In her three-decade – and counting – career, Sydney-based food writer Jill Dupleix has amassed an impressive CV. Cookbook author. Restaurant critic. TedX food curator. Food editor of the Times in London for six years. But her latest project might well be Dupleix’s most important contribution to food culture, and not just in Australia or England.
Published by Blackwell & Ruth – the Auckland-based publishers released three books with former South African president Nelson Mandela – Truth, Love and Clean Cutlery is billed as “the world’s first guide to sustainable, organic and ethical eating places”. Between the guide’s Australian, USA, UK and World editions (made up of entries from the other three editions as well as 40 other countries), Dupleix and her team of 57 editors have identified more than 1300 restaurants, cafes and eating experiences that tick the boxes for doing things right. That Truth, Love and Clean Cutlery is being released in such a tumultuous food and dining climate – see the interest in plant-based dining, the combined wars against waste and plastic and #MeToo – is no coincidence.
“We [Dupleix, Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday of Blackwell & Ruth] talked a lot about what sort of dining guide the world needed right now, and really, we just let the title win,” says Dupleix. “Success in life is all about timing, and this project had immaculate timing from the start. We really couldn’t have done it even five years ago, it wouldn’t have had the numbers, and it wouldn’t have had the power and resonance.”
Dupleix has put together an impressive line-up of global collaborators, not least folks like Alice Waters of landmark Californian restaurant Chez Panisse, and London-based Times restaurant critic Giles Coren. For the Australian edition, Dupleix assembled a team of five regional editors (full disclosure: I worked on the book’s West Australian chapter) that ticked the boxes for green and clean. While the guide recognises plenty of forward-thinking, big-name restaurants – Attica, Millbrook, Biota Dining – the efforts of the smaller players are equally celebrated, from the “karma kake” at Brisbane’s Alphabet Cafe (diners pay what they want for a slice with the money going to a local charity) to an ethically driven Adelaide pizzeria.
Following the release of Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery, Dupleix reflects on the project and the role chefs, producers and diners can play in creating a stronger, more connected food community.
Broadsheet: You’ve written about food for a while but this interest in ethical eating seems more powerful than ever. Any thoughts on why?
Jill Dupleix: Because we can’t ignore it any more. Our heads are out of the sand. We’re seeing the rise of the “active citizen” on both sides of the kitchen door – diners and chefs and restaurateurs alike who would like to contribute to a healthier society by tackling the issues of climate change, waste, single-use plastic and toxic kitchen cultures. It’s also a sign of the times. The interweb shares information so broadly and so quickly that we are all very aware of the issues. There’s no escaping it. And there is a growing sense if the government is going to be too slow to engage in large-scale solutions, then there is real strength in local and small-scale solutions, which will cause a ripple effect. Look at the handful of people who pushed out the dangers of single-use plastic straws, for instance. I have never seen an environmental initiative move so fast.
BS: Truth Love and Clean Cutlery is an international guide. How does Australia compare to the rest of the world?
JD: Mixed scorecard. We’re very good on reducing water usage, of course, and Australian initiatives such as eWater Solutions are a boon to the industry. We are way ahead on certain things such as reducing single-use plastic straws, and we have very low tolerance for waste, thanks to brilliant initiatives such as OzHarvest. And we look after staff – paid holidays, health insurance – which you just can’t assume happens in so many other countries. Several restaurateurs are working hard to change the traditional restaurant shifts to allow staff members two consecutive days off or fewer hours, to leave them some time for family. But we still have premium food flying across the country from one side to the other, and menus that don’t list provenance, and restaurants that make you feel weird if you ask to take home the leftovers rather than have them binned. And don’t get me started on disposable, non-compostable coffee cups. The UK has an amazing initiative called the Sustainable Restaurant Association that aims to help restaurants big and small be a positive force for change. They’re showing leadership with specific campaigns to help food-service businesses find alternatives to single-use plastic, for instance. We don’t have that one industry body with the same clout.
BS: Are you seeing any regional trends throughout Australia?
JD: Yes. You can almost feel the energy emanating from certain regional areas. Like East Gippsland in Victoria, for instance, where like-minded people – farmers, chefs, fishing folk, growers, brewers and winemakers – have gotten together to do good things to celebrate their region. Wine regions have always been strong on connecting the dots between soil, air, water and people, but I think Margaret River is next level. When you look at how Arimia Estate, for instance, runs itself as almost completely self-sustaining, that’s where I’m going when the apocalypse hits.
BS: I daresay there will be plenty of chefs reading this interview and – fingers crossed – the guide. What are some of the things they can do to advance the cause?
JD: They can start by hiring more Indigenous apprentice chefs. We need to change the face of the Australian restaurant industry and get a fairer representation in our kitchens. It’s like a parallel universe in Australia; you need someone to open that door and get Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians together. What more powerful thing do we all have in common than food and hospitality? It’s why five per cent of the proceeds from the book will go to support the National Indigenous Culinary Institute in training aspiring Aboriginal chefs. The money will be used for much-needed chef kit, accommodation, travel, counselling and training: whatever is needed to help them find more Indigenous people who have a passion for the industry and turn them into the great chefs of the future. Also, pay your suppliers regularly, like Ben Shewry of Melbourne’s Attica. Support a “closed loop” waste system in which kitchen waste is composted and returned to the soil to grow vegetables for your menu. Be nice to your staff.
BS: Sound advice. How about producers?
JD: Keep it real; keep it local; keep it clean. Work together with the restaurants to reduce any plastic or styrofoam packaging involved in getting the produce to the door. Be nice to your plants and animals.
BS: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what about diners and consumers?
JD: Ask where the eggs come from, the chicken, and the water, and make your choices accordingly. Sourcing local produce puts money into the local community, supports local farmers, reduces delivery miles and cold storage, and guarantees seasonality and a sense of place. Refuse plastic straws. Drink your coffee in a cafe from a proper cup. Turn leftovers into another meal. Support those cafes and restaurants which are trying to do the right thing: you’ll find them in the book. And be nice to the serving staff.
Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery: A guide to the truly good restaurants and food experiences of Australia, Edited by Jill Dupleix ($34.99, Blackwell & Ruth) is available at all good bookshops.