East and West Meet in Australia's 'Fusion' Cuisine

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East and West Meet in Australia's 'Fusion' Cuisine

Australia may now be best known for two things: the Sydney Olympics and a handful of Aussie influentials in Hollywood, including Nicole Kidman and Mel Gibson. Last year's blockbuster movie "Mission: Impossible 2," filmed and produced in Australia, helped make Down Under suddenly a hip place to be.

But Australia has more to offer than sports and gorgeous movie backdrops. Australian cuisine, only recently gaining acceptance as a distinctive and unified culinary style, is winning popularity among gourmets around the world.

Categorized under "Asian" or "fusion," Australian food nods to cuisines from just about every country the world over, reflecting a multi-cultural society. Immigrants from non-Anglo Saxon countries to Australia after World War II brought with them their own recipes, flooding the Australian menu with an imaginative mix of dishes but also making it difficult to define exactly what Australian cuisine is. Along with waves of northern Europeans, Chinese and Italian migrants both incorporated local produce into their recipes to substitute for ingredients unavailable in Australia, or they grew their own ingredients. Initially their food was considered too spicy and "strange" for some palates, but no longer. The recent wave of immigration from Asia exposed the country to chilies, lemon grass, noodles and curries.

Australian cooking focuses on the freshness of the foods and is affected by the continent's widely divergent climate, which produces regional varieties of foods. With an abundance of fresh produce - meats, dairy, grains, fruits and vegetables from the land, fish from the ocean - chefs began combining foods and styles from different cultures. To indulge in Australian cuisine is to experience the creativity and imagination of the individual chef's ability to mix and match ingredients from multinational origins.

This East-West fusion food includes a surprisingly delightful array of both classic and wild ingredients. What distinguishes Australian dishes from typical fusion dishes is the culinary influence of Aboriginal foods. Aboriginal recipes were passed down the generations verbally, and they are now used chiefly as spices or flavorings. Collectively, Aboriginal food is often termed "bush food," and among the greens used today, bushtucker plants are the best known. Bushtucker plants are used for jams, chutney and jellies, flavorings, spices, drinks, sauces and colors.

Australian dishes are known for recipes involving beer. Other distinctive Aussie ingredients include wild plants such as quandong berries, warrigal spinach (similar to English spinach), bush tomatoes, blood limes, herbs such as pepper leaf and lemon myrtle leaf and fresh seafood such as yabbies (a small crayfish). Macadamia nuts are an indigenous Australian plant widely used.

Australia also boasts the great tradition of the barbecue. What's being tossed on the barbie comes not only from oceans and jungles. The country produces and exports top quality beef, lamb and game meat, including kangaroo and emu. Kangaroos are in fact not only farmed but are also culled from the wild to help control overpopulation. Many fine restaurants in Australia have designed "gourmet" dishes using kangaroo flesh, although kangaroo meat is not available for sale in all states.

If traveling all the way to Sydney for a quick round of meals sounds unfeasible, trend-setters living in the heart of the capital can try Australian Grill, the only junction in town connecting Seoul and Sydney. Dining at Australian Grill is a "typical Sydney experience," according to the Food and Beverage Director Gerald Moutte at the Grand Inter-Continental hotel, where Australian Grill is located.

The restaurant's beautifully minimal interior concept mirrors that of many trendy Sydney restaurants. The designer Tony Maters, an Aussie who designed Pavilion on the Park, Uptown, Giraffe and Planet Hollywood in Sydney, has brought air and light into his conception of the stylish restaurant, and Australian Grill is in fact thematically similar to Pavilion on the Park, a Sydney hot spot.

As Sydney is located on the eastern seaboard of Australia with its excellent fishing, most diners are keen on seafood dishes, such as prawns, lobster, codfish, oysters, crabs and octopus. The head chef at the two-year-old Australian Grill, James Viney, has been creating fusion dishes since January last year. Although he likes to incorporate Middle Eastern, Lebanese and Moroccan influence into his style, he has also fast adopted an Asian flair to please Korean diners.

He uses the freshest ingredients brought directly from Australia. Quandong berries are used in marmalade or in sweet compote; warrigal spinach is tossed in the dressing; fresh yabbies are poached, grilled or pan fried.

Mr. Viney is proud of his Spanish-style marinated ceviche in lime juice, beer and spices. He's fussy about the beer he uses in various sauces and beer batter, importing Foster's (a lager) from Australia. The typical Aussie-style fish baramundi (a kind of codfish) will be introduced to the menu at the end of this month.

Other dishes include assorted seafood brochette with honey and soya glaze, duet of beef and lamb with mushroom and potato torte, Brie cheese and asparagus tart spiced with bushtucker, walnuts, macadamia Pavlova with berry compote and macadamia biscuit. Pavlova is a dessert with a thin biscuit crust and a marshmallow-like center, created by a famous Aussie chef in honor of the great Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who visited Australia in 1925. Mr. Viney also prepares Peach Melba, an ice cream dessert named after an Australian opera singer, and English tea cake.

Mr. Viney expressed regret that kangaroo meat, which he would have used in soups and ravioli, cannot be imported to Korea.

Mr. Viney recommends Australian Seven Star Black Angus steaks and lamb rack served with coriander and cumin, potatoes, saffron and bacon cake, Australian Caesar salad served with quail eggs and Australian half of lobster tail with cream sauce. To complement both appetizer and main dishes, Mr. Viney suggests white and red Australian wines.

Australia Grill is holding an Australian food and wine promotion titled "From Seoul to Sydney" until Aug. 14. Prices of individual dishes range 15,000 won ($11.50) to 35,000 won to which VAT and service charge are added. During each month of the promotion, two winners will be chosen to receive round-trip tickets to Australia on Ansett Airlines.

Australian Grill, located on the first floor of the Grand Inter-Continental hotel, is open daily from noon to 3 p.m and from 6 p.m until 10 p.m. For more information and reservations, visit the Web site (www.seoul.interconti.com) or call 02-559-7615.

by Inēs Cho

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