How To Cook Australian? Celebrity Cook And MasterChef Winner Adam Liaw Shows Us How
What is the national dish of Australia? No, it’s definitely not “shrimp on the barbie.” “I think the national dish of Australia is salt and pepper squid,” proclaims Aussie cook, writer, TV presenter, and 2010 winner of MasterChef Australia, Adam Liaw. “You can get it in so many different places, in every pub, every Chinese restaurant, every Italian café, every fish and chips shop, why isn’t that the national dish?” he asks.
Indeed, what makes this Chinese dish of squid strips coated in flour, salt, pepper, then fried till crisp so beloved by Australians everywhere? While we didn’t get to the bottom of this, Metro.Style did learn a lot about Australian food and produce during an exclusive interview with Adam Liaw himself during his recent visit to Manila.
Liaw was in town to participate in Taste of Australia, presented by the Australian Embassy in the Philippines, as part of its Australia now ASEAN 2019 program celebrating Australian innovation and creativity across the ASEAN region. Launched by Australian Foreign Minister Hon Marise Payne this March, Australia now involves youth dialogues, cultural and sporting events, innovative technology forums, and food festivals like Taste of Australia.
At Taste of Australia, Adam Liaw talked about Australian food philosophy and shared practical cooking tips
Liaw had been traveling Southeast Asia sharing the good news about the best of Australian products and culinary culture. In Manila, that meant demonstrating his modern Australian dishes using quality Australian ingredients during a well-attended cooking demo held at Greenbelt Park. Participants also got to visit an outdoor market selling and exhibiting Australian food and drinks.
At the Center for Culinary Arts, Manila, Liaw judged the inaugural Taste of Australia Cook-Off where competing culinary students cooked Filipino dishes using Australian ingredients.
Culinary students competing during the inter-school Taste of Australia Cook-off
We caught up with Liaw during the taping of Tim’s Table (soon to air on Metro Channel), where he prepared a lovely dinner, together with Hilton Manila’s Executive Chef and Aussie-Filipino Dennis Leslie, for host Tim Yap and his guests at one of the hotel’s private rooms.
At Tim’s Table, from left, guests Ana Lorenzana-de Ocampo and Happy Ongpauco-Tiu, host Tim Yap, Adam Liaw, and Chef Dennis Leslie
What makes Adam Liaw ideally qualified to extol the virtues of his country’s food and produce? For one, he definitely knows his food. Soon after he gained instant fame as the winner of the second season of the hugely popular TV culinary competition, Liaw traded his job as a lawyer for one immersed in food and cooking.
While he didn’t go to culinary school, never worked in a restaurant, and doesn’t even consider himself a chef, Liaw has been cooking all his life, learning from his English mother and Chinese grandmother. But it was only when he moved to Japan for work that his culinary world expanded, as he went beyond his family’s cooking to discover Japanese cuisine. “I kind of had to relearn cooking… making an effort to actually learn it rather than just absorbing it. It was a very different process, and that was when I really started to enjoy it,” he shares.
In his first cookbook published in 2011, Liaw shares Asian recipes from the “old” kitchen of his youth as well as modern Asian dishes created from his “new” kitchen
These days, he lives in Sydney with his wife and children, writing cookbooks, contributing recipes to magazines and newspapers, and traveling the world as host of Destination Flavour. But rather than dazzling the world with his culinary prowess, Liaw prefers to be a champion of home cooking. What he does now is worlds apart from the competitive cooking he was doing on MasterChef. He explains, “MasterChef is a lot about pushing the boundaries and being as creative as possible, whereas the cooking I do now is the opposite of that, which is trying to make things as simple as possible and get them right.”
Liaw provides simple ways to cook for the family in his cookbook Adam’s Big Pot
“Everybody can chop a carrot, everybody can put a piece of meat to a frying pan, everybody can stir a pot. There is nothing actually that is physically difficult about cooking,” assures Liaw. For him, simple cooking is essentially what most Australians prefer. He adds, “Modern Australian food, the way that we eat in Australia these days, is incredibly simple.”
One of the reasons Adam Liaw is the perfect ambassador for Australia now is perhaps because his background reflects where the country is today—a melding of different cultures, with Asia at the forefront. He shares, “I have a lot of familiarity with a lot of the different influences that come into Australian cuisine. My mother is English so I grew up eating roast beef like a lot of Australians with English heritage did. My father is Chinese, and I eat a lot of Southeast Asian, Chinese food.”
Liaw was born in Malaysia, grew up in Australia, and lived in Japan, China, and India
Defining Australian cuisine can’t be limited to one dominant culture, at least not anymore. “The dishes that, historically, people have said, that’s Australian food, are far less representative of how Australia really is. They tend to be from Australia’s English heritage, which is of course very strong, but these days, Australia is such a multicultural country,” he describes. That is reflected in restaurant menus around the country where meat pies, kebabs, Asian noodles, and German schnitzel can happily coexist.
In his latest book, Liaw chronicles his food discoveries around the world for his TV food travel show Destination Flavour
And it’s not just in restaurants, but at home too. Liaw says, “If you ask any Australian parent what their kid loves to eat most, they’ll say sushi. Sushi is really one of the most popular things for kids in Australia right now. They also love pastas and steaks and lamb chops and all of that.” Liaw contributes to this more multicultural approach to food, thanks to the many Asian recipes he shares across his cookbooks and published articles. “There’s a lot of desire in Australia for people to learn more about Asian food.”
What makes it fairly easy for Australians to cook multicultural is that the country is blessed with an abundance of great produce, whether it’s sushi or steak. “We have tropical north, a very cold climate south, and not very many people, which for produce is a really good thing. It means we have lots of farmland which is very clean,” states Liaw. From meats to seafood, dairy to fruits, vegetables to grains, Australia produces all it needs to feed itself, and the world too, with fresh tuna and wheat for udon noodles exported to Japan, and milk and beef to the Philippines, among many other goods. Liaw continues to stress the high quality of the produce, thanks to sustainable efforts and good farming practices.
Australian food and beverage products on display at Greenbelt Park
At the dinner for Tim’s Table, Liaw prepared dishes that celebrated both Australia’s multicultural flavors and quality ingredients. He served Mediterranean-style Lamb Cutlet Tarator seasoned with honey, nuts, herbs and served on a bed of tahini.
Lamb Cutlet Tarator
He followed with an Asian-influenced Australian Wagyu Fillet seared with a Shiraz teriyaki sauce and spiced up with green chilies, which he paired with a Rocket, Avocado and Pickled Fennel Salad.
Australian Wagyu with Shiraz Teriyaki Sauce and Rocket, Avocado and Pickled Fennel Salad
He then finished the dinner with a lovely Flat White Tiramisu featuring coffee, rum, cream, and mascarpone.
Liaw puts the finishing touches to his Flat White Tiramisu
Liaw’s visit to the Philippines gave Filipinos a taste of Australian dishes and ingredients. And for those planning to visit the country, he suggests, “Go have a nice meal at a pub, go get fish and chips by the beach… If you want to understand how Australians live, you don’t need to eat fancy food.” That means simplicity, flavors from all around the world, and fresh quality ingredients. At the end of the day, enjoying food isn’t just about the flavors themselves, but the opportunity to connect with others. He concludes, “One of the great common connections between Australia and the Philippines is the way we appreciate food as family style thing.”
So what is the national dish of Australia? Liaw may have declared salt and pepper squid, but then he adds with a chuckle, “These days, you might say avocado toast!”
To learn more about Australia now, follow @Australianow and @AusAmbPH on Twitter and the Australian Embassy in the Philippines on Facebook and Instagram
Catch Adam Liaw on Tim’s Table premiering Wednesday, July 17 at 7:30 pm on Metro Channel, channel 52 on Sky Cable and channel 174 on HD. Catch replays on July 18 at 4:30 am and 10 am; July 20 at 7:30 am, 4:30 pm, 8:30 pm; July 21 at 2 pm and 5:30 pm; and July 22 at 9:30 am, 4:30 pm, 10:30 pm
Photos by Paulo Valenzuela
Taste of Australia event photos courtesy of the Australian Embassy in the Philippines