Ross Dobson, author of Australia: The Cookbook
Ross Dobson, author of Australia: The Cookbook

'It's all about sympathy, synergy and respect' - the Australia: The Cookbook author on the key to Australian cookery

Ross Dobson describes the 'delicious sense' Aussie cooks have found in mixing up classic recipes

A few days ago The Embassy of Australia, The Australian Consulate-Generals of the United States, and Tourism Australia all hosted a virtual launch of Australia: The Cookbook.

It was a fascinating, engaging event, during which the book’s author Ross Dobson spoke with Travel + Leisure Senior Editor Sarah Bruning and O Tama Carey, the patron chef of Sydney’s Lankan Filling Station and contributor to Australia: The Cookbook, about the ways in which culinary culture has developed down under.

Dobson, a professional chef and cafe proprietor, is also an amateur historian, and described how Australian cookery developed, first as an aboriginal culture, then via the foods that British and Irish colonial convicts and military personnel liked and tried to recreate, and later through the numerous waves of immigration from Vietnam, China, Greece, Italy and Lebanon.

Dobson was keen to include recipes as they were cooked in domestic kitchens, and traced fads for recipes through archive newspaper cuttings.

 

Travel + Leisure Senior Editor Sarah Bruning, Australia: The Cookbook author Ross Dobson and chef O Tama Carey, from the online launch event
Travel + Leisure Senior Editor Sarah Bruning, Australia: The Cookbook author Ross Dobson and chef O Tama Carey, from the online launch event

“In the 20s and 30s Australians were mad about sharing recipes,” he explained. “If a recipe for a cake in Geelong, Southern Victoria, proved popular it would get picked up elsewhere; it would be the equivalent of going viral today."

Dobson describes the way in which Greek immigrants visited America, bringing back soda fountains and milk bars to Australia; he also detailed the ‘delicious sense’ pioneering Aussie cooks found in adding local passion fruit to traditional panna cotta, or fresh crab meat to French quiches.

 

Colonial Goose, from Australia: The Cookbook
Colonial Goose, from Australia: The Cookbook

Of course, today a little more attention is paid to culinary authenticity. Carey is of Sri Lankan heritage, and, having cooked Italian, Chinese and other cuisines in the past, opened her own Sri Lankan restaurant in Sydney in the summer of 2018. “It's the first time I cooked food from there, it’s only in the last few years that people have questioned my food's authenticity," she marvelled, “which is funny, because I've never been more authentic.”

With such a wealth of ingredients, cultures and willing cooks, perhaps authenticity is one ingredient we can live without. It certainly doesn't bother Dobson, who feels that, so long as a recipe shows reverence and sympathy for its underlying source, it does little harm.  “I go back to the notion of synergy and respect, if that makes sense,” he said.

 

Australia: The Cookbook
Australia: The Cookbook

Indeed, the question he’s dreading is not one of authenticity, but of accidental exclusion. “I’m waiting for the day someone says ‘Oh, you forgot this recipe!’” he said. Judging by the book’s scope and size, that day will be some way off. To find out more about all the dishes discussed, and to gain a deeper understanding of this delicious national cuisine, order a copy of Australia: The Cookbook here.