Bistro Dom Head Chef Duncan Welgemoed writes about Adelaide’s gastronomic resurgence, a locally nurtured movement that is about substance over style.
Adelaide has balls. Formerly known as the city of churches, Adelaide is now described as the new Portland however, as Samuel Johnson put it, “No one ever became great by imitation”.
We can’t deny that we have been the butt of a few jokes until quite recently. Sometimes it’s been utterly deserved. When I first arrived in Australia, I was always asked why the hell would I want to live in this state. It was believed that we didn’t have the populace or demographic that could sustain interesting restaurants and cool bars.
We should have been named the city of ‘shnitties’ (nothing wrong with a great parmi) but the recurring theme was that the people of Adelaide would not be open to change, or able to warrant something brave and different (unless it was promoted on the next episode of MasterChef). Like every noteworthy movement, it started from the earth, the terroir – and in this case, from the primary producer.
In the last five years, there has been a slow and steady movement from producers who have driven a more artisanal approach to their growing, husbandry and the finishing of their products. The sellers, whether farmers’ markets or wholesale suppliers, have ensured this quality product reaches our chefs and you, as the consumer, taste the point of difference. South Australian produce (rather than another soonforgotten celebrity chef) is the heart of this resurgence in our once-waning food scene.With this all-permeating product confidence, our chefs have pretty much given the finger to whatever the next fad coming from Melbourne and Sydney is.
We are producer-focused, not personality focused and having every producer engaged in the process allows each player to bring their A-game, whether they are running a small bar or a restaurant, and even those of you who cook and curate at home. Why emulate trends from other cities when we can carve our own niche, cultivate our own style and have so much fun doing it that we don’t even look over our shoulder to see what the big boys from elsewhere are up to?
We are also very lucky to have close relationships with incredible winemakers; for me this is the heart and soul of my operation. Every release of brilliant local wine brings inspiration (without sounding too sycophantic). These cats can change the way you plan your next dish, the structure of the menu, even convince you to call in sick, open a bottle of wine and spend the night heckling the next carbon-copy reality TV cooking show. We are becoming a state of doers.
We pride ourselves on substance over style and we have that in bucket-loads; the style naturally follows. For a while this state suffered from a hospitality brain drain because we haven’t been as dynamic as other places. What’s fantastic about this ‘renaissance’ is that more young people are deciding to stay, invest and create. This has been a quick progression and, if anything, I worry that it may soon start to suffer from market saturation – this is where we need you, the consumers, to support the creative businesses.
Tell your friends, have a party, head out and find the latest exciting place, because there’s no shortage of them. We are extremely lucky to have grass-root food festivals such as The Adelaide Food and Wine Festival, which encapsulates the collaborative ethos shared between producer, chef, winemaker and customer. The festival has been an exceptional platform to throw caution to the wind and let everyone have a bit of fun.
Corporate sponsors do not dictate these events, which means the narrative is pure. I’ve been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to curate the food and beverage at Lola’s Pergola (The Adelaide Festival’s club) in conjunction with Ross Ganf, Creative Director of the club and The Happy Motel. Collaborations have emerged between unbelievable chefs, winemakers, producers, performers, party-boys, designers and artists who have a deep connection with this movement. We all have the same goal; to bring love, passion and, occasionally, a little weirdness and thrust it centre stage.
What we do in this state matters – people far and wide are starting to look and get excited about what we’re doing. This Adelaide Festival club is presenting everything that Adelaide’s food and wine culture should represent minus the spin and politics but with the highest integrity. I’m extremely proud to be cooking and living here and frankly even from a tourist point of view, as English satirist and columnist Charlie Brooker wrote when describing South Australia for The Guardian: “If the rest of the country gets any better than this, it’s quite frankly taking the piss as a nation.”