by Judy Van Rhijn
The highest rating TV show in North America this
season is Survivor, filmed amid the scenery in Northern Queensland.
As they vie for the million-dollar prize, the contestants have been
living in a state of semi-starvation, unaware of the abundance of bush
tucker all around them. Yet, even in North America, Australian bush
tucker and unique fresh foods are no longer a secret. If you stroll
by street-side cafes in Vancouver, you will be tempted by the delicate
smoked flavour of daily specials cooked in paperbark from the melaleuca
tree. If you order ice-cream in Toronto, you will find it flavoured
with wattleseed or lemon myrtle. At a dinner party in Los Angeles, you
can savour Australian semi-dry tomatoes. It may be that Australian foods
are becoming more valued overseas than at home.
Breaking into the American market is not an easy task. It often requires
ceaseless promotional appearances at food shows and retail events.
Getting that purchase order is very hard. It helps that some retailers
have experienced Australian cuisine first hand. Andy Shay is a Canadian
who has lived and worked in Sydney and now promotes Australian foods
at Shay Gourmet, his gourmet food store in Toronto. He remembers “great
beaches, great outdoors and a casual style to living that the food reflects.
When I came back to Canada there was not a great awareness of Australian
foods but I’m trying to change that. I particularly like to stock
the exotic herbs and spices that the aborigines have used for thousands
He finds these in abundance in the Bush Dreams spices range promoted
tirelessly by Melbourne chef, David Evans. David travels across the
country, demystifying seasonings that are still harvested wild in the
“Nobody knows what wattleseed or lemon myrtle is,” he says
by way of example. “A lot of what I do is providing education.”
Not only are the names strange, sometimes the strength of the flavours
require advance warning. Native herbs like Pepperberry and Mountain
Pepperleaf are extra hot and strong, even though David dilutes them
for easy use in the Bush Dreams Rubs.
Because of David’s efforts, his products are widely used in restaurants
by chefs who appreciate their distinctive flavours. Robert Clark, the
Chef at C Restaurant in Vancouver, regularly uses wattleseed in his
desserts. Clark considers it Australia’s strongest indigenous product.
“It has a wonderful chocolatey, coffee flavour without the caffeine.
I predict it will become as common as vanilla and chocolate.” He
also uses Australian Mountain Pepperleaf to add extra zing to his main
meals, and adds the complex lemongrass, lemon and lime oil flavours
of Lemon Myrtle Rub to his dishes. At the Delta Pacific, also in Vancouver,
Chef Wolfgang Leskie fills the Landing Lounge with aromas of bush tomato
akudjura (ground bush tomato) in pizza, lemon myrtle black peppercorn
in hot dishes and often offers wattleseed chutney on the side.
Australian foods are becoming so popular that retail buyers are increasingly
prepared to do the travelling themselves. “Aussie food is very
hot right now,” says Sarah Burke, Manager of Senses Bakery in Toronto,
which sent a buyer to Australia last year. “It’s full steam
ahead. Amazing products and amazing packaging.
Australian products are so far ahead of the rest of the world in terms
of image. They are very high end.”
Senses showcases Primo Estate Olive Oils and Maggie Beer Verjuice and
Quince Paste from South Australia, Suncoast Gold macadamia nut products
from Queensland and Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey. Sarah says the Medlow
Sugar Dusted Gels are selling like hot-cakes. These frosted jubes are
made with tropical fruits such as pineapple, banana, passion fruit and
the unusual tropical grapefruit, which is sweeter than the temperate
For all the different marketing methods, these products have two things
in common - exceptional quality and tireless promoters. Australians
at home would do well to take more notice of products that Americans
are acclaiming for their unique taste and healthy natural flavourings.
They can proudly sit on any table anywhere in the world.
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