Learning how to cook and entertain in many settings and in different seasons over my lifetime enabled me over five decades to develop and refine my own skills as well as my palate as I travelled here at home and abroad.
Discovering how to discern the brilliance of what is the best on offer on the day, from what was or is just great and good has always been a pleasure, and not an experience I have ever taken for granted.
Gaining an appreciation for fine cuisine and fine wine is much the same as refining your eye to distinguish fine art and design in any social and cultural setting.
To understand the cuisine you like it helps you to understand what constitutes value and quality, although as with gaining knowledge on any level, you are required to read widely, endeavour to discover the philosophy behind the dishes the chef creates and, above all, taste often.
Melbourne where I live has a serious Italian culture base in eating establishments. Italian immigrants have contributed so much to the style and success of this city, with the first espresso machines outside Europe promoting the delights of enjoying a coffee al fresco, in the open air.
From pasta to focaccia and pizza served in a cosy and informal bistro in Venice, to an Italian eatery in your local precinct in the contemporary age, surely enjoying a fine meal anywhere with those you love and care about in any setting is the penultimate celebration of life.
For me to sit and enjoy a meal made of fresh ingredients, cooked by someone whose passion for food is evident in its production, is a privilege. To enjoy it with a friend, a bonus.
I have to say that I adore Italian food, and the fact it is always made with love certainly appeals to me.
Today food found down under, either in its pure form or as a variation with changes on an original cultural experience, makes life exciting.
Immigrants arriving in Australia after British settlement brought so many new food styles with them. They helped to inform and inspire the development of modern Australian cuisine.
Rosa Mitchell was born in Sicily and moved to Australia with her family when she was a little girl.
Today she is specialising in providing much of the produce she uses in both Rosa’s Kitchen and Canteen situated in the heart of Bourke Street in the City, where so many Italian eateries were first established.
Mid nineteenth century ships are recorded arriving carrying hundreds of Italians, who were like so many others, lured by the prospect of finding gold when it was discovered in Victoria. When it ran out some left while many stayed setting up agricultural communities throughout the countryside.
Ship’s masters were not required to record the names of unassisted passengers to Australia prior to 1852, while those who did have assistance were required to record their native place of birth.
By the dawn of the 20th century we do know there was well over 1,500 Italians living in Victoria, many wanting to escape the economic hardship they knew existed in their homeland*.
At South Yarra where I am based today, it is like many of the suburbs in the city of Melbourne, abounding in restaurants. Many are Italian with people eating out morning, noon and night.
As I walk by eateries such as Thirty Eight Chairs, Ecco or the Café e Cucina they do not fail to remind me of the movie Roman Holiday, starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, which I enjoyed when I was just on 10 years of age.
Peck was a journalist living in Rome and two of my older sisters would swoon whenever he was on screen. I was just fascinated he lived in apartment that didn’t have a kitchen.
When Audrey Hepburn asked him where it was he waved his hand at the appealing street scene outside the window, telling this runaway ‘princess’ he was endeavouring to glean a story from, that out there was his kitchen.
Then he took her to visit places to eat down on the river, overlooking the city view and outside a trattoria, each providing a different experience.
It was a fascinating introduction to me of another culture’s cuisine and I couldn’t wait to grow up and go to Rome to experience the joy of how they felt.
Fortunately my life did ensure that I fulfilled my desire and I remember today just how spectacular my first Cappuccino enjoyed in the 70’s sitting at a Café in Rome, tasted.
Then a few days later sitting in St Mark’s Square at Venice in Europe’s drawing room enjoying a wonderful meal, looking at some of the best architectural gems at the foundation of our heritage, drinking Italian wine and listening to beautiful music. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
Those Victorians today who descend from those born in Italy, continue to contribute to the cultural and economic development through their achievements across a range of industry and professional sectors.
The top tier of Italian eateries offer starched linen and slick service as an aspect of stunning fine dining experiences in heritage buildings.
Regional food is served in casual café’s in a city laneway or out in the suburbs where chefs and urban restaurateurs are focusing on food from paddock to plate.
The choice of Italian restaurants and café’s here is amazing, as are the Italian deli’s with take away pastas to die for.
Creating stunning pizzas are a focus, as this simple meal has become almost a national institution.
Brunetti at Carlton goes from strength to strength with number of new outlets all serving an incredible array of food, coffee with their truly divine sweet treats fresh from its amazing pasticceria.
Torte di limone, bocconcini di nonno (almond and cherry biscuits), florentines or brilliant biscotti, Brunetti’s paean to pastry is just like a slice of Roman heaven and quite unlike anything else on offer in town.
After Word War II with immigration increasing dramatically Italians from southern Italian regions, including Sardinia and Sicily also arrived.
Da Noi (At Our Place) nearby to me in South Yarra is the home of Sardinian cuisine, with Pietro Porcu refining his skills in the kitchen as a ‘reflection of an Italian Taverna where travellers could restore themselves.
On a warm summer night in Melbourne there is nothing like sitting in the open air outside a rustic Italian café and bar such as Sorsi e Morsi in Blessington Street, St Kilda down near the Bay.
Small bars like this one exist because the early Italian immigrants fought to have liquor licenses issued so they could serve the best wines grown here by some of their cousins, or imported from Italy.
Sorsi e Morsi have a small well selected menu, with a black board overflowing with special delights, which change regularly.
They also offer live music at certain times, adding to the ambiance.
They also offer special event nights focusing on presenting food from a particular region of Italy that you may, or may not know about.
For a set price they offer a four course set menu made with fresh produce with Italian wines chosen to compliment.
Interestingly their special event Sagre Siciliana to be held on the 29th January, 2016, will celebrate the delights of the cuisine of Sicily, which is considered ‘God’s Kitchen.
Adventures in food are a potent reminder that eating wonderful produce, crafted by talented chefs and cooks who have their eye on excellence with waiters that help you tie it all together with exciting wines chosen to complement the cuisine is about as good as it gets.
All it needs then is someone to share it with and you will be sure to keep the good times rolling along and ensure you have a happy new year.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016