Huck's Rant: State of origins
We’ve got some amazing front-of-house professionals, but when you eat in restaurants as often as I do, you tend to hear some interesting rhetoric.
I once enquired about the type of coffee offered. The waiter promptly replied, “Both: black and white”.
The agony of choice.
Another asked how I was.
“Good thank you,” I answered.
“I’m struggling,” she replied, “had a massive night last night, if you know what I mean,” she said with a wink.
While reviewing a restaurant I was feeling dehydrated. Upon the third request for water my waitress explained – “Sorry, yes. We’re all a bit distracted making sure Terry Durack is looked after.”
I like Terry, but as a paying guest I don’t really care what sort of night he has. I’m dropping $150 per head and I couldn’t care less who else is in the room.
It’s true, reviewers and normal citizens have vastly different dining experiences – if the critic is recognised. Sometimes it happens mid-meal, which can be quite entertaining.
Anyway, one of the most satisfying aspects of the new wave of Australian dining is the focus on provenance. There seems to be a real connection between chef and producer en mass.
That farm-to-plate ethos is helping drive menus with produce de jour, rather than ego smeared on the plate.
Naming the provenance of the hero of the plate is so prevalent it’s almost par for the course. If you’re not putting it on the menu you’re not in the game.
But there is a growing disparity between those connected with it, those who refuse to adopt the practise and those that well, fail to train their staff.
Indeed, even some chefs are unaware of the origins of the produce they use.
I once enquired as to the origins of the Barramundi.
My waiter headed to the kitchen to find out.
“We pick it up from the airport,” he explained on his return.
Factually correct, sure.
Another waiter assured me that my salmon was from Port Lincoln. Alas it was in fact King Salmon farmed in New Zealand.
Consumers don’t need to know a lot, but getting that answer right can change their night. Just a small connection to thefood we are consuming. Of course we don’t want a ten-minute dissertation either.
Last year I experienced a 12-course car crash of complete absurdity.
Upon the arrival of each course staff switched into theatrical roles to regale pointless tales of the produce, the technique and even made guests uncomfortable about their own lack of food knowledge. It felt like a pantomime.
We thought we were having dinner.
And that’s all most people want. A meal they can trust. Sharing where your produce is from is part of that.
Put it on your menu, and train your staff – the chefs at the very least. It’s ok if a waiter needs to check with the kitchen, but it’s impressive when they don’t need to. An investment in your staff is an investment in your customer.
Anthony Huckstep is the national restaurant critic for delicious. and a food writer for The Australian, GQ Australia and QANTAS.