FOOD JOURNALISM AND REVIEWING
Food’s ubiquity has ensured coverage in a wide range of Australian media. This account is confined to cookery journalism and restaurant reviewing—the meeting of advertisers’ and consumers’ interests around recipes (dining in) and restaurants (dining out).
The earliest newspapers carried recipes and hints; by 1875, the Queenslander headed the section that featured them ‘The Housekeeper. Recipes’. Cookery instruction was an intrinsic element of women’s magazines such as the Australian Woman’s Mirror (1924–61). The first issue of the Australian Women’s Weekly (10 June 1933) offered a £5 ‘Prize for Best Recipe’; the magazine soon established a test kitchen, and Women’s Weekly cookbooks became big business. In 1956, the Women’s Weekly sponsored a tour by American celebrity chef Dione Lucas. Sri Lankan-born Charmaine Solomon, Australia’s first major Asian food identity, was discovered by a Woman’s Day recipe competition in 1964.
Dining out has also long received attention, and journalist and novelist Marcus Clarke reported in a highly entertaining way on 19th-century Melbourne’s café and restaurant life. The arrival of explicitly ‘gourmet’ or ‘epicurean’ journalism was signalled by the launch in 1966 of two long-running magazines, Australian Gourmet (later Gourmet Traveller) and the more stylish Epicurean.
Graham (‘Galloping Gourmet’) Kerr began his Australian television show in 1965. The son of British hotelkeepers, he joined the New Zealand Air Force as a caterer and became an instant television hit with the Kiwis. No lightweight, Kerr introduced the recipe collection from his first Australian series with the fear that ‘our whole life is being undermined’ by the ‘mass production’ of food, and produced the nation’s first independent restaurant guidebooks, Guide to Good Eating in Sydney (1968) and Guide to Good Eating in Melbourne (1969).
Another British immigrant, Len Evans, started the Wine Buyer monthly for an exclusive audience in 1968, the same year that publisher of ‘fine books with the common touch’ Paul Hamlyn brought out the mass-selling Margaret Fulton Cookbook. As cookery editor of Woman’s Day, Fulton helped to introduce food from such exotic places as Spain, Italy, China and India.
Such successes paved the way for increasingly serious approaches within metropolitan newspapers. Sydney advertising man and later arts administrator Leo Schofield began two decades of weekly restaurant reviews in the Sunday Telegraph in 1971, moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. He encouraged the ‘less is more’ onset of ‘mod Oz’ cuisine. More rabble-rousing, Richard Beckett wrote as ‘Sam Orr’ in Nation Review from 1970. Beckett swung between restaurants, his larrikin gourmandism egging on the ‘Bollinger Bolsheviks’ and ‘Chardonnay socialists’ of the Whitlam era.
A new, educated generation soon looked forward to Tuesday newspaper food sections. ‘Epicure’ first appeared in the Melbourne Age as a weekly column in 1976 and a dedicated section in 1986. Associated restaurant guidebooks gained enormous sway: Claude Forell and others started the Age’s Good Food Guide in 1980; the Sydney version arrived four years later and Brisbane’s in 1986.
Restaurant ‘performances’ were reviewed as seriously as novels, movies and operas. Handing out ratings and chefs’ hats, critics were respected and feared. Aimed at relatively defenceless small businesses, the ‘spectator sport’ of negative comment was held in some check by defamation laws, which caught up the likes of Leo Schofield, John Newton and Matthew Evans (all Sydney Morning Herald critics).
Unlike ‘anonymous’ restaurant critics, cooks as entertainers became familiar faces across the media, both nationally and internationally. In the 1980s, French chef Paul Bocuse used television to demonstrate careful technique, whereas English gourmand Keith Floyd took cooking on location, including Floyd on Oz (1991); both chefs were seen on SBS. Peter Russell-Clarke and Ian Parmenter (both on the ABC) were leaders in long runs of short, weekly television segments. Many presenters came to be known by their first names, such as Jamie (Oliver) and Nigella (Lawson) from the United Kingdom, and Huey (Hewitson) and Bill (Granger) locally. The advice of such celebrities as Bernard King, Maggie Beer, Kylie Kwong and Curtis Stone was often enhanced by their related business interests. ‘Home cook’ and food writer Lyndey Milan, who appears on television and in print, is a director of Sydney Studio Kitchen, purpose-build to shoot culinary content for television and film.
Some commercialism was blatant, as when recipes specified ingredient brands, but even respected journalists did not always reveal industry backing. To the dismay of the dairy industry, Australians took to ‘Mediterranean cuisine’ in the early 1990s, after the edible oil industry flew at least 50 Australian food writers and chefs to the United States and Mediterranean for a series of quasi-scholarly conferences.
Supermarkets reported immediate runs on products embedded in such television blockbusters as MasterChef (Ten, 2009– ) and My Kitchen Rules (Seven, 2010– ), which also generated further culinary celebrities, such as Poh Ling Yeow, who was snapped up to host Poh’s Kitchen for ABC Television.
SBS began publishing an annual guide to ‘ethnic eating’ in 1992. There is now a substantial food section on the SBS website, and food programs tend to be concentrated on SBS Television on Thursday nights. Imported programs have been accompanied by local commissions highlighting Australia’s culinary diversity, from Maeve O’Meara’s Food Safari to Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam.
￼In 2004, Foxtel launched the LifestyleFood channel, and in 2013 Fairfax Media relabelled all of its Tuesday supplements in print and online ‘Good Food’. By 2012 cooking programs were so ubiquitous that they were being parodied by Audrey’s Kitchen, produced by Working Dog Productions for ABC Television.
The internet’s combination of mass and individual communication ‘democratised’ recipe-sharing and restaurant reviewing. Online restaurant guides, such as Telstra’s eatability. com.au, adopted user recommendations. Meanwhile, blogs such as Grab Your Fork, Not Quite Nigella and Almost Bourdain tended to concentrate on either cooking or dining out.
While bloggers may be chatty and surprisingly literate, they have not been able to surpass wordsmiths such as Marcus Clarke in capturing a meal’s conviviality or a wine’s truth, or critics such as Leo Schofield in actually lifting restaurant standards.
REFs: ‘The Foodie Files’, Weekend Australian Review, 2–3 June 2007; M. Symons, One Continuous Picnic (2007).