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Is 'classical cuisine' past its use-by date?

To be a young person in the hospitality industry, and especially in the commercial kitchen, is an opportunity to learn so much more than the classics

Cast your eyes over the menus of the modern, slick city restaurants, their suburban counterparts and even the pub scene. You'll find an abundance of cultural cuisine styles from around the globe. We're truly spoiled for choice here; Japanese, Italian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Spanish, Thai....

This thought occurred to me on a recent visit to Cairns when I was again impressed with the variety and standards of cuisines available. It was brilliant! In many of our regional cities, and of course all of our capital cities, we're blessed to have so many choices. We could eat out continuously for weeks and avoid repetition. If we wanted to. And if we could afford it.

However, Australian diners didn't always have such variety. Can you remember a time in Sydney, or indeed Australia generally, when the major influences were French classical cuisines, Anglo European and even German? I remember it well.

It was a time when the food scene was evolving and somewhat entrenched in the classical styles of cuisine that the trades chefs based their skills. We were trained exclusively in the French classical cuisines. Le Repertoire de la Cuisine was our Bible and we replicated these classics with passion. We knew little else. Menus were frequently written in French, especially in the fine dining restaurant, and our customers embraced this as 'the norm'.

Are the classical styles of cuisine out of date and fashion today?

What I like to explain to my TAFE students is we need to understand the past, to reflect on where we've been so we can better understand the future and where we are headed. Chefs need good, all-round skills to be more employable and to be able to fit into any kitchen scenario.

Foods become fashionable and trends come and go. But the actual skills of our trade are set in concrete; they are static and remain a constant. And how we interpret and apply our skills to modern menu trends can be very useful. We'll have more scope to experiment with these ‘new' cuisines if we have a sound skill-set that allows us to get the best flavours, perfectly fillet that fish and create that sauce that has the right balance of taste, texture and consistency. We have so much to learn and this is ongoing throughout our career.

To be a young person in the hospitality industry, and especially in the commercial kitchen, is an opportunity to learn so much more than the classics. But remember - history is important. Skills never change. It's only the trends that are in constant flux.