A little history. My interest in food developed in its absence. My parents had suffered a financial calamity and suddenly the cupboard was bare. That started my addiction to cookbooks. Words instead of food, flavours for the imagination, hours of reading on an empty stomach. My favourites were Elizabeth David’s Italian Food and French Provincial Cooking. I still have Italian Food, with Renato Guttuso’s beautiful drawings and Elizabeth David’s acerbic commentaries on the crimes committed in the name of ‘Italian cooking’.
Later, I cooked in restaurants (once as a part-owner) and learnt about food from the perspective of organisation. The discovery of ‘not-British food’ was one of the great Australian adventures of my generation. ‘A different restaurant every night!’ Travelling the world without having to get up from the table. I can’t think of a dish from my childhood that I would still serve. There is no nostalgia there for me.
I had a favourite restaurant in Melbourne in those days, although I only ate there half a dozen times. Rigoletto’s was a Tuscan restaurant in which the menu hardly ever varied. La signora did the cooking and il signore was the ebullient and thoroughly likeable front-of-house. I think it was ‘everyone’s favourite’ for awhile, before Moroccan became the saveur-de-jour.
I’m not that interested in restaurants today. I can’t imagine running one, although there is still a certain romance about a day-time café. It isn’t just that restaurants are so subject to fashion, the no-one-eats-there-anymore mentality, it’s that the alternative is so much richer: a food culture rather than a consumer culture. The connection between kitchen and garden: growing, harvesting, preparing, eating and sharing. A food culture and a conviction: everyone should eat well.