A Table of Delights
The First Fifty Years of the Wine and Food Society of NSW
By Joseph Glascott
Few countries of the world have changed
their lifestyles so dramatically over the last 50 years as Australia.
The Wine and Food Society of New South Wales has played a significant
role in this revolution. The Society's lead in developing and fostering
sophisticated culinary and wine tastes has encouraged two generations of
Australians to awaken to the pleasures of the table. Its influence has
operated side by side, and given direction to, the evolution in our
eating and drinking habits wrought by the influx of immigrants since
World War II.
There is no better way to appreciate the extent of this
transformation than to recall the changes that have taken place over the
last half century in Sydney, the headquarters of the NSW Society. The
slate has almost been wiped clean in this city. Not only have the older
mores been replaced, but most of the buildings in which they were
practised have disappeared. If it were not for the great grey arch of
the Harbour Bridge appearing at the end of the Pitt Street view, a
visitor returning from the late 1930's would be hard pressed to find his
Glass and concrete high-rise towers have reared up on the
skyline in place of the gracious streetscapes of the first half of the
century. Transport modes changed as clean and friendly trams gave way to
buses and motor cars spewing exhaust fumes as they congest the narrow
city streets. A sedate era of shopping passed with the closure of
familiar department stores such as Anthony Horderns, Mark Foys, Marcus
Clarke's, Buckingham's, Winn's, Murdoch's and Walton's. The telegram boy
on his bicycle rode out of our lives with the advent of facsimile
machines. With the exception of the State Theatre and the long-awaited
Capitol restoration, the grand "picture palaces" of the 1930s - the
Prince Edward, Regent, Plaza, St. James, Mayfair and Embassy have been
replaced by style-less, popcorn-reeking, cinema complexes.
international hotels have usurped the carriage-trade hostelries of the
pre-war era. Gone are the landmark hotels such as The Australia,
Carlton, Usher's, Aaron's, The Metropole and The Wentworth.
has changed more than the restaurant scene and our dining habits.
Sydney's two symbols of elegant dining in those years, Romano's and
Prince's, lasted into the post-war period, but have long since closed
their doors. They served what now would be regarded as simple fare, but
their "nightclub" atmosphere made them the Mecca of the city's society.
Long time member and former foodmaster of the Wine and Food Society,
Neville Baker, still savours the aroma of Romano's famous Steak Diane
rising from its Castlereagh Street basement and found its sweets tray
matched only by the renowned Rome restaurant where Renzo Romano trained
as a boy. As a young man in his courting days, Neville Baker, recalls
regular Saturday night dining at Princes in Martin Place where the table
d'hote could be had for twelve shillings and sixpence.
seeking an occasional snack, headed for Repin's Coffee Houses with the
"hot suggestions" (eggs or baked beans on toast), while suburban ladies
on shopping excursions sought out the cake trays at Cahill's
Restaurants. Students haunted Jericho's upstairs restaurant in Rowe
Street and the city's first bistro, Lorenzini's, in Elizabeth Street.
Importune cadet journalists considered a one shilling and sixpenny plate
of spaghetti at the Florentine in Elizabeth Street to be the height of
sophisticated dining. All of these establishments disappeared as
restaurants offering the cuisines of many nationalities burgeoned in the
city and suburbs.
Gone also is another landmark building of old
Sydney - the Royal Exchange at the corner of Pitt and Bridge Streets.
For many years into the first half of this century, the Royal Exchange
was the venue of the Sydney wool auctions. The site is of special
significance to the Wine and Food Society because it was in Johnnie
Walker's Rhine Castle Cellars in the basement of the building that the
Society had its beginning.
The late J.K.Walker Snr. developed an
interest in wine in the 1920s as a hotelier in Woolloomooloo and later
introduced Hunter River wine to the Melbourne market. His Rhine Castle
Cellars in Pitt Street became the gathering place of woolbuyers, mainly
French, after the auctions on the floor above. These men, Victor
Dekeyvere, Joseph Holbeck, Camille Geysens, Raymond Lamerand and
Dominique Drulers, were led there by Henri Renault, the only son of a
food and wine-loving Lyons family. The wine and cheese-tasting meetings
soon developed into more formalised luncheons. Johnnie Walker asked
Henri and his wife Jeanne, who arrived from France in 1937, to help
prepare lunches for the group on Tuesdays.
Mrs Jeanne Renault
remembers the Rhine Castle premises as, "very beautiful with a genuine
old cellar atmosphere" It had "wonderful oak furniture and fittings". In
the alcove stood an oblong table around which a group of 12 gathered for
the Tuesday repast. Most of the food was cooked at the Renault home and
taken to the cellar to be reheated on a single gas ring on which Johnnie
Walker sterilised wine bottle corks. Later, Henri purchased a
three-plate stove and oven from J.R Lawson’s auction rooms, to improve
the facilities and enable more adventurous menus.
In the 21st
J.K.Walker lecture, the memorial addresses in honour to his father J.H.
Walker, the present "Johnnie", tells how the Victorian winemaker, David
Sutherland Smith, of All Saints Vineyard, introduced the idea of Wine
and Food Societies to Australia. David Smith read about Andre Simon's
Society in London and was instrumental in founding a similar group in
Melbourne. He I raised the idea with J.K.Walker on one of his wine
selling visits to the southern city. As a result the Wine and Food
Society of NSW was launched in the Rhine Castle Cellars on 9 March,
1939, with the inaugural dinner held at the University Club in Phillip
Street on July 13 of that year. The founding members were five men whose
names were indelibly associated with fine wine and food - J.K.Walker, Dr
Gilbert Phillips, Maurice O'Shea, Henri Renault and Gilbert Graham.
Dr Gilbert Phillips, a leading neuro-surgeon, was an imposing figure
over two metres tall. He was also an imposing leader of the fledging
Society being elected its first president and remaining in that position
The Society continued meeting weekly in the Rhine Castle
Cellars with occasional sortees to hotels or restaurants. In the cellar
the Renaults produced culinary wonders on their primitive equipment. An
early member, Paul Haege, made a special request for a tripe dish, a la
mode de Caen, named after many ingredients available then that one
seldom sees today; calves feet and cox combs for example. We used calves
feet for the gelatinous sauce in the tripe dish. It was a great success.
Paul relished it so much that he was eating from a vegetable dish rather
than a plate!
For the larger dinners, the menu usually was one of the
popular dishes of Provincial France. Keanne winces at the memory of one
meal. "Henri decided to prepare a sole dish with sauce Margeury", she
said. "The sauce contained shellfish, champignons, lobster pieces and
scallops cooked quickly in white wine and cream. But first we had to
skin and clean the 89 New Zealand sole he bought at the Fish Markets
that morning. I thought I would have no skin left on my hands. We
produced some extraordinary meals considering the improvisation
Mrs Florence Lockey, who was a much-loved and valued
member of the team, arrived on the scene in the Rhine Castle Cellar
days. She worked closely with the Renaults in the preparations for the
Tuesday lunches and remained with the society for many years as the
maitre'd "no-nonsense" controller of proceedings with a firm hand on the
pre-dinner sherry decanter.
Membership of the new gastronomic group
increased to 30 in the first two years. For space reasons alone it was
necessary to hold the lunches in the larger dining rooms of hotels or
restaurants. The first move was to Aaron's Hotel which was part of the
Royal Exchange Building and just around the comer in Bent Street from
the Rhine Castle Cellars. In early 1940, the Society was meeting for
lunch in Marton Hall Restaurant, Margaret Street, located in one of the
city's first apartment blocks.
As life member and past president of
the Society, Ron Thomas, recorded in his 1980's booklet on the Society,
the lunches began with a welcoming sherry followed by the entree with
white wine, "at a time when the growers in the Hunter Valley could not
give the stuff away A Hunter River red wine always accompanied the main
course and champagne with the sweets. Tradition formed that Johnnie
Walker's wife rang the group at 5.30pm in order to break them up from
lunch he said. There was no limit on the amount of wine which could be
In spite of the long lunches, few incidents have been
reported resulting from the wine tasting. However, as J.H. Walker says,
the tradition of members commenting on the food and wine after the meal
sometimes caused outrage in the kitchens of host restaurants or hotels.
He records the case of one member being chased out of the dining room
into the city street followed by an angry chef. The Society was banned
from some of the city's highly-regarded restaurants because of the
sensitivity of the chefs to criticism of their food. This was the case
at Marton Hall where the proprietor, John Sophocles, said he couldn't
stand the Society and its members' food criticism any longer because the
chefs refused to continue in his kitchen.
It was a difficult period
for the Society to become established. World War to oppose the invasion
of Europe by the German forces, was declared in 1939. Australian
servicemen were sent off to Europe and the Middle East to help Great
Britain resist the onslaught. Australia felt vulnerable as Japan
threatened to invade southwards. The Australian Government imposed
austerity measures, including food rationing, to concentrate on the war
The war brought another interruption to the new Society.
Henri Renault, a reserve Army officer, was called up by the French
Government and in January, 1940, was ordered to Indo-China as an
artillery lieutenant. Although, with the Society meeting in restaurants,
he and Jeanne were no longer preparing the Tuesday lunches, they were
consulted on menus and remained closely involved.
In early 1941,
Jeanne was employed in Rose's Restaurant, York Street, the basement in
which Renzo Remano opened his first nightclub before moving on. to
Castlereagh Street. The proprietor of Roses was Billy Crow, a member of
the Society. The manager was Sam Babicci, a saxophonist and well-known
band leader. After being ejected from Marton Hall, the Society found a
venue at Rose's for their weekly lunches. With a member as their host
and Jeanne as menu consultant, the future for the Society seemed secure.
Within weeks however, Jeanne who had given birth to a baby two days
before Henri left for Indo China, decided to join him. The French forces
had been over-run by the Japanese in 1940 and the Vichy Government told
its troops they had the choice of remaining where they were or returning
to France which was under German occupation. Henri remained and Jeannie
left Sydney to be with him in Saigon. However, a few months later, Henri
was allowed to return to Australia. He and Jeanne arrived back in Sydney
in early 1942.
Meanwhile, a familiar problem had arisen at Rose's
Restaurant. Some years later, J.K.Walker described the incident to a
former publicity officer of the Society, John Rourke. A member, John
Fuller, had requested Irish stew, as a change from the haute cuisine.
The stew was duly served to a gathering of 70 members. One member,
Lionel Dare, a prominent divorce lawyer, accepted the role of chief food
critic with much relish.
"Dare paced up and down the floor composing
his thoughts as if he were before the bench." J.K.Walker recalled. "He
then launched into a detailed criticism of the stew. His case rested on
the point that it was not a real Irish stew because it contained
carrots! Sam Babicci, the manager, was serving drinks and he was seen to
be going redder and redder in the face as the criticism of his
restaurant's food mounted from this capable lawyer. Finally, Babicci
could stand it no longer. He ordered the Society and its members from
the restaurant never to return."
Out on the footpath, J.K.Walker, and
two other leading members, Tibby Cotter and Ted Blaney, considered the
fate of the Society and, after adjourning for a drink, they returned and
asked Babicci to reconsider. Babicci was adamant and that was the end of
the Society's sojourn of some nine months at Rose's.
However, a happy
solution to the venue problem was soon to be found. Members of the
Society were delighted to have Henri and Jeanne Renault back in their
midst. They were welcomed at a large party in Princes Restaurant. Jeanne
recalls the occasion. "Henri could not resume business in the wool trade
because the Government had taken over sales, and in any case, most of
Europe was under German occupation. On the night of the party, Gilbert
Phillips suggested that we open a restaurant and make it the
headquarters of the Wine and Food Society. We had not run a restaurant
before, but the members were so enthusiastic they gave us confidence.
Gilbert said, "With Henri in the kitchen and you at the helm in the
dining room, it's sure to be a success".
To raise capital for the
venture, the Society formed a trust with Joe Moore and Tom Cook as
trustees and 30 other members subscribing money. The Renaults after some
weeks of searching, found premises in a Paling's Music I Store building
in Ash Street, a lane off Angel Place between George and Pitt Streets.
They haunted auction rooms to obtain second-hand kitchen equipment. The
tables, chairs and other furniture came from the sale of the Burswood
Gardens restaurant fittings at Double Bay. An island gas stove with four
ovens took pride of place in the kitchen.
The Hermitage Restaurant
opened in July 1942 and was to remain the meeting place of the Wine and
Food Society for 16 years. The regular Tuesday lunches were held there
and "ladies' night" dinners were conducted every second month. The
Renaults and their staff prepared and cooked the food. The Society
provided the wine and cheese. The wine was cellared in the Hermitage.
"I remember the Hermitage fondly," J.H. Walker says in his lecture. "It
was welcoming and cosy with pictures hanging on the walls in profusion."
The kitchen brigade was headed by Paul Harbulot and John Ansurian and
they produced "feasts fit for kings, he says. Mrs Florence Lockey was
back on duty keeping a firm hand on the Members' Room. Accommodation was
limited to 52 and members had to take turns in inviting guests.
was a pleasant and congenial atmosphere", Jeanne Renault said Members
continued the tradition of commenting on the food and wine, but now in
their special restaurant and their own "Club Room" they were able to do
so without fear of being run into the streets. Indeed, Jeanne, who
described the dish and its preparation, kept a record of the comments.
The charge for the luncheon which was two shillings and sixpence in
Johnnie Walker's cellar eventually increased to twelve shillings and
sixpence at The Hermitage.
Some new members had little knowledge of
food and wine and were there to learn. One such member was particularly
unsophisticated, Jeanne remembers. "At one lunch, we served Steak
Tartare", she said. "It was a very pretty dish served with a raw egg and
garnished with chives and paprika. The member said he could not
understand us serving raw steak. It was fit only for dogs". Others were
quite discerning, she recalls. "A member one day said the Sauerkraut
Alsace was not as crunchy as it should be. He was perfectly right. In
Germany, the home of sauerkraut, the cabbage is fermented with rock salt
in large barrels. In Sydney, we had to make do with tinned sauerkraut
which lost its crispness with cooking. "
It was a happy period for
the Society until the 1950's when Palings served eviction notices on the
restaurant in court cases over three years sought to regain possession
of the premises for music store use. The Hermitage finally closed in
July 1957. Henri Renault, who contracted malaria in South-East Asia had
not worked in the kitchen for some years, died three months before the
The final curtain at The Hermitage was the end of an
important era for the Society and the end of its long and fruitful
association with the Renaults. Jeanne opened a short-lived and
unsuccessful restaurant on Manly Wharf. The Society conducted its weekly
luncheons in a number of city restaurants while it sought a permanent
venue. In spite of its earlier eviction by John Sophocles, it returned
for a short time to Marton Hall and then the Aarons Hotel, followed by
the French Restaurant in Hamilton Street.
The next memorable period
for the Society began at the Chevron Hotel in Macleay Street, Potts
Point. A member of the society, Frank Christie, who was manager of the
Chevron provided a fine dining room controlled by the food manager, Tony
Bodhan. Neville Baker describes Bodhan as "brilliant" in his m field.
"He knew more about food than anyone in Sydney at the time", he says.
"We had many superb meals at the Chevron".
When Frank Christie
transferred to the Australia Hotel as manager, the Society followed him.
The grand Australian Hotel in Castlereagh Street remained the luncheon
venue until the Society moved to its existing premises. Members were
well-served in the dining room of Sydney's leading hotel of the day
where the city's society ladies met for afternoon tea in the Emerald
Room and most visiting celebrities chose to stay. An apprentice chef at
the Australian was Bill Galvin, now head of the TAFE School of Cooking.
When the Australian was closed for its sad demolition in the 1960's to
make way for the existing MLC Centre, an American member, Bill Meeske,
arranged for the Society to take up permanent rooms at the charming
terrace premises of the Australian-American Association in Lower Fort
Street. The Society with its library and wine cellar, remains there
Cooking and food appreciation has assumed a much greater
importance to members of the Society over time. In the early years, wine
appreciation was considered to be the primary interest of the group.
From the foundation of the Society, members have included many of the
State's foremost winemakers and connoisseurs. The synopses of the
J.K.Walker lectures which follow demonstrate the enormous breadth of
knowledge commanded by the Society from Australia's masters of wine
making and judging. This knowledge disseminated through the Society to
the public has had an important impact. It has been responsible, in
part, for Australia becoming a discerning wine-drinking nation served by
an industry of increasing international reputation.
recalls his introduction to the Society in the mid-1950s. He was invited
to a party by his great friend, the late John Atherton (later editor of
the Brisbane Courier-Mail). There he found the late Rudy Komon sitting
in the middle of the floor with a bottle of wine before him. "Do you
know anything about wine? Rudy asked. "No", said Neville. Well then,
come here and let me teach you" Rudy replied. Rudy invited him to lunch
at the Wine and Food Society and after being vetted by another member
over lunch at the Royal Sydney Golf Club, he became a member of the
Society in 1957. It was just after The Hermitage Restaurant period and
the Society was meeting again at Aaron's Hotel.
Dr Ray Healey, a
member since 1963, says the "benign, authoritarian "rule of Rudy Komon
as cellarmaster for almost 20 years, was a major influence on members
and their development of wine knowledge. "In those early years, wine
tasting was considered the more important aspect of the Society", Dr
Healey says. "Rudy had one of the best wine palates in Australia. As
cellarmaster he did not delegate any authority. The selection and
presentation of the wines was his job. If the food master did not
consult early with Rudy, there was no assurance that the wine for lunch
would match the menu."
However, this system helped overcome many
"silly, traditional rules about what wines should be drunk with certain
foods. "Sometimes, because of Rudy's selection without consultation, we
found that we were given red wine with fish. But we discovered that as
long as the wines were served in the correct order, it did not matter.
Many of the traditional rules were adopted from England, but we found
that they were not absolute"
Members of the Society acknowledge a
large debt to Rudy Komon for the wine knowledge that he imparted to them
and to the general community. Through Rudy the Society had a strong
influence on judging at wine shows. Most wine show judges have been
members of the Society.
Many other wine connoisseurs have exerted a
major influence on the public through the Society. After all, it was as
a result of the efforts of J.K.Walker, one of the State's earliest
authorities, that the Society was formed. The names of J.K.Walker
lecturers over the years read like an honour list of the I wine industry
- Francois de Castella, Leo Buring, T.C. Seabrook, Maurice | O'Shea,
David Sutherland-Smith, Colin Haselgrove, Len Evans, Max Lake - and so
the list goes on.
Dr Healey points out that the NSW Society's
promulgation of the Australian . wine industry is one of its major
differences with similar societies overseas. In the late 1950's, Dr
Healey was a member of Andre Simon's Wine and Food Society in London,
the model for the Australian and American Societies. As an importer of
French wines, Andre Simon formed his Society primarily as a profitmaking
organisation to introduce his product to the English market. Similarly,
Societies in North America were virtually chapters of the London
organisation and conducted themselves as though they were in counties of
England. They tasted and evaluated French wines almost entirely. The
local American wine industry was supported only in his home State of
California. The NSW Society from the outset was interested in fostering
Australian wines. Its influences on. improving the quality of the local
product has been immeasurable. Side by side with its emphasis on
developing Australian wine tastes, the culinary expertise of members has
grown enormously and has had a major impact on Australian cooking.
Neville Baker recalls his long period as Foodmaster from 1960 to 1970.
"I was always interested in cooking", he says. "I taught myself mainly
by reading cook books as recreation and experimenting. Anyone can cook
as long as they! understand the chemistry of it, that is the effect of
ingredients such as salt and I garlic".
In 1960, a group led by The
Hon. F.M. (Mae) Hewitt, MLC, Rudy Komon, Arthur Moore, Harry Skolnik and
Jim Cumming won election to the Society's committee. They successfully
nominated Baker as Foodmaster. "When we were dining in restaurants, I
would select a recipe, consult with the chef on Friday and then spend
half an hour with him in the kitchen on Tuesday morning. When we started
cooking ourselves, I was still young and brash. I would pick up the food
at 10.00 am and go in at 11.00 am to cook the lunch. Now, I try the
recipe three or four times with my wife and make sure I am all ready the
day before. That's the result of competition today. The standards of the
chefs have increased dramatically.
When Neville began dining out in
his twenties, there were few restaurants in Sydney serving adventurous
menus. Beppi's he describes as "brilliant" in 1955 (Beppi's still
remains in East Sydney). Others long gone were the Adria and the Prague
at King's Cross serving middle-European cuisine, Jim Bendroit's Caprice
and the Hamlet at Pymble. When Neville opened his own restaurant,
Claudis, at Neutral Bay in 1969, it was popular because of its menu
which included such innovations for Sydney as crepes and souffles. "My
dishes of that time would be terribly stodgy now", he says. "you must
remember that in those days, few restaurants were owned by chefs. Now
proprietor-chefs are the rule."
The culinary influence of the Society
reached a wider audience when Neville as Foodmaster wrote a weekly food
column for The Australian newspaper for six years in the 1960's. It was
before the advent of food writers such as Leo Schoefield, Michael Dowe,
Stephanie Alexander and Tony and Gay Bilson. "the missionary aspect of
the Society was most important in those years", Neville says.
former Foodmaster, Dr Ron Rodrigues (now retired from the Society who
took over from Neville for a year in 1964, also had some exciting times
in the kitchen. "It was fun planning the menus every week", he says.
"But professional chefs don't like interference by expert amateurs. They
often took umbrage. It was like arm wrestling. When I made a suggestion
they would stick exactly to my words and the if it did not work out they
would point to me. But when they learned that you knew what you were
talking about, they co-operated".
One of his best chefs was Tom
Stanton at Aaron's. But he was aghast on one occasion when he told Tom
that the dish needed more salt. "Tom reached into a large bag and threw
in a handful", he says. "I protested and he replied, "You said it needed
more salt". It proved exactly the right amount."
consternation at another lunch when Dr Rodrigues served a dish of
yearling horsemeat, bought at the only source, a pet shop, in red wine
sauce. "It was delicious and the comments were complimentary until I
disclosed what it was", he says. "The Consul-General for the Argentine,
who was a guest, was a great horse-lover and he was most upset". A
seafood meal at Aarons tricked all members who agreed it was a superb
fresh flat fish, but it was not local flounder, they said. Dr Rodrigues
revealed that it was frozen Icelandic sole taken off a ship that
morning. "It was delicious when cooked immediately after being thawed,
but when it was served again three weeks later after being stored in the
freezer, it had lot its quality and was panned", he recalls.
Valentine's Day he served stuffed lambs heart. Few members in those days
liked offal, he says. "When they began ordering the hotels' alternative
dish of steak, Neville Baker, who had returned by this time, jumped up
and demanded that they try the dish. They voted it a great success".
Adventurous experimentation of this kind set the Society on a culinary
path which it is still travelling. When the Society moved to its present
premises in the Australian-American Association building in 1970, a new
era began. It was freed from the restrictions of restaurant and hotel
kitchens. A suitable chef could not be found. Neville Baker, who was
President in 1970-71, suggested that members cook themselves. He took
over the job for about half the lunches for the first year. So began an
innovative tradition which continues to this day. Of the 187 members,
some 30 take turns at preparing the Tuesday lunches. The comments of
members after the meal remains an important element of the luncheons,
but it takes on even more relevance when the criticism is directed I to
the cooking skills of fellow members.
The gatherings of the Society
are not all serious luncheons. Wine and food certainly, but much levity
as well. Older members shake their heads in wonderment at the memory of
the Elizabethan Night at the late Sam McMahon's Argyle Tavern at the
Rocks in 1966. A banquet of legs of pork, chickens and ducks were cooked
in the open courtyard on barbeques made from six, half 44 gallon drums
while suckling pigs were roasted on a spit. There was six gallons of
goose soup and for the dessert, restaurateur and bon vivant, Len Evans,
provided gallons of syllabub (raspberry sauce) There were ceremonial,
stuffed pigs' heads on the tables which were lit by large candelabra.
John Hewitt, Mac's son, found a bakery to produce 'trenchers', the l
hard bread plates used in Elizabethan days. The trenchermen of the
Society ate l with the fingers from the bread plates assisted only by
The food was supplied in great quantity, but so was the
wine. Ron Rodrigues says each diner was issued with a half-pint tankard
which was filled at the beginning with mead wine. "After a couple of
these, everyone was with the fairies. he says. "Then we followed on with
half-pints of red wine. Neville Baker remembers the former Daily
Telegraph columnist, Ron Saw, arriving with the television food
presenter, Graham Ker, before they went on to a city ball where Saw
performed cartwheels down the floor. The Elizabethan Night was voted by
all a memorable event.
Another such event in the 1960's was held at
Penfolds Minchinbury Cellars, Rooty Hill. A spit the width of a house
was built with stone and fired with I timber railway sleepers. About
5.00 p.m. Neville Baker arranged 80 half crayfish (bought for $3 each)
on the spit. "We looked over the red crayfish on the embers to a
brilliant red sunsets, he says. Everyone was overwhelmed. But of course
the 80 guests had consumed 14 dozen bottles of champagne by then.
influence which the Society has exerted on the flourishing Australian
wine industry, is now a factor in developing the culinary tastes of
Australians. The society has not only given the imprimatur to new Asian
tastes brought by migrants, it is providing direction to a quite
We are now on the threshold of creating a world-recognised
Australian cuisine. For years, we have laughed at our culinary
reputation as the land of`4 meat pies and tomato sauce. Dr Healey for
one believes that period has gone. Where is no doubt that a distinctive
Australian cuisine is on the ways, he says. In the post-World War II
years, Europeans, introduced us to their food. Now Australian chefs are
developing their own blend of European and Asian cuisines. This is a
combination of fresh Australian produce prepared under the French and
Italian influence with Asian and Indian herbs and spices.
says this is very different from the American trend which is influenced
by Hawaiian and Pacific tastes for fruit with meat dishes. Australian
chefs have diverted from this path to follow their own methods. The
Asian spices provide a special flavour to European dishes. In addition,
they are cooked differently. Australian meat produce is of high quality
and does not require the braising of European cooking. It is cooked
quickly in the Japanese or Chinese manner. Welcome therefore to the era
of the Australian cuisine.
The influence of the Society, and in
particular its wine-making members, on the wine drinking habits of
Australians has been equally profound. When the Society was formed in
the late 1930s and for two decades afterwards, the enjoyment of table
wines was limited to a small season of society who sought out the
produce of the pioneer vineyards. Apart from a handful of restaurants
and the dining rooms of a few leading hotels, wine was not available to
the public in the manner accepted as normal today. On the contrary, a
stigma attached to wine drinking stemming perhaps from our English
heritage and a misplaced chauvinistic attitude to the lifestyle in other
parts of Europe.
Many of us remember when wine by the glass (most
sherries, muscats and other sweet varieties) was relegated behind the
shuttered doors of infamous wine saloons. As we all know, wine of any
quality suffered under the derisive, idiomatic name of "plonk".
Fortunately, those crass days are behind us. The quality and range of
Australian wines now equal the best the world has to offer. They are
served as a matter of course in restaurants, bistros, hotel bars and
dining rooms across the nation. Moreover, they are enjoyed by a
discriminating public whose developed knowledge of wine enabled them to
appreciate and savour the produce of Australia's rapidly expanded
Of course, the sophistication which has come with
migrants, and the internationalism brought by improved communications,
and reduced feelings of isolation have played a large role in bringing
about these changes. However, the J.K.Walker lectures reveal the
surprisingly long history and remarkable expertise of Australian
wine-makers. The mutual encouragement between the wine industry and the
Wine and Food Society of NSW has been of great importance in developing
the wines and the wine tastes of today.
The Wine and Food Society is
flourishing after more than 50 years. Members still meet weekly for
luncheons continuing the tradition began in "Johnnie Walkers Rhine
Castle cellars in the 1930's. Comment and criticism of the wine and food
following the lunch remains an essential element of the gatherings. The
Society, as the synopses of the J.K.Walker lectures show, commands a
vast range of knowledge on wine and food. With this publication, the
Society, after celebrating its 50th anniversary, wishes to offer an
insight into the lectures which are held in their entirety in the