The future for Australian restaurants?
I was keen to uncover the answers at Restaurant 08, the annual industry event--now in its third year--for restaurant owners, chefs and sommeliers.
There was a happy browse amongst the 120+ exhibitors, offering everything from veal jus to cash registers, to uniforms to wagyu. We marvelled at cutlery, crockery, Japanese knives and an amazing electric vegetable slicer that converted a carrot into an intricate sheet of cut-out netting.
Daikon cutting by Michiaki Miyazaki, Fish Face
At the Culinary Skills workshop on sashimi, Michiaki Miyazaki, Fish Face sushi chef, proved to be the quiet star of the show, impressing us with awe-inspiring precise and graceful knifework. Gloriously fresh fish were gutted and filleted with ease; carrots and daikon peeled around their circumference to create delicate paperthin vegetable scrolls.
The Talk Business series of panel discussions included a packed-out session on Australian and International Restaurant Trends, hosted by the ever-present Joanna Savill.
According to Tony Bilson, top-end dining has become more like art, an artistic expression by the chef that is presented to diners. He thinks this makes it much harder to judge and review as the concept of food as an experience and artform depends much on personal taste.
At the same time, Bilson recognises the explosion of "bistro food", acknowledging improvements across the board for all restaurants, as the public have become more aware of what is "good food". People are less likely to encounter bad food, he said. He also noticed a shift towards food with a more regional focus as well as the use of low-temperature cooking.
Sissel Rosengren, a senior manager at BIS Shrapnel, a economic forecasting and research consultancy, thought the growth was in middle-market restaurants, pointing out that only 3-5% of the population eat at high-end restaurants. She noted the lack of skilled labour in Australia, and talked of high labour costs and restaurant rents prompting a shift toward pre-prepared food and partly prepared products.
But as Bilson says, "Australians know good food." Compared to the rest of the world, we have liberated attitudes to food and even the internet, he commented, has made food transnational.
After the Luddite-like theme to last year's session on using the internet, I was interested to see how this year's forum, "Getting Connected: Harness the Power of the Web", would unfold.
A website is crucial, Joanna Savill affirmed. Sean Byrne, general manager of Jonah's Whale Beach, talked about the spike in web-generated enquiries and the use of a customer database to send newsletters and seek feedback. Blogs didn't get a mention though, and neither was there much talk about monitoring one's web presence or reputation, something that is already happening regardless of whether a restaurant has a great website or not.
Wagyu striploin marble score 6
Restaurant 08 is an industry-only event held once per year. This year the event was held in Sydney and, for the first time, Melbourne.
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Restaurant 09: 10 marketing tips for restaurants (and what they really think of food blogs)
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8/20/2008 11:56:00 pm