One afternoon in July 2013, Kate Reid, the owner and chef at cult Melbourne patisserie Lune Croissanterie, had some pastry scraps left over from the day’s cook. On an impulse, she put the leftover dough in a muffin tin and spread some Nutella inside. The resulting concoction was inspired, crude, and very tasty. Reid added the creation to an order for Collingwood’s Everyday Coffee and sent the pastries on their way.
Almost immediately, she received a call from Everyday barista Joe Miranda, asking for two dozen of the croissant- muffin hybrids in his next order.
“As an eating experience, it’s closer to a doughnut than a croissant in the way it forms. It lends itself to being injected with flavour, like a curd or a custard or jam,” says Reid.
The cruffin is the innovative offspring of two traditionally separate baked goods, similar to the birth of the cronut in New York in 2013. Curious in the abstract but delicious in real life, Reid’s cruffin might not be shaking the food world to its very foundations, but it is symptomatic of an increasingly innovative approach to combining cuisines and foodstuffs in new and unexpected ways.
The movement is less about chefs adding a touch of one cuisine to another, as with fusion cooking. Rather, it’s about the combination and mixing and matching to upend prior notions of what food is, could be and tastes like. At her Sydney restaurant Billy Kwong, Kylie Kwong is Chinafying Australian native ingredients, such as salt bush, wallaby and insects (stir-fried crickets are on her menu).
Also in Sydney, Ko & Co is flying the flag for KoMex – Korean Mexican – with this particular mash up said to have been invented by Kogi BBQ trucks in Los Angeles. Food trucks are often breeding grounds for some of the most unexpected cuisine mergers. El Ñosh in Los Angeles, for example, offers Jewish food in Latin packaging, e.g. Pastrami and dill croquettas.
Prior to launching her toastie food truck, Toasta, last year, Melbourne’s Rebecca Feingold had been visiting her grandmother to learn to make blintzes – Jewish rolled pancake – with an idea to re- create Jewish cuisine with Asian flavours. “I was looking for something different to do, and I’m really passionate about Asian food, particularly South East Asian. Being Jewish and having my nanna’s food growing up, I’ve always felt Jewish food is something underrated and not well recognised in Melbourne,” Feingold says.
“I ended up going with toasties because I felt the food-truck trend in Melbourne was still so small, and there was still room for classic concepts that hadn’t yet been done here. I feel there might be more of a place for Jewish fusion and other unique food truck concepts once the industry becomes more saturated.”
Alejandro Cancino of Brisbane’s Urbane restaurant predicts that South American flavours will begin to infiltrate Australian menus in the same way they have done in Europe. He’s already using “tiger’s milk” – the lime-based juice used to cure seafood in ceviche – as the base for many of Urbane’s dishes, both with seafood but also with vegetables.
Chef Dave Campbell’s menu at Hungry Duck in regional New South Wales reveals innovative combinations of Asian cuisine with South American flavours and ingredients, as well as European. Why stick to a two-cuisine combination if you could master three? Cecil in New York City, for example, combines African, Asian and American influences.
On Campbell’s menu there’s “braised shoulder of alpaca (a staple protein in some parts of South America) with iceberg lettuce, kimchi and sriracha” and “tempura alpaca tenderloin, miso sauce, parmesan and tobiko.”
“I started working with alpaca about four years ago when the farmer – Ian Frith at Illawarra Prime Alpaca – asked if I would be interested in doing a dinner with alpaca meat. I used the whole animal and found it a very unique meat to work with,” Campbell says. Campbell tested the meat at both Hungry Duck and Wharf Rd, producing a range of techniques and flavour profiles.
“Working with a new protein like alpaca has allowed us to push some boundaries,” Campbell says. “We felt like we didn’t have to stick to any hard-and- fast rules.”
At LuMi Bar & Dining in Sydney, Federico Zanellato is bringing together two seemingly mismatched cuisines: Italian and Japanese. Zanellato may replace dashi with Parmesan consommé, or in an Asian take on a spaghetti dish, will use Italian XO sauce.
“We use exactly the same ingredients as in XO sauce (a spicy seafood condiment from Hong Kong), but Italian ingredients,” Zanellato says. “Instead of dried prawns, we use Italian fish sauce. We twist the traditional Asian dishes, play with them.”
The Italian-born Zanellato spent a few months working in Tokyo in 2009 and has returned many times. His resumé boasts two of the world’s best restaurants, Noma and Attica, so it’s not surprising he finds the elegant common ground in two seemingly dissimilar cuisines.
At 10 William Street in Sydney, chef Dan Pepperall is also plating up Japanese-inspired Italian and vice versa.
“We just cook what we think will taste good and what we would want to eat, and if this sometimes means adding Asian ingredients, then we do it,” Pepperall says. He has trained in a variety of cuisines, from Japanese to French to Korean, “So I guess it’s just a combination of all of these and then applied to Italian food.”
Pepperall sees the Australian embrace of cuisine mash-ups continuing.
“Australia is a very multicultural country, so should the food be. We should be able to blend and mix cultures in whatever medium. Indigenous cuisines of any country are beautiful in their own way, mixing them together can only bring more exciting and new ways to eat and enjoy them,” Pepperall says. “I’m really hoping for Italiano Mexicano.”
GorillaGrill food truck, which serves Korean food, and Happy Camper Pizza truck, recently created a mash-up of their two distinct offerings, a pork belly and kim-chi pizza called The Belly.
As chefs and operators get more experimental and adventurous to stand out in the increasingly competitive Australian food landscape, we can expect weirder, wilder and more spontaneous combinations.
Back at Lune Croissanterie, Kate Reid is on a mash-up mission. In recent months she has even produced the cruffington – a lamington-inspired cruffin with jam on its inside and coconut and chocolate icing.
“Doing a lamington cruffin started off as joke,” she says. “Then we thought, well, why couldn’t we make that happen?”
Reid’s pastry theatrics now include a sticky-date pudding twice-baked croissant, with walnut frangipane and pureed date. Prior to handing it over to a salivating customer, Reid injected hot butterscotch sauce and served it with a scoop of vanilla-bean gelato. Croissant or pudding? Why not both?
29 Scott Street, Elwood, VIC
(03) 9077 6463 lunecroissanterie.com
33 Johnston Street, Collingwood VIC
(03) 9973 4159
Shop 1, 28 Macleay Street, Potts Point, NSW
(02) 9332 3300
Ko & Co
6 Hunt Street, Surry Hills, NSW
(04) 2894 4741
181 Mary Street, Brisbane, QLD
(07) 3229 2271
85 Queen Street, Berry, NSW
(02) 4464 2323
Lumi Bar & Dining
56 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont, NSW
(02) 9571 1999
At 10 William Street
10 William Street, Paddington, NSW
(02) 9360 3310