Surfing the Top End's larder with Dan Churchill and Hayden Quinn »
Innovative, modern fusion food and a foodie’s travel guide combined
By Paula Wriedt
Two former Masterchef contestants set off in a blue vintage VW Beetle, lovingly nicknamed Gigi, on an epic adventure of surfing, eating and cooking across Australia's Top End, from Shark Bay in the west to Byron Bay on the east coast. What an adventure!
The result is part travel diary, part cookbook, with stunning pictures and delightful stories from some of the most beautiful parts of Australia. Surfing the Menu – Next Generation would be as much at home on your coffee table as in your kitchen.
Dan Churchill and Hayden Quinn take up where celebrity chefs Curtis Stone and Ben O’Donoghue left off – combining their passion for food, travel and surfing in some of the most picturesque parts of the country. The first television series Surfing the Menu catapulted Curtis and Ben to international fame so Dan and Hayden have big shoes to fill.
They set out to produce a book with recipes suitable for sharing, but also to get readers to appreciate the diverse fresh produce of Northern Australia. Through their innovative recipes and telling stories of the places they visit, the characters they meet and the food they taste, they achieve both successfully.
The stories are told in true Australian larrikin style – honest and humourous in a way that makes them come to life. You can easily visualise their hilarious attempts at goat herding at Wooramel Station in Western Australia without seeing the TV series.
Surfing the Menu – Next Generation is a visually appealing book. Many of the beautiful scenic pictures are worthy of a high quality tourism publication. Combined with its contemporary layout and graphic design, it’s easy to read and navigate through.
The book is divided into chapters that relate to their top end travels, starting at Shark Bay in the Far West, then via Exmouth and Broome to Kunamurra and Katherine in the Inland North, across the gulf to Cairns, Townsville, the Whitsundays and Bundaberg in Tropical North Queensland, and ending some weeks later in the Far East of Australia at Noosa, Toowoomba and Byron Bay.
An introductory page about each location contains narrative that entices you to visit, as do the beautiful photos.
What follows these refreshingly honest stories are recipes using many locally sourced ingredients. Rather than a separate glossary elsewhere in the book, most contain handy hints or explanations of unusual ingredients on the same page. For time-challenged home cooks this is a handy feature to have at your fingertips.
Importantly, given the regional nature of the book, substitutions are suggested for ingredients that could be difficult to find in your local area – for example substituting asparagus for samphire, or bay leaves for saltbush, neither of which I would have thought of. Had it not been for this feature some of the recipes I may have bypassed, thinking it wasn’t possible to buy everything that was needed. (Pearl meat is pretty scarce in the rest of Australia, but you can use kingfish instead).
Thankfully, many are also designed so that even a basic cook can work out what to substitute for an ingredient they can’t source. And although Dan and Hayden did a lot of their travel cooking on an open fire, it can all be replicated at home, with or without a barbecue.
For example the book’s first recipe, a delicious WA Clambake, contains four types of seafood and was originally cooked in a pit dug in the sand on a beach. It could just as easily be made with only one or two types of your locally available seafood and you would get just as good a result with the same mouth-watering flavour base, cooked in a large pot on the stove as the recipe describes.
Some recipes contain pre-prepared ingredients such as store-bought mayonnaise with flavourings added. Whilst this may horrify those with exceptional culinary skills it is a blessing for those time-challenged or more basic cooks. Of course there is nothing to stop the more dedicated from making mayonnaise and adding the suggested flavours.
Perhaps though the reliance on pre-made ingredients is taken too far in a couple of recipes. For example a highly appetising Goat Chop Curry with Flatbreads disappointingly doesn’t include the flatbread recipe. This is one instance where it would have been nice to have the option to make it myself, as I’ve often struggled to find acceptable store-bought flatbreads. But in a book with 79 other enticing recipes this is only a minor point. And who wants to make their own corn chips for Blue Swimmer Crab Nachos?
It’s hard to categorise the type of food that Hayden and Dan cooked on their adventures. Many recipes could be regarded as modern and show an interesting twist – a type of fusion of Asian and Australian bush cuisines – for example the Salt and Pepper Roo Tail. Whilst this is one recipe that may not appeal to many I know, I would be happy to use the suggested alternative of oxtail and serve up a terrific and unusual fusion dish.
Others include Caramelised One-pan Chicken of Awesomeness, Sicilian Honey Fish with Macadamias, Honey Sriracha Roast Chook, #NextLevel Chilli Crab, and Chicken and Cheese Jaffles with Spicy Capsicum Sauce.
This is a book that should appeal to all levels of cooks. There are many hearty meals, designed to share and there is little fussy presentation – it’s honest rustic food that pays tribute to Australia’s bountiful north.
Meat and fish feature heavily, but there are also some salads, vegetables and a few cakes and muffins for the sweet-toothed, plus a few drinks including an Achacha Sangria made from chardonnay and achacha, a Bolivian fruit now grown commercially near Townsville (substitute passionfruit if you can’t get it).
The recipes are easy to follow and I’m happy to say that the ones I tested ended up looking like the photos in the book. With elaborate food styling a feature of most publications of this calibre, achieving the same end result often isn’t possible. So I ended up pretty pleased that my dish really did look like the picture!
Overall a great read and a handy cookbook to have at hand, whether on the coffee table or in the kitchen, and a great enticement to visit Australia’s Top End and explore their fabulous foods.
Surfing the Menu – Next Generation by Dan Churchill and Hayden Quinn is published by Simon & Schuster (Sydney, NSW, April 2016; hc, 240pp). It is available at ABC Shops and where all good books are sold, and retails for RRP of A$49.99.
Paula Wriedt is a self-confessed foodie. Whilst she loves her job running the small charity Cystic Fibrosis Tasmania, her real passion is food. She lives in Kingston with her two teenage children who have inherited her love of cooking, so her house is always filled with the welcoming smells of delicious food.
As a former State Minister for Tourism, Paula is passionate about Tasmanian produce and Australia’s beautiful island state. Travelling is high on her agenda but she enjoys returning to Tasmania and sharing with friends and family the many recipes she discovers.
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