Native ingredients key to cultural, economic change
One of the world’s leading chefs says a greater focus on local ingredients in Australia could result in social, economic and environmental change.
Brazilian Alex Atala is chef and owner of São Paulo’s D.O.M., voted sixth best restaurant in the world, and widely considered to be one of the most influential voices in world cooking.
He says Australia, like Brazil, still needs to place a greater emphasis on celebrating native ingredients.
“This can be a very important benefit, not only for food, but in an economic sense, in a cultural sense, and maybe in an environmental sense as well,” says Mr Atala.
“Using local ingredients can bring real benefits. I’m not talking about money; I’m talking about real benefits.”
In conversation, he is a deeply engaging speaker, negotiating around a slight language barrier with a wide-eyed sense of enthusiasm. His comments may tread the same territory of the oft-repeated ‘paddock-to-plate’ mantra, but he insists this emphasis on localism needs to extend far beyond any passing fad.
“Local cuisine is not trendy - it is important,” he said.
“My generation of chefs, we have always been focused on keeping our eyes on French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese cuisines.
“We need to promote the next generation and make them proud for our local flavours, our local culture. To change human culture takes time.”
Sitting in the restaurant of a Margaret River winery, Alex Atala beams about his love for the South West WA region and its produce.
“This is an amazing, stunning, beautiful part of the world. Nature here is unbelievable. I’m really fascinated by it,” he said.
“It is a very powerful part of the world in a gastronomic sense.”
Mr Atala reels off a list of his favourite local ingredients (marron, bush herbs, ‘the wine!’), but says the region still has some way to go to truly reflect its surrounds through its cooking.
“I do believe one of the strongest souvenirs for a trip is flavour.
“If I come to Margaret River, I don’t want to taste pizza. I want to taste local food; Western Australian food.”
It is in this sense that he sees the role of chefs as moving far beyond the confines of the kitchen and into instigating broader social and cultural change.
“I really believe we have something to do [that is] more than feed people.”