Wine Service at Luncheons
Wine & Food Society Cellar Policy
The members of the WFS are the beneficiaries of the foresight of previous generations of members in establishing a large cellar. To a degree, the composition of this over the years has been a snapshot of the Australian wine industry. However, the WFS has always had a strong French component; not least because of the influence of Andre Simon who controlled the cellar for many years. The WFS continues to maintain the cellar with the objective of providing mature quality wine for its weekly lunches and regular evening functions.
Although the WFS retains a soft spot for NSW wines, and in particular those from the Hunter, wines are sourced from each of the notable Australian wine making areas - and indeed most quality regions of the world. This diversity is consistent with our charter to promote wine knowledge. Moreover, our member chefs’ choice of cuisine is eclectic and accordingly, a wide range of styles and varieties are necessary from which to select a wine match. That match, the synthesis of wine and food, is the basis for a great dining experience. Overall, throughout the year, the aim is to present a variety of vineyard areas and their grape varieties, some wines may be lesser known, some wines may reflect the evolution of style and taste. Noting that another core WFS charter objective is the promotion of fellowship, the cornucopia of new and interesting is balanced by the known and comforting. The WFS has developed a strong attraction to some lines of wines that we attempt to follow each year. An attendee at a WFS lunch can expect to see two wines served with the main and two wines served with the cheese. Other than matching the food, those brackets of two are intended to provide a wine talking point. The wines may be from the same vintage and variety, they may share a region or maker. They may illustrate some other point of similarity or contrast. Prior to being seated, aperitif wine is served. The WFS holds a number of regular evening functions such as the Chef of the Year dinner and the President’s dinner. Wine is selected to match the food and the prestige of the function.
The Society Objectives and Activities
The primary objective of the Society is to encourage and facilitate the association of people interested in fine wine and food. To this end, the Society holds numerous luncheons and evening functions for members and their guests. Functions are directed towards the attainment of a high level of understanding and appreciation of the preparation and presentation of food and wine and their relationship to each other. A feature of the Society’s activities is the Tuesday luncheon, held most Tuesdays throughout the year, when different members “Chefs of the Day” prepare the meal for other members and guests. These luncheons are held at The Royal Exchange 1 Gresham Street, Sydney. The Society is the largest of the Federation of Wine and Food Societies in Australia.
The Society website is updated regularly to allow all members to keep abreast of events. The site contains details of future functions, reviews of past events and a variety of general news pertaining to wine and food subjects. Announcements, letters and articles are invited and encouraged.
Telephone enquiries can be directed to officers or members of the committee. Correspondence should be directed to:
Wine and Food Society of NSW
GPO Box 371
SYDNEY NSW 2001
A Brief History of The Society
The Wine & Food Society 1939 to 1993
Written by John Glascott Friday, 1 January 1993
Few countries of the world have changed their lifestyles so dramatically over the last 50 years as Australia.
The Wine and Food Society of New South Wales has played a significant role in this revolution. The Society's lead in developing and fostering sophisticated culinary and wine tastes has encouraged two generations of Australians to awaken to the pleasures of the table. Its influence has operated side by side, and given direction to, the evolution in our eating and drinking habits wrought by the influx of immigrants since World War II.
There is no better way to appreciate the extent of this transformation than to recall the changes that have taken place over the last half century in Sydney, the headquarters of the NSW Society. The slate has almost been wiped clean in this city. Not only have the older mores been replaced, but most of the buildings in which they were practised have disappeared. If it were not for the great grey arch of the Harbour Bridge appearing at the end of the Pitt Street view, a visitor returning from the late 1930's would be hard pressed to find his bearings.
Glass and concrete high-rise towers have reared up on the skyline in place of the gracious streetscapes of the first half of the century. Transport modes changed as clean and friendly trams gave way to buses and motor cars spewing exhaust fumes as they congest the narrow city streets. A sedate era of shopping passed with the closure of familiar department stores such as Anthony Horderns, Mark Foys, Marcus Clarke's, Buckingham's, Winn's, Murdoch's and Walton's. The telegram boy on his bicycle rode out of our lives with the advent of facsimile machines. With the exception of the State Theatre and the long-awaited Capitol restoration, the grand "picture palaces" of the 1930s - the Prince Edward, Regent, Plaza, St. James, Mayfair and Embassy have been replaced by style-less, popcorn-reeking, cinema complexes.
Five-star international hotels have usurped the carriage-trade hostelries of the pre-war era. Gone are the landmark hotels such as The Australia, Carlton, Usher's, Aaron's, The Metropole and The Wentworth.
Nothing has changed more than the restaurant scene and our dining habits. Sydney's two symbols of elegant dining in those years, Romano's and Prince's, lasted into the post-war period, but have long since closed their doors. They served what now would be regarded as simple fare, but their "nightclub" atmosphere made them the Mecca of the city's society. Long time member and former foodmaster of the Wine and Food Society, Neville Baker, still savours the aroma of Romano's famous Steak Diane rising from its Castlereagh Street basement and found its sweets tray matched only by the renowned Rome restaurant where Renzo Romano trained as a boy. As a young man in his courting days, Neville Baker, recalls regular Saturday night dining at Princes in Martin Place where the table d'hotel could be had for twelve shillings and sixpence.
Office workers seeking an occasional snack, headed for Repin's Coffee Houses with the "hot suggestions" (eggs or baked beans on toast), while suburban ladies on shopping excursions sought out the cake trays at Cahill's Restaurants. Students haunted Jericho's upstairs restaurant in Rowe Street and the city's first bistro, Lorenzini's, in Elizabeth Street. Importune cadet journalists considered a one shilling and sixpenny plate of spaghetti at the Florentine in Elizabeth Street to be the height of sophisticated dining. All of these establishments disappeared as restaurants offering the cuisines of many nationalities burgeoned in the city and suburbs.
Gone also is another landmark building of old Sydney - the Royal Exchange at the corner of Pitt and Bridge Streets. For many years into the first half of this century, the Royal Exchange was the venue of the Sydney wool auctions. The site is of special significance to the Wine and Food Society because it was in Johnnie Walker's Rhine Castle Cellars in the basement of the building that the Society had its beginning.
The late J.K.Walker Snr. developed an interest in wine in the 1920s as a hotelier in Woolloomooloo and later introduced Hunter River wine to the Melbourne market. His Rhine Castle Cellars in Pitt Street became the gathering place of woolbuyers, mainly French, after the auctions on the floor above. These men, Victor Dekeyvere, Joseph Holbeck, Camille Geysens, Raymond Lamerand and Dominique Drulers, were led there by Henri Renault, the only son of a food and wine-loving Lyons family. The wine and cheese-tasting meetings soon developed into more formalised luncheons. Johnnie Walker asked Henri and his wife Jeanne, who arrived from France in 1937, to help prepare lunches for the group on Tuesdays.
Mrs Jeanne Renault remembers the Rhine Castle premises as, "very beautiful with a genuine old cellar atmosphere" It had "wonderful oak furniture and fittings". In the alcove stood an oblong table around which a group of 12 gathered for the Tuesday repast. Most of the food was cooked at the Renault home and taken to the cellar to be reheated on a single gas ring on which Johnnie Walker sterilised wine bottle corks. Later, Henri purchased a three-plate stove and oven from J.R Lawson's auction rooms, to improve the facilities and enable more adventurous menus.
In the 21st J.K.Walker lecture, the memorial addresses in honour to his father J.H. Walker, the present "Johnnie", tells how the Victorian winemaker, David Sutherland Smith, of All Saints Vineyard, introduced the idea of Wine and Food Societies to Australia. David Smith read about Andre Simon's Society in London and was instrumental in founding a similar group in Melbourne. He I raised the idea with J.K.Walker on one of his wine selling visits to the southern city. As a result the Wine and Food Society of NSW was launched in the Rhine Castle Cellars on 9 March, 1939, with the inaugural dinner held at the University Club in Phillip Street on July 13 of that year. The founding members were five men whose names were indelibly associated with fine wine and food - J.K.Walker, Dr Gilbert Phillips, Maurice O'Shea, Henri Renault and Gilbert Graham.
Dr Gilbert Phillips, a leading neuro-surgeon, was an imposing figure over two metres tall. He was also an imposing leader of the fledging Society being elected its first president and remaining in that position until 1944.
The Society continued meeting weekly in the Rhine Castle Cellars with occasional sortees to hotels or restaurants. In the cellar the Renaults produced culinary wonders on their primitive equipment. An early member, Paul Haege, made a special request for a tripe dish, a la mode de Caen, named after many ingredients available then that one seldom sees today; calves feet and cox combs for example. We used calves feet for the gelatinous sauce in the tripe dish. It was a great success. Paul relished it so much that he was eating from a vegetable dish rather than a plate!
For the larger dinners, the menu usually was one of the popular dishes of Provincial France. Keanne winces at the memory of one meal. "Henri decided to prepare a sole dish with sauce Margeury", she said. "The sauce contained shellfish, champignons, lobster pieces and scallops cooked quickly in white wine and cream. But first we had to skin and clean the 89 New Zealand sole he bought at the Fish Markets that morning. I thought I would have no skin left on my hands. We produced some extraordinary meals considering the improvisation necessary".
Mrs Florence Lockey, who was a much-loved and valued member of the team, arrived on the scene in the Rhine Castle Cellar days. She worked closely with the Renaults in the preparations for the Tuesday lunches and remained with the society for many years as the maitre'd "no-nonsense" controller of proceedings with a firm hand on the pre-dinner sherry decanter.
Membership of the new gastronomic group increased to 30 in the first two years. For space reasons alone it was necessary to hold the lunches in the larger dining rooms of hotels or restaurants. The first move was to Aaron's Hotel which was part of the Royal Exchange Building and just around the comer in Bent Street from the Rhine Castle Cellars.
In early 1940, the Society was meeting for lunch in Marton Hall Restaurant, Margaret Street, located in one of the city's first apartment blocks.
As life member and past president of the Society, Ron Thomas, recorded in his 1980's booklet on the Society, the lunches began with a welcoming sherry followed by the entree with white wine, "at a time when the growers in the Hunter Valley could not give the stuff away A Hunter River red wine always accompanied the main course and champagne with the sweets. Tradition formed that Johnnie Walker's wife rang the group at 5.30pm in order to break them up from lunch he said. There was no limit on the amount of wine which could be drunk."
In spite of the long lunches, few incidents have been reported resulting from the wine tasting. However, as J.H. Walker says, the tradition of members commenting on the food and wine after the meal sometimes caused outrage in the kitchens of host restaurants or hotels. He records the case of one member being chased out of the dining room into the city street followed by an angry chef. The Society was banned from some of the city's highly-regarded restaurants because of the sensitivity of the chefs to criticism of their food. This was the case at Marton Hall where the proprietor, John Sophocles, said he couldn't stand the Society and its members' food criticism any longer because the chefs refused to continue in his kitchen.
It was a difficult period for the Society to become established. World War to oppose the invasion of Europe by the German forces, was declared in 1939. Australian servicemen were sent off to Europe and the Middle East to help Great Britain resist the onslaught. Australia felt vulnerable as Japan threatened to invade southwards. The Australian Government imposed austerity measures, including food rationing, to concentrate on the war effort.
The war brought another interruption to the new Society. Henri Renault, a reserve Army officer, was called up by the French Government and in January, 1940, was ordered to Indo-China as an artillery lieutenant. Although, with the Society meeting in restaurants, he and Jeanne were no longer preparing the Tuesday lunches, they were consulted on menus and remained closely involved.
In early 1941, Jeanne was employed in Rose's Restaurant, York Street, the basement in which Renzo Remano opened his first nightclub before moving on. to Castlereagh Street. The proprietor of Roses was Billy Crow, a member of the Society. The manager was Sam Babicci, a saxophonist and well-known band leader. After being ejected from Marton Hall, the Society found a venue at Rose's for their weekly lunches. With a member as their host and Jeanne as menu consultant, the future for the Society seemed secure.
Within weeks however, Jeanne who had given birth to a baby two days before Henri left for Indo China, decided to join him. The French forces had been over-run by the Japanese in 1940 and the Vichy Government told its troops they had the choice of remaining where they were or returning to France which was under German occupation. Henri remained and Jeannie left Sydney to be with him in Saigon. However, a few months later, Henri was allowed to return to Australia. He and Jeanne arrived back in Sydney in early 1942.
Meanwhile, a familiar problem had arisen at Rose's Restaurant. Some years later, J.K.Walker described the incident to a former publicity officer of the Society, John Rourke. A member, John Fuller, had requested Irish stew, as a change from the haute cuisine. The stew was duly served to a gathering of 70 members. One member, Lionel Dare, a prominent divorce lawyer, accepted the role of chief food critic with much relish. "Dare paced up and down the floor composing his thoughts as if he were before the bench." J.K.Walker recalled. "He then launched into a detailed criticism of the stew. His case rested on the point that it was not a real Irish stew because it contained carrots! Sam Babicci, the manager, was serving drinks and he was seen to be going redder and redder in the face as the criticism of his restaurant's food mounted from this capable lawyer. Finally, Babicci could stand it no longer. He ordered the Society and its members from the restaurant never to return."
Out on the footpath, J.K.Walker, and two other leading members, Tibby Cotter and Ted Blaney, considered the fate of the Society and, after adjourning for a drink, they returned and asked Babicci to reconsider. Babicci was adamant and that was the end of the Society's sojourn of some nine months at Rose's.
However, a happy solution to the venue problem was soon to be found. Members of the Society were delighted to have Henri and Jeanne Renault back in their midst. They were welcomed at a large party in Princes Restaurant. Jeanne recalls the occasion. "Henri could not resume business in the wool trade because the Government had taken over sales, and in any case, most of Europe was under German occupation. On the night of the party, Gilbert Phillips suggested that we open a restaurant and make it the headquarters of the Wine and Food Society. We had not run a restaurant before, but the members were so enthusiastic they gave us confidence. Gilbert said, "With Henri in the kitchen and you at the helm in the dining room, it's sure to be a success".
To raise capital for the venture, the Society formed a trust with Joe Moore and Tom Cook as trustees and 30 other members subscribing money. The Renaults after some weeks of searching, found premises in a Paling's Music I Store building in Ash Street, a lane off Angel Place between George and Pitt Streets. They haunted auction rooms to obtain second-hand kitchen equipment. The tables, chairs and other furniture came from the sale of the Burswood Gardens restaurant fittings at Double Bay. An island gas stove with four ovens took pride of place in the kitchen.
The Hermitage Restaurant opened in July 1942 and was to remain the meeting place of the Wine and Food Society for 16 years. The regular Tuesday lunches were held there and "ladies' night" dinners were conducted every second month. The Renaults and their staff prepared and cooked the food. The Society provided the wine and cheese. The wine was cellared in the Hermitage.
"I remember the Hermitage fondly," J.H. Walker says in his lecture. "It was welcoming and cosy with pictures hanging on the walls in profusion." The kitchen brigade was headed by Paul Harbulot and John Ansurian and they produced "feasts fit for kings, he says. Mrs Florence Lockey was back on duty keeping a firm hand on the Members' Room. Accommodation was limited to 52 and members had to take turns in inviting guests.
"It was a pleasant and congenial atmosphere", Jeanne Renault said Members continued the tradition of commenting on the food and wine, but now in their special restaurant and their own "Club Room" they were able to do so without fear of being run into the streets. Indeed, Jeanne, who described the dish and its preparation, kept a record of the comments. The charge for the luncheon which was two shillings and sixpence in Johnnie Walker's cellar eventually increased to twelve shillings and sixpence at The Hermitage.
Some new members had little knowledge of food and wine and were there to learn. One such member was particularly unsophisticated, Jeanne remembers. "At one lunch, we served Steak Tartare", she said. "It was a very pretty dish served with a raw egg and garnished with chives and paprika. The member said he could not understand us serving raw steak. It was fit only for dogs". Others were quite discerning, she recalls. "A member one day said the Sauerkraut Alsace was not as crunchy as it should be. He was perfectly right. In Germany, the home of sauerkraut, the cabbage is fermented with rock salt in large barrels. In Sydney, we had to make do with tinned sauerkraut which lost its crispness with cooking. "
It was a happy period for the Society until the 1950's when Palings served eviction notices on the restaurant in court cases over three years sought to regain possession of the premises for music store use. The Hermitage finally closed in July 1957. Henri Renault, who contracted malaria in South-East Asia had not worked in the kitchen for some years, died three months before the closure.
The final curtain at The Hermitage was the end of an important era for the Society and the end of its long and fruitful association with the Renaults. Jeanne opened a short-lived and unsuccessful restaurant on Manly Wharf. The Society conducted its weekly luncheons in a number of city restaurants while it sought a permanent venue. In spite of its earlier eviction by John Sophocles, it returned for a short time to Marton Hall and then the Aarons Hotel, followed by the French Restaurant in Hamilton Street.
The next memorable period for the Society began at the Chevron Hotel in Macleay Street, Potts Point. A member of the society, Frank Christie, who was manager of the Chevron provided a fine dining room controlled by the food manager, Tony Bodhan. Neville Baker describes Bodhan as "brilliant" in his m field. "He knew more about food than anyone in Sydney at the time", he says. "We had many superb meals at the Chevron".
When Frank Christie transferred to the Australia Hotel as manager, the Society followed him. The grand Australian Hotel in Castlereagh Street remained the luncheon venue until the Society moved to its existing premises. Members were well-served in the dining room of Sydney's leading hotel of the day where the city's society ladies met for afternoon tea in the Emerald Room and most visiting celebrities chose to stay. An apprentice chef at the Australian was Bill Galvin, now head of the TAFE School of Cooking. When the Australian was closed for its sad demolition in the 1960's to make way for the existing MLC Centre, an American member, Bill Meeske, arranged for the Society to take up permanent rooms at the charming terrace premises of the Australian-American Association in Lower Fort Street. The Society with its library and wine cellar, remains there today.
Cooking and food appreciation has assumed a much greater importance to members of the Society over time. In the early years, wine appreciation was considered to be the primary interest of the group. From the foundation of the Society, members have included many of the State's foremost winemakers and connoisseurs. The synopses of the J.K.Walker lectures which follow demonstrate the enormous breadth of knowledge commanded by the Society from Australia's masters of wine making and judging. This knowledge disseminated through the Society to the public has had an important impact. It has been responsible, in part, for Australia becoming a discerning wine-drinking nation served by an industry of increasing international reputation.
Neville Baker recalls his introduction to the Society in the mid-1950s. He was invited to a party by his great friend, the late John Atherton (later editor of the Brisbane Courier-Mail). There he found the late Rudy Komon sitting in the middle of the floor with a bottle of wine before him. "Do you know anything about wine? Rudy asked. "No", said Neville. Well then, come here and let me teach you" Rudy replied. Rudy invited him to lunch at the Wine and Food Society and after being vetted by another member over lunch at the Royal Sydney Golf Club, he became a member of the Society in 1957. It was just after The Hermitage Restaurant period and the Society was meeting again at Aaron's Hotel.
Dr Ray Healey, a member since 1963, says the "benign, authoritarian "rule of Rudy Komon as cellarmaster for almost 20 years, was a major influence on members and their development of wine knowledge. "In those early years, wine tasting was considered the more important aspect of the Society", Dr Healey says. "Rudy had one of the best wine palates in Australia. As cellarmaster he did not delegate any authority. The selection and presentation of the wines was his job. If the food master did not consult early with Rudy, there was no assurance that the wine for lunch would match the menu."
However, this system helped overcome many "silly, traditional rules about what wines should be drunk with certain foods. "Sometimes, because of Rudy's selection without consultation, we found that we were given red wine with fish. But we discovered that as long as the wines were served in the correct order, it did not matter. Many of the traditional rules were adopted from England, but we found that they were not absolute"
Members of the Society acknowledge a large debt to Rudy Komon for the wine knowledge that he imparted to them and to the general community. Through Rudy the Society had a strong influence on judging at wine shows. Most wine show judges have been members of the Society.
Many other wine connoisseurs have exerted a major influence on the public through the Society. After all, it was as a result of the efforts of J.K.Walker, one of the State's earliest authorities, that the Society was formed. The names of J.K.Walker lecturers over the years read like an honour list of the I wine industry - Francois de Castella, Leo Buring, T.C. Seabrook, Maurice | O'Shea, David Sutherland-Smith, Colin Haselgrove, Len Evans, Max Lake - and so the list goes on.
Dr Healey points out that the NSW Society's promulgation of the Australian . wine industry is one of its major differences with similar societies overseas. In the late 1950's, Dr Healey was a member of Andre Simon's Wine and Food Society in London, the model for the Australian and American Societies. As an importer of French wines, Andre Simon formed his Society primarily as a profitmaking organisation to introduce his product to the English market. Similarly, Societies in North America were virtually chapters of the London organisation and conducted themselves as though they were in counties of England. They tasted and evaluated French wines almost entirely. The local American wine industry was supported only in his home State of California. The NSW Society from the outset was interested in fostering Australian wines. Its influences on. improving the quality of the local product has been immeasurable. Side by side with its emphasis on developing Australian wine tastes, the culinary expertise of members has grown enormously and has had a major impact on Australian cooking.
Neville Baker recalls his long period as Foodmaster from 1960 to 1970. "I was always interested in cooking", he says. "I taught myself mainly by reading cook books as recreation and experimenting. Anyone can cook as long as they! understand the chemistry of it, that is the effect of ingredients such as salt and I garlic".
In 1960, a group led by The Hon. F.M. (Mac) Hewitt, MLC, Rudy Komon, Arthur Moore, Harry Skolnik and Jim Cumming won election to the Society's committee. They successfully nominated Baker as Foodmaster. "When we were dining in restaurants, I would select a recipe, consult with the chef on Friday and then spend half an hour with him in the kitchen on Tuesday morning. When we started cooking ourselves, I was still young and brash. I would pick up the food at 10.00 am and go in at 11.00 am to cook the lunch. Now, I try the recipe three or four times with my wife and make sure I am all ready the day before. That's the result of competition today. The standards of the chefs have increased dramatically.
When Neville began dining out in his twenties, there were few restaurants in Sydney serving adventurous menus. Beppi's he describes as "brilliant" in 1955 (Beppi's still remains in East Sydney). Others long gone were the Adria and the Prague at King's Cross serving middle-European cuisine, Jim Bendroit's Caprice and the Hamlet at Pymble. When Neville opened his own restaurant, Claudis, at Neutral Bay in 1969, it was popular because of its menu which included such innovations for Sydney as crepes and souffles. "My dishes of that time would be terribly stodgy now", he says. "you must remember that in those days, few restaurants were owned by chefs. Now proprietor-chefs are the rule."
The culinary influence of the Society reached a wider audience when Neville as Foodmaster wrote a weekly food column for The Australian newspaper for six years in the 1960's. It was before the advent of food writers such as Leo Schoefield, Michael Dowe, Stephanie Alexander and Tony and Gay Bilson. "the missionary aspect of the Society was most important in those years", Neville says.
A former Foodmaster, Dr Ron Rodrigues (now retired from the Society who took over from Neville for a year in 1964, also had some exciting times in the kitchen. "It was fun planning the menus every week", he says. "But professional chefs don't like interference by expert amateurs. They often took umbrage. It was like arm wrestling. When I made a suggestion they would stick exactly to my words and the if it did not work out they would point to me. But when they learned that you knew what you were talking about, they co-operated".
One of his best chefs was Tom Stanton at Aaron's. But he was aghast on one occasion when he told Tom that the dish needed more salt. "Tom reached into a large bag and threw in a handful", he says. "I protested and he replied, "You said it needed more salt". It proved exactly the right amount."
There was consternation at another lunch when Dr Rodrigues served a dish of yearling horsemeat, bought at the only source, a pet shop, in red wine sauce. "It was delicious and the comments were complimentary until I disclosed what it was", he says. "The Consul-General for the Argentine, who was a guest, was a great horse-lover and he was most upset". A seafood meal at Aarons tricked all members who agreed it was a superb fresh flat fish, but it was not local flounder, they said. Dr Rodrigues revealed that it was frozen Icelandic sole taken off a ship that morning. "It was delicious when cooked immediately after being thawed, but when it was served again three weeks later after being stored in the freezer, it had lot its quality and was panned", he recalls.
One Valentine's Day he served stuffed lambs heart. Few members in those days liked offal, he says. "When they began ordering the hotels' alternative dish of steak, Neville Baker, who had returned by this time, jumped up and demanded that they try the dish. They voted it a great success".
Adventurous experimentation of this kind set the Society on a culinary path which it is still travelling. When the Society moved to its present premises in the Australian-American Association building in 1970, a new era began. It was freed from the restrictions of restaurant and hotel kitchens. A suitable chef could not be found. Neville Baker, who was President in 1970-71, suggested that members cook themselves. He took over the job for about half the lunches for the first year. So began an innovative tradition which continues to this day. Of the 187 members, some 30 take turns at preparing the Tuesday lunches. The comments of members after the meal remains an important element of the luncheons, but it takes on even more relevance when the criticism is directed I to the cooking skills of fellow members.
The gatherings of the Society are not all serious luncheons. Wine and food certainly, but much levity as well. Older members shake their heads in wonderment at the memory of the Elizabethan Night at the late Sam McMahon's Argyle Tavern at the Rocks in 1966. A banquet of legs of pork, chickens and ducks were cooked in the open courtyard on barbeques made from six, half 44 gallon drums while suckling pigs were roasted on a spit. There was six gallons of goose soup and for the dessert, restaurateur and bon vivant, Len Evans, provided gallons of syllabub (raspberry sauce) There were ceremonial, stuffed pigs' heads on the tables which were lit by large candelabra. John Hewitt, Mac's son, found a bakery to produce 'trenchers', the l hard bread plates used in Elizabethan days. The trenchermen of the Society ate l with the fingers from the bread plates assisted only by fish knives.
The food was supplied in great quantity, but so was the wine. Ron Rodrigues says each diner was issued with a half-pint tankard which was filled at the beginning with mead wine. "After a couple of these, everyone was with the fairies. he says. "Then we followed on with half-pints of red wine. Neville Baker remembers the former Daily Telegraph columnist, Ron Saw, arriving with the television food presenter, Graham Ker, before they went on to a city ball where Saw performed cartwheels down the floor. The Elizabethan Night was voted by all a memorable event.
Another such event in the 1960's was held at Penfolds Minchinbury Cellars, Rooty Hill. A spit the width of a house was built with stone and fired with I timber railway sleepers. About 5.00 p.m. Neville Baker arranged 80 half crayfish (bought for $3 each) on the spit. "We looked over the red crayfish on the embers to a brilliant red sunsets, he says. Everyone was overwhelmed. But of course the 80 guests had consumed 14 dozen bottles of champagne by then.
The influence which the Society has exerted on the flourishing Australian wine industry, is now a factor in developing the culinary tastes of Australians. The society has not only given the imprimatur to new Asian tastes brought by migrants, it is providing direction to a quite distinctive cooking.
We are now on the threshold of creating a world-recognised Australian cuisine. For years, we have laughed at our culinary reputation as the land of'4 meat pies and tomato sauce. Dr Healey for one believes that period has gone. Where is no doubt that a distinctive Australian cuisine is on the ways, he says. In the post-World War II years, Europeans, introduced us to their food. Now Australian chefs are developing their own blend of European and Asian cuisines. This is a combination of fresh Australian produce prepared under the French and Italian influence with Asian and Indian herbs and spices.
Dr Healey says this is very different from the American trend which is influenced by Hawaiian and Pacific tastes for fruit with meat dishes. Australian chefs have diverted from this path to follow their own methods. The Asian spices provide a special flavour to European dishes. In addition, they are cooked differently. Australian meat produce is of high quality and does not require the braising of European cooking. It is cooked quickly in the Japanese or Chinese manner. Welcome therefore to the era of the Australian cuisine.
The influence of the Society, and in particular its wine-making members, on the wine drinking habits of Australians has been equally profound. When the Society was formed in the late 1930s and for two decades afterwards, the enjoyment of table wines was limited to a small season of society who sought out the produce of the pioneer vineyards. Apart from a handful of restaurants and the dining rooms of a few leading hotels, wine was not available to the public in the manner accepted as normal today. On the contrary, a stigma attached to wine drinking stemming perhaps from our English heritage and a misplaced chauvinistic attitude to the lifestyle in other parts of Europe.
Many of us remember when wine by the glass (most sherries, muscats and other sweet varieties) was relegated behind the shuttered doors of infamous wine saloons. As we all know, wine of any quality suffered under the derisive, idiomatic name of "plonk". Fortunately, those crass days are behind us. The quality and range of Australian wines now equal the best the world has to offer. They are served as a matter of course in restaurants, bistros, hotel bars and dining rooms across the nation. Moreover, they are enjoyed by a discriminating public whose developed knowledge of wine enabled them to appreciate and savour the produce of Australia's rapidly expanded vineyards.
Of course, the sophistication which has come with migrants, and the internationalism brought by improved communications, and reduced feelings of isolation have played a large role in bringing about these changes. However, the J.K.Walker lectures reveal the surprisingly long history and remarkable expertise of Australian wine-makers. The mutual encouragement between the wine industry and the Wine and Food Society of NSW has been of great importance in developing the wines and the wine tastes of today.
The Wine and Food Society is flourishing after more than 50 years. Members still meet weekly for luncheons continuing the tradition began in "Johnnie Walkers Rhine Castle cellars in the 1930's. Comment and criticism of the wine and food following the lunch remains an essential element of the gatherings. The Society, as the synopses of the J.K.Walker lectures show, commands a vast range of knowledge on wine and food. With this publication, the Society, after celebrating its 50th anniversary, wishes to offer an insight into the lectures which are held in their entirety in the Society's library.