially a deconstructed piece of toasted multigrain sprout bread, and the dish itself a high-concept, even regal take on eggs on toast. The hidden magic of the dish is that every seemingly natural element is thought-out and carefully prepared, from the ever-so-slightly-sprouted mung beans and lentils to the fine dice of mushroom that moistens the toasted rye crumbs. Hidden beneath the nest are a horseradish-inflected asparagus purée and an earthy mushroom stock spiked with the zing of baker’s yeast. Delicate fronds of chickpea leaf serve as garnish, another echo of nature. And much like an egg in a bird’s nest, the plating is a visual promise, an expectation of that moment when the yolk is broken, its luscious contents seeping into and coating all the grains beneath it.