While we might be treating it as such, our current focus on local and seasonal foods is hardly new. It was ripe in the 80s. Trends and cycles move through food as they do several other creative industries and right now, the way we did things in the 80s is very prominent in the way we eat.
Coinciding with the Gusto! exhibition at the State Library of Victoria, food writer and the former co-editor of The Age Good Food Guide, Rita Erlich, has written Melbourne By Menu, a book that provides a rich insight into dining in Melbourne in the 1980s.
Based on the menus Erlich kept during her fifteen years at The Age Good Food Guide, the book provides a unique insight into the decade of padded shoulders and glitter hair gel. The book exposes intricate connections between the epicurean culture of today and that of the 80s and reveals how Melbourne’s 80s dining culture has influenced much of what we eat today.
“What I discovered during writing the book is that there are extraordinary connections between the 80s and today,” says Erlich. “The dining scene we value now hasn't emerged on its own.”
Erlich explains that the young chefs of the time, such as Guy Grossi and Teague Ezard, worked for renowned chef Hermann Schneider of acclaimed restaurant Two Faces. It was here they learned that restaurants and cooking involve far more than mere food and technical excellence. Now these chefs have their own restaurants and they’re passing on what they learnt all the way back then.
Erlich cites several reasons for the carry over of trends into the current decade, but the basis has always been quality. “So many people were doing good things,” she says. “The early 80s fine dining was fundamentally French but in Melbourne it segued into other cuisines.
“The fact that Asian ingredients became more accessible and entered the vocabulary of cooking is hugely important,” she notes.
This book isn’t about Erlich herself, but she gives the book and its translation of the time a unique signature.
“While it combines my knowledge of Melbourne restaurants, it is not about me fundamentally,” she stresses. “I’m telling the story of people I know really well and because of our history they were willing to talk.”
Melbourne By Menu is certainly worth a read, even if you only have an inkling of interest in dining out in our city. It’s a book of stories told through menus and someone who was there.
“The menus alone mean nothing,” Erlich says. “It’s the stories behind them that matter and the real pleasure is in telling these stories.”
Melbourne By Menu published by Slattery Media is available online here or in bookstores nationally.