Celebrate Australia Day with these 5 chefs and restaurateurs from Down Under

Corn and scampi dish by Jo Barrett of Oakridge Winery.
Corn and scampi dish by Jo Barrett of Oakridge Winery.

It’s Australia Day and what better way to celebrate than with food: good coffee, jaffles, and heck, kangaroo, if you are able to get your hands on it. In honour of Australia Day, here are five chefs and restaurant owners who are connecting the food in the Great White North with that of Down Under.

Adam Hynam-Smith, chef of El Gastrónomo Vagabundo in Toronto

Chef Adam Hynam-Smith grew up in Australia, has cooked around the globe, and is now best known for his Toronto-based food truck, El Gastrónomo Vagabundo. He serves up dishes that are an amalgamation of the various cuisines he has been exposed to during his travels, to the point where Adam has even been likened to the Canadian version of Momofuku’s David Chang. His recently-published Curbside Cookbook showcases recipes for his globally inspired street food offerings. The food might not be distinctly Canadian, or Australian, but it embodies the diversity and multiculturalism that both countries are all about.

Xavier Martinelli and Angus Castran co-owners of Café Melbourne in Montreal

Photo from Cafe Melbourne's Instagram feed.

Melbourne is known around the world for its coffee culture, and co-owners Xavier Martinelli and Angus Castran are bringing a little taste of that to Montreal via Café Melbourne. They make a mean flat white, but you can’t leave without trying another Australian staple, the jaffle. As much fun to eat as it is to say, the jaffle is a panini-like sandwich, sealed around the edges to ensure that all of the melty, cheesey goodness stays inside, where it belongs. If the Mac Daddy jaffle (stuffed with mac ‘n’ cheese) is any indication of the merits of Canadian-Australian “fusion”, I’m all for it.

Steve and Jenny Tyrrell of Miss Browns in Winnipeg

Winnipeg is a long way from Australia (not to mention a heck of a lot colder!), but the folks at Miss Browns manage to stay warm with their signature hot-pressed sandwiches and coffee. Husband and wife team Steve Tyrrell (from Sydney, Australia) and Jenny Tyrrell (from Winnipeg) opened Miss Browns with the intention of sharing their love for Australian cuisine with the folks of Winnipeg. “This means fresh, local ingredients and delicious flavours made simply,” Jenny says.

Sourcing their products as much as possible from Manitoban producers, they have definitely embraced the local food scene, while also staying true to their Australian roots.

“What we love about Canadian cuisine is the melting pot aspect of it,” says Jenny. “Every good chef and restaurant has their own unique take on a classic, reinventing the old and making them new and exciting.”

For Aussie Day they will be celebrating with a special menu of snag (sausage) sandwiches and classic meat pies. So, if you are in Winnipeg, stop by for a bite.

Jo Barrett, sous chef and head pastry chef at Oakridge Wines in Australia's Yarra Valley

Living in Canada, it’s easy to take for granted the opportunities we have, but hearing about others’ reasons for coming here can help us recognize things we might not have acknowledged. Chef Jo Barrett of Oakridge Wines in the Yarra Valley came to Canada back in 2007 to attend culinary school at SAIT in Calgary. Not only did she receive the classical training and foundation she came here for, she was also exposed to modern techniques and ingredients foreign to Australia.

“I decided to study in Canada because I wanted to be classically trained and start with a solid foundation of skills and knowledge.” says Barrett. “I was blown away by how advanced the food scene was compared to what I had experienced in Australia.”

Barrett might be back in Australia now, but she has fond memories of working in Canadian kitchens, especially with the sense of camaraderie they fostered. “I see a lot of similarities between Australia and Canada and their food scenes,” she says. “Both countries are naturally beautiful and this is reflected in the food; lots of foraging, hunting, native ingredients, and seasonal produce prepared with a lot of respect.”

Aaron Surman, pastry chef at L’Abattoir in Vancouver

With a resume that include stints at Melbourne’s Vue de monde and Tokyo’s Valrhona chocolate school, pastry chef Aaron Surman’s love of sweets spans continents, quite literally. Originally from Brisbane, Australia, he now heads up the pastry department at Vancouver’s acclaimed L’Abattoir.

When asked how Canada’s food scene compares to that of Australia, Aaron admits, “It might come across as no surprise, but I think the Australian food scene is a bit further along than the Canadian.”

Surman found that whereas Australian chefs tend to travel abroad and come home to share their expanded repertoire of knowledge and skills, Canadian chefs who travel tend not to return. For him, not only is he a fan of the outdoors and B.C.’s beauty, he enjoys the challenge of using local ingredients in Canada’s cold weather climate. “It is a test for chefs to come up with different ways of preserving to get longer use of fruits and vegetables that only have a short window to grow,” Surman says.