Our grandmothers cooked with what was on hand, what was seasonal, with minimal food, ingredients and minimum fuss. Who doesn’t remember a favourite recipe from their grandmother. And no matter if it’s your grandmother, nonna, yiayia or bà, there is a wealth of food knowledge deep within that grey head of hair. It’s just a matter of what you do with it.
While the fundamentals of Nonna’s cooking haven’t changed – simple, satisfying and from scratch – it’s just a matter of what you do with those basics. Take Dan Hong, the son of renowned Sydney-based Vietnamese restaurateur Angie Hong. He initially turned his back on his mother’s cooking but soon came to see it as his trademark at the modern Asian Potts Point diner Ms G's, then Cantonese-inspired Mr Wong.
Behind the pans at the two Bau Truong restaurants at Cabramatta and Mount Pritchard, is the self-taught now 70-something Bac Cang Nghieu, who started fusing French recipes with Asian ingredients while catering for wedding receptions and birthdays, while her father ran his fish sauce business.
Chef Roy Ner is serving up Middle Eastern and Israeli family food with a twist at Nour and the new Lillah Kitchen. In the Sydney suburbs of Oatley and Alexandria, Frenchman David Bitton has created a name for himself with recipes at Bitton, which are a reflection of David’s own French training, his grandmother’s Moroccan heritage and his wife Sohani’s South African Indian background.
At Attica, in Melbourne, the birthday cake they offer you is a chocolate cake from a family recipe passed down from Ben Shewry’s grandma Elaine.
In New Zealand, the Little India chain started when dairy owner Sukhi Gill’s mother visited him in the early 1990s and insisted he make some curry and sell it in his shop. The chain which is still owned by members of the family, has 18 restaurants now.
So, listen to your mother, or take a hint from your gran, and revive those recipes from the faint pencil or faded clippings in her old cookbook to inspire a wealth of new dishes for any menu.