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The mediated Asian-Australian food identity: from Charmaine Solomon to MasterChef Australia.

One of the results of the increased televisual focus on food and its subsequent flow-through to other media has been to increase the number of Asian-Australian faces on our Australian screens. From professional chefs like Kylie Kwong, Luke Nguyen and Peter Kuruvita to reality show successes Poh Ling Yeow and Adam Liaw, the conjunction of mediated food and Asian-Australian identity has been normalised. Indeed, a reality television food show without Asian contestants would seem a little unusual--by no means impossible, but lacking. One response to this might be to call on bell hooks' (1999: 179) observation--about commodity culture in general, not specifically food--that 'ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture'. While accepting the applicability of the comment generally, I believe that matters are more complex here, and the 'dull dish' already rather lively. Furthermore, this is not a recent move. Many people have contributed to that liveliness, not least the very substantial figure of Charmaine Solomon. In addition to giving Solomon more prominence in the scholarly debates around Asian-Australian food and culture, I want to explore the way she, Yeow, Liaw and others owe their breakthrough to competitions, the long-standing media practice of creating content by devising sites where people can exchange their abilities and knowledge for prizes, opportunities and even renown.

This is part of a larger argument about mediated Asian-Australian food identities, capitalising on the ambiguity of the word 'identity' by looking not just at the people who personalise the recipes they write and present in print, on television or online but also, through that, at food practices themselves: appearing on and watching food television; writing and reading cookbooks; making recipes from them and serving the results to others. Writing and publishing recipes, through whatever media, is a practice of sharing, and when those recipes are perceived as ethnically marked, while the composition of the audience for them is ethnically diverse, the practice can be seen as an instance of what Amanda Wise and Selvaraj Velayutham (2009) call 'everyday multiculturalism'. It may--or quite easily may not--enable what Ghassan Hage (1997: 118) calls a 'multiculturalism without migrants', but it is part of the gradual changes that Jean Duruz (2010: 48) sees reshaping 'the ethnoscapes of "home"'. Everyday multiculturalism contrasts with official multiculturalism by paying attention not to top-down normative desires and intentions, but rather to ordinary practices of interaction and exchange, and also rejection, in daily life.

I begin by examining food competitions--amateur and professional--considering how, for a very few people, they enable a shift from the first to the second category. This is followed by a consolidation of the available data on the history of Asian--especially Chinese--food and recipes in Australia, up to the publication of Solomon's South East Asian Cooking. Although it would be wrong to identify Solomon as a celebrity, she was certainly a leading cultural intermediary in the dissemination through magazines and cookbooks of knowledgeability about Asian culinary practices. Asian contestants on MasterChef Australia are chosen to represent the television competition's similar role.

Food competitions

Food competitions--both professional and amateur--have existed without media sponsorship for many years. The Country Women's Association (CWA) and the annual shows in which it is involved provide just one alternate avenue. Various food trade associations regularly hold professional competitions in a large range of fields from chocolate to sausage-making. Publicity about both these lead rarely to more than stories of results. Far more frequently, magazines and newspapers run competitions themselves for readers' best recipes, using food company sponsorship. They provide a steady stream of content for women's pages and women's magazines or, without the strong gender link, for dedicated food magazines--one of the rare areas of recent magazine market growth, although internet sites are taking their toll.

For almost all of the last century, cooking competitions in Australia were a print and especially magazine activity, with major annual contests sponsored by large food brands offering reasonably large cash prizes. Michael Symons (2014: 176) notes the very first issue of the Australian Women's Weekly offering a prize for best recipe in 1933. Women's magazines--especially the weekly mass-market ones--were the prime sites for domestic advice. With multiple readers per issue arising not just within single families, but from wider sharing of each copy, they targeted a wide range of readers. Furthermore, they were national outlets with only minor state variations--unlike newspapers and commercial radio, which tended to reverse the proportions. The exposure gained through these magazines--for people or for practices--was significant.

Print cookery competitions continue, but at a very mundane level. Television replaced them and, while online information about food and cooking is substantial, the dominant national competitions are televisual ones. Television cooking competitions did not really take off in Australia until well into the development of reality talent shows here. In the United Kingdom, the early versions of MasterChef using amateur cooks far preceded reality television, as did culinary game shows, and professional chefs competed in the daytime Ready Steady Cook for over a decade there before the show started in Australia. There is little local professional competition apart from that, and the very occasional celebrity variant of a primarily amateur program. Although the distinction is far from absolute, the strong tendency is and has been for the amateur competitions to be dominated by women (the names of the dominant magazines--and of the CWA--informally guarantee it) and the professional ones by men. Televised cooking competitions are more evenly gendered as far as the competitors are concerned, though males dominate those who set the tasks and judge the outcomes--they are, after all, professionals.

The concern here is with the amateur cooks and the larger competitions, and how these may provide an opportunity for individuals to change status: to move from cooking as a hobby to earning all or part of a living from food. I do not want to suggest that this is a major career path open to many, since it is not, but I do believe it has been instrumental in some small changes. Tania Lewis (2011: 111) reads it more broadly as contributing to perceptions about mobile labour: that hard work on the self and one's goals is rewarded.

In the rhetoric around reality talent shows, like the singing and dancing ones of the Got Talent franchise, one of the dominant mediated stories is that these shows take ordinary people, polish a few up, give them a brief taste of fame to the profit of the companies running or allied with the television production houses, then cut them adrift. There is some truth in this. For the great majority of applicants--even those who make it to contestants and stay on the show a while--there is no stardom. For more modest ambitions, reality talent shows can effect some individual breakthroughs and contestants get advantages through participation. Contrary to the rhetoric in which they are located, the music and dance shows rarely deliver careers to the untrained. Those competitions provide additional audition space and extra training. Though the rules exclude too-obvious examples, many contestants are semi-professional already.

Unlike dance academies, the kinds of cooking schools that contestants on television competitions attend operate to refine domestic skills, not prepare students for the professional world. Furthermore, the program rules explicitly exclude any contestants with food industry experience above very limited waiting on tables. (One 2015 MasterChef Australia contestant had to leave after the extent of his professional experience was revealed.) Televised food competitions actually can provide the opportunity to move from completely amateur to professional, but only very occasionally (despite what may seem to be implied) to professional chef. However, the food industry is quite diverse, and has many more roles available--especially for those with proven television experience. Where Solomon moved into continuing full-time employment, contemporary equivalents construct portfolio careers, as the examples of Marion Grasby and Dani Venn (discussed below) demonstrate.

Cooking or not, I believe that competitions involving skills provide a site for the presentation of a different and more representative demographic than that seen elsewhere on television, and for some of those identified to benefit professionally. It may be optimistic to see more meritocratic tendencies than tokenist ones, but there are significant differences between the demographic diversity of contestants on the old ABC show The New Inventors, where many contestants' accents revealed them as migrants, or on MasterChef Australia, where migrants' children are more common, compared with Australian commercial drama. Lewis (2011: 108) argues that ethnicity on MasterChef Australia acts to obscure class and thereby contributes to the show's presentation of an egalitarian, multicultural Australia. She is not explicit about the details of how, presumably, ethnic diversity disguises class homogeneity. She was writing only on the first two series, so the more recent necessity for contestants to have sufficient economic and social capital to become familiar with fashionable foodstuffs and advanced culinary techniques was a little less evident.

Asian food in Australia

One competition for professionals that unsurprisingly does receive substantial media coverage is the annual Sydney Morning Herald/Age Good Food Awards. 'Hats' are awarded under various categories to food establishments and their workers in New South Wales and Victoria, coverage is allocated and guidebooks are published. Similar awards and books exist in other states. They would not normally deserve a reference in this article were it not for a couple of comments by the leading Sydney food figure, Joanna Savill. In an overview article on the Sydney dining scene in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food supplement announcing the winners for 2014, Savill promoted a number of winning (Chinese) restaurants with the comment 'We've rediscovered our Cantonese heritage' (2014b: 12). Savill is not Chinese and the 'we' throughout the supplement is 'Sydney'. This is not a singular such reference, though the others are less confronting. The review of the best new restaurant, Mr Wong, refers to its cooking being 'in tune with our suburban Chinese memories' and providing 'fine renditions of Aussie-Canto staples' (Savill 2014a: 9). Many of the descriptions of award-winning restaurants note Asian influences, and Kylie Kwong is both given an award for innovation for her development of 'Chinese bush tucker' and called, with due deference to the other contender, 'our Kylie' (Griffin 2014: 15). All of this speaks valuably of the imbrication of Asian and Australian food, but it is the matter of 'our Cantonese heritage' that I want to consider further. It cannot be a genetic heritage for most of us, but could we have a culinary one? I am not seeking here to castigate Savill, who has a long career as a public figure speaking on the intersection of multiculturalism and food. I am taking this instance of everyday multiculturalism as the provocation for my investigation.

While the main focus here is on wider Asian influences, the consideration of the matter starts with the Chinese, arguably Cantonese. Annette Shun Wah and Greg Aitkin assert that many Chinese people were employed as cooks prior to the gold rushes and say there is even evidence that these cooks introduced Chinese flavourings to the dishes they cooked for non-Chinese consumers (1999: 11). However, the gold rushes saw the first establishment of Chinese-run restaurants, either on the goldfields offering mainly Australian food or in the cities catering to Chinese workers. Subsequently, many Chinese stayed in Australia running restaurants, market gardens or dry goods shops. Colin Bannerman does not believe those who stayed, but worked as cooks in hotels and at stations, cooked Chinese food (1998: 39). Cheon, the Chinese cook immortalised in Mrs Aeneas Gunn's autobiographical We of the Never-Never, did not cook Chinese food for any of his Northern Territory employers, according to a biography featuring the cover-line 'Australia's first Chinese Celebrity Cook' (Wong Hoy, 2012).

It is unclear how soon Chinese cooking moved beyond Chinese households and restaurants patronised by both Chinese and non-Chinese customers. The first evidence from magazine publishing comes in 1937 when the Woman's Mirror Cookery Book--a magazine spinoff--recommended Chinese food for its healthiness and printed several recipes that had been contributed to the magazine over the preceding twelve years by foreign residents (Bannerman 1998: 59). The Australian Women's Weekly had its first Chinese cooking feature in 1955 and Woman's Day brought out a Chinese cooking book in 1959 (1998: 60). Shun Wah and Aitkin (1999: 19) mention Margaret Fulton going shopping in Chinatown with Ethel Brice, also of Woman's Day, for ingredients and utensils for magazine photographs, and Maureen Simpson of the Sun newspaper exploring Chinese food in the 1950s.

The first Australian all-Chinese cookbook, containing only 30 recipes, was Roy Geechoun's Cooking the Chinese Way, which appeared in 1948 and went through six more editions over the next six years (Bannerman, 1998: 60). Shun Wah and Aitkin (1999: 16-18) mention a 1951 book, Chinese Culinary in Plain English by Willie Sou San. The most famous Australian cookbook of the 1950s was Ted Moloney and Deke Coleman's Oh for a French Wife! (1952). While the majority of the recipes were obviously French, it included an eleven-page Chinese section, 'Five courses for Confucius', with five recipes written by Moloney (1957: 49-59). Whether all these 1950s print instances are enough to constitute a Cantonese heritage more extensive than that provided by restaurants serving primarily Cantonese food is something that I will put on hold until later.

The much-travelled Hungarian-Australian Maria Kozslik Donovan published Far Eastern Epicure in 1958. Although this edition was with the American publisher, Doubleday, its subtitle was 'Chinese, Malayan, Japanese and Indonesian recipes adapted for Australian use'. The same subtitle appeared on the 1980 reprint, but for the first Australian edition in 1961 it was changed to 'A Culinary Journey to the Far East with Original Recipes and Drawings'. Whether the change indicated a judgement that Australians would be more interested in the travel comments than cooking the recipes is unclear, though under neither subtitle did it consider food practices already in Australia. A wider conception of Asian food already being cooked in Australia was certainly circulating at the time in the form of a range of multicultural community cookbooks published in the 1960s by Indonesian and other associations raising money through sharing recipes (Black 2007: 165, 170).

Charmaine Solomon

None of the preceding recipe collections could be considered evidence of the dissemination of information about Asian food preparation from an Asian writer to a broad cross-section of the Australian population. For that, it is necessary to return to the figure of Charmaine Solomon. She was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to Dutch Burgher parents, and came to Australia with her Burmese-born Baghdadi Jewish husband Reuben and two children in 1959. Though a trained journalist in Ceylon, in Australia she was initially a full-time housewife. She started entering magazine recipe competitions and had some minor successes before coming second in the Woman's Day Butter White Wings Bake Off in 1964. At the time, this was one of the premier Australian national food competitions open to amateurs. The circulation of Woman's Day was second only to that of the Australian Women's Weekly, and the rivalry was intense. Solomon succeeded not with an Asian recipe, but with a cheese roll. The success drew her to the attention of Margaret Fulton, the magazine's food editor, who promptly offered her a job. She worked for Woman's Day for eleven years, the final three of which she was food editor, before moving on to other magazines and newspapers. Fulton encouraged her to write her first book and introduced her to Paul Hamlyn, with which she published South East Asian Cooking in 1972. She became a full-time cookbook writer after leaving the magazines and now has 31 titles, as well as a line of chutneys and curry pastes, managed until his death by her husband.

As well as the cookbooks, it was through her magazine work that Solomon was a prime cultural intermediary taking information about Asian food into Australian households at a time when magazine consumption was substantial. Up to one-quarter of Australian households took the Australian Women's Weekly, and Woman's Day was not far behind. The ordinariness of magazines and the regularity with which they provided recipes for their readers made them arguably more important than cookbooks for the introduction and normalisation of new tastes. The parallel I am drawing between Solomon's magazine breakthrough and contemporary televised food competitors is not unwarranted once allowance is made for social and cultural changes around celebrity and self-promotion.

The various arguments about who introduced Asian food to Australian palates usually have Fulton and Solomon as the chief contenders. The dispute seems rather foolish, given the length of time Chinese food and recipes have been available, but the arguments rest primarily on mass-market cookbooks. Fulton's classic Margaret Fulton Cookbook was published in 1968 and included a substantial section on Chinese food. That year was important for the publication of Asian cookbooks by Australians: political scientist Rosemary Brissenden's South East Asian Food and Doris Ady's Curries from the Sultan's Kitchen: Recipes from India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon both appeared then. Ady was also of Dutch burgher background, though Rangoon born; she had arrived in Australia with her husband in 1956.

While television guest appearances were part of the promotion of Fulton's books, I can find no evidence that the same applied very much to Solomon (or, for that matter, Brissenden or Ady, but then neither of them was as substantial a food identity). George Negus's 2004 ABC TV interview with Solomon is short and anodyne, despite Negus's dogmatic insistence that Solomon was instrumental in introducing Australians to Asian food; however, he does reference one prior--probably commercial--television appearance. More recently, she has appeared as a guest on Rick Stein's Sydney episode of Taste of the Sea. She does not have a striking televisual presence, which may have been a factor in her absence, but one cannot rule out racism. In comparison, Fulton has had many television interviews and other appearances, and a long line of television commercials stretching back to the 1960s. She has also written a highly selective autobiography. Solomon has done no advertising except inasmuch as the curry paste line uses her name. Rather than an autobiography, she has a much reprinted scrapbook-like memoir with recipes, called Love and a Wooden Spoon, and occasional autobiographical comments in her own and others' cookbooks. Nonetheless, she is Australia's first major Asian food identity; some Asian restaurateurs may have had local prominence, but her renown was national. In stressing her competition breakthrough, I am not suggesting that this was a common path, but rather that it allowed this Asian-Australian woman the opportunity to become an international food identity and provide many Australians with access to the food practices of our geographic neighbours.

On national television, the first regular Asian-Australian figure I can identify is Elizabeth Chong, who has spent many years giving cooking classes in Sydney (Shun Wah and Aitkin: 1999: 53-5). It seems that this, rather than any cooking competition, led to her appearing on Good Morning Australia and then presenting Elizabeth Chong's Tiny Delights on SBS in 2003.

MasterChef Australia

Chong's SBS show was typical of food television prior to the arrival of the reality competition programs. Now both types screen--'name' presenter-cooks preparing several recipes to camera in the studio or on location, and the high-pressure elimination shows--making food television a larger category than previously was the case. Australian reality television food competitions began in 2009 with MasterChef Australia (MA) and subsequently involved such other shows as My Kitchen Rules (MKR), its stablemate My Restaurant Rules and Restaurant Revolution. Except for the occasional celebrity variant, they usually involve amateurs responding to cooking challenges set and judged by food professionals. From the beginning, they have usually rated very well, with MA and MKR by far the most successful. At the time of writing (August 2015), there were some signs of fatigue in the new offerings, especially evident with reasonably similar shows scheduled against one another, leading to the lower-rating one successfully being replaced by a video clip show focused on cat antics.

All television examples here are drawn from MA, since it has been the longest running, concentrates more on food than gimmicks to increase rivalry, and has produced the most successful food professionals. It is characteristic of reality talent shows for people from earlier series to have stronger subsequent careers, and this is true here too.

Non-Asian Julie Goodwin won the first MA series in 2009, and has had a continuing subsequent career with magazines, cookbooks, regular appearances on the Today show and her own late-afternoon cooking show on Nine. But, as with the White Wings competition of 1964, the second place-getter did well too. Malaysian-born Poh Ling Yeow was far more telegenic and arguably has enjoyed greater celebrity. (Yeow had already appeared on a previous television food competition--the ABC's not exactly reality TV show Beat the Chef in 2005.) After MA, she signed up with the ABC, for which she has filmed four series as well as releasing two cookbooks. The first series of Poh's Kitchen positioned her as a home cook, with a clear link to the cooking of another culture--Malaysian Chinese--cooking with a professionally trained chef from a different tradition. Most of the chefs specialised in food linked to their own ethnicity--Regina Dey cooked Indian, Andrew Ursini Italian, Jimmy Shu Chinese--but some of the highest profile chefs lacked this link, although they specialised in one nation's food: Neil Perry cooked Chinese, and Martin Boetz and David Thompson Thai. Thompson runs a highly regarded Thai restaurant in Bangkok and is often introduced with the detail that the Thai government asked him to establish a Thai cooking school in Bangkok.

The program thus destabilises ethnically located food knowledge through Thompson's Thai 'authenticity'. Additional destabilisation resulted from the set-up of the professional teaching the cook acting as the viewer's surrogate, but here the cook simultaneously retained her own ethnically marked authenticity. An episode where Thompson taught Yeow how to extract coconut cream from the nut seemed patronising until she reclaimed the viewpoint by announcing her intention to continue using the tinned version on the basis of the labour required to follow the 'authentic' route. Several episodes allowed Yeow to assert herself more by being set in Malaysia, where she cooked with relatives and local chefs. The second series involved her travelling all over Australia focusing on various food specialities, a greater variety of less celebrated guest chefs--including Indigenous ones--and very varied food styles. There followed the charity intervention show Poh's Kitchen Lends a Hand and the garden makeover and food program Poh & Co. All programs showed Yeow readily moving between different national food styles, with Asian styles only somewhat more prominently featured than others. The two cookbooks she has published so far are similarly eclectic in their range.

The second MA series was won by the Malaysian-Australian Adam Liaw, whose primary food allegiance is to Japan, where he worked as a lawyer for seven years. Liaw has published two cookbooks, both consisting of recipes drawn from several Asian national cuisines and his own reworkings of them. While he was one of three presenters on the first series of Destination Flavour on SBS, he was the sole presenter for the second series, set in Japan. All this also destabilises the tight ethnicity-national food link.

For both Yeow and Liaw, a commercial broadcaster provided the breakthrough, but public broadcasters continued the exposure. Successful non-Asian contestants have presented on commercial networks, albeit not in prime time. Justine Schofield, another from the first MA series, has an afternoon show on Channel Ten.

The second MA series was doubly productive for Asian amateur cooks developing professional food careers. Journalist Marion Grasby, whose Thai mother is a professional chef, progressed through much of the contest and, when eliminated, was offered several positions combining media and food. She has made guest appearances on commercial television programs, released a cookbook and made a television series, Marion's Thailand, for Foxtel's Lifestyle Food channel. She also has a range of Asian cooking ingredient kits.

The third MA series produced Sri Lankan-born Kumar Pereira, a graphic designer. Although he was eliminated just after the halfway mark, he had attracted a fan-base sufficient to enable him to release a cookbook and lead guided tours of Sri Lanka. The same series also featured Dani Venn, a descendant of early Chinese settlers, an arts marketer who has since worked in breakfast radio, established a catering company, participated in many live food events and appeared in cooking master-classes on the Coles supermarket website. Several of these people reappeared on television in 2012 in the MasterChef Allstars, refreshing their public presence and, through telling stories of their lives since their first appearances on the program, emphasising its power to alter contestants' lives for the good.

Subsequent series have continued to have several Asian-Australians among the contestants, but few have achieved much prominence within the food industry as yet. Even for the winners with a guaranteed book deal, managing a change of career can be slow. The fourth series third place-getter, Singaporean-Indian-Australian Audra Morice, has crafted a subsequent portfolio career of cooking classes, catering and a television series on a minor free-to-air channel and online. Eliminated earlier, Korean-Egyptian-Australian Amina Eishafei also now does catering and makes occasional public appearances. In addition, she has written a column for the Australian Women's Weekly and in 2015 brought out a cookbook with Lantern, until recently the leading Australian cookbook publisher. Yet she still needs to maintain full-time work as a paediatric nurse. Even if the evidence for the competition enabling several people each series to enter the food industry appears to be slowing, the ethnic range of contestants continues to be more diverse than for other reality shows, and indeed other programs featuring ordinary people. The apparently 'natural' link of ethnicity and food could be postulated as a component of a reality show casting director's mind-set or, more meritocratically, result from the opportunity to display skills during the elimination process.

Beyond the competitions

Food certainly makes possible a more representative cohort of Australians on television, not only through ordinary contestants, but also with professional chef presenters like Kylie Kwong, Luke Nguyen and Peter Kuruvita. In my study of television presenters in Australia and the United Kingdom, it was clear that without food programs, the racial diversity of presenters in both countries would be reduced significantly (Bonner, 2011: 27-8). But this way of achieving a more rounded demographic is not innocent. It risks reviving--or even strengthening, since in popular terms it has not been discounted--the belief that our flourishing food culture can be seen as an index of the success of postwar migration policies. That belief arose around Mediterranean migration and can be found in the writing of Don Dunstan (1976), Cherry Ripe (1993) and Rebecca Huntley (2008: 118-19), among others. It is variously contested, both from within food history and by studies of migration and post-coloniality.

Susan Sheridan (2000: 325-6, 329) argues that the introduction of European and Asian foods into Australian domestic culture in the 1960s was similar to what was happening at the same time in the United Kingdom and United States, and that in all three cases it resulted from a combination of migration and economic factors like consumer affluence and changes in food technology, but that the economic ones were most important. Michael Symons (2007: 265) advances a similar point. Others, including Ghassan Hage (1997: 99), argue also for the impact of increased international tourism by Australians. Hage (1997: 136) coins the term 'cosmo-multiculturalism' to identify an inequity in the conception of multiculturalism. He notes the idea that migration has enriched Australia focuses on those enriched, Anglo-Australians--the 'eaters' rather than the migrant 'feeders'. Like Lisa Heldke's (2003) 'food adventurers', cosmo-multiculturalists can vaunt their knowledge and daring in consuming diversity, but do so from a position of privilege. Hage's analysis contrasts migrants cooking and eating at home with middle-class Anglo-Australians eating at a range of ethnic restaurants to gain distinction from negotiating difference (1997: 118, 144).

Bob Hodge and John O'Carroll (2006) note substantial differences between first- and second-generation immigrants on the matter of enjoying food from other cultures, with the first generation closer to Hage's home and home cuisine-centred grouping. Hodge and O'Carroll (2006: 167) describe the shift to a food culture where Anglo-Celtic food is supplemented or even supplanted by a range of other types as 'a social instance of multiculture that nevertheless reflects individual acts of choice around the country'. The choices here may involve eating in restaurants or extending the repertoire of food cooked domestically by calling on mediated cooking advice. All MA contestants must show familiarity with many different styles of cooking. The program's premise assumes Australians hoping to succeed in a cooking competition, regardless of their original ethnic positioning, are practising multiculturalists in Hodge and O'Carroll's formulation of it.

While ethnicity does provide a starting point for the Asian-Australians I have mentioned to develop a mediated career, it does not, with the possible exceptions of Elizabeth Chong and Marion Grasby, appear to circumscribe their subsequent range. Nguyen and Kuruvita both started with a series on their 'home' country, but followed that success with wider-ranging further series. When Kwong personalises Chinese dishes, they tend to take on Thai flavours (as yet, her Chinese bush tucker has not featured on television or in her cookbooks). Solomon, Yeow and Liaw have ranged widely from the beginning: both Solomon's magazine work and, as just noted, the MA competition required it. In neither instance is this even bounded by an Asian remit, though this remains at the heart of their work. This latter could signify some form of homogenising that rejects national or ethnic specificity, allowing any Asian person to speak for all, but I think rather that it speaks to the existence of similar culinary techniques and staples (as Mediterranean does). When Ien Ang (2004: 149-50) pondered what unified people under the category 'Asian', she decided it was located in food: the consumption of rice. The dominance of Malaysia and Sri Lanka--both known for their hybrid cuisines--in the relevant cooks' and chefs' backgrounds is also relevant here.


And what about 'our Cantonese heritage'? It is time to return to the other identity matter: the place of Asian food in a mediated Australian identity. Food is obviously a vector to positive and slightly more frequent representation of Asian-Australians than elsewhere in the media, but has an Australian identity been forged integrating Asian food practices to the extent that we all have a Chinese heritage? I doubt it, but something has happened. The successful competitors mentioned here contribute to and capitalise on mediated Australian food practices and non-Asian contestants must be 'at home' with Asian ingredients and practices. Data on precisely who is consuming their products subsequently are unavailable--I assume there is demographic diversity among those who engage in these particular social instances of multiculture, but the public broadcasting dominance could reduce its extent. It has not been possible here to investigate the takeup of the knowledge and goods provided: the extent to which everyday multiculturalism is enacted in Australian shops, kitchens and dining spaces where food is shared. A small idea can be gained from Jean Duruz's many ethnographies of food memories (e.g. 2009, 2010), and intentions to engage signalled by the sales of related goods.

Nonetheless, it would be difficult to disentangle Asian influences from the current everyday food practices of the majority of Australians, regardless of their ethnic or probably their class backgrounds. The ubiquity of the stir-fry and takeaway sushi alone would make that hard. In using the word 'disentangle', I am, like many others writing of food and Australian multiculturalism (e.g. Duruz, 2010; Flowers and Swan, 2012), referencing the work of cultural geographers Ian Cook and Philip Crang (1996), who reject concepts of culinary mosaics, creolisation and hybridity to name contemporary (British) food and identities. They prefer 'entanglements' and 'displacements', required by concentrating, as Arjun Appadurai (1988) suggests, on cultural flows and networks. Cook and Crang (1996: 141) suggest that there are '"circuits of culinary culture" within which foods and knowledges about them are provided and consumed'. Asian foods, and the cooks and chefs on whose mediated knowledge Australians draw in their ordinary cooking and dining practices, are part of such a circuit. The back and forth enacted as Solomon does her on-the-ground research for The Complete Asian Cookbook, or as Yeow moves between Malaysia and Australia, or Liaw spends time in Japan, are clear cultural flows, mediated for viewers and readers by people who have been able to draw on homeland experiences to capitalise on a food competition breakthrough. While I still find Savill's assertion a little challenging, and I am sure Hage would regard it as extreme cosmo-multicultural hubris, Australians do have a long history of Asian food practices entangling with Anglo and European ones, even if it seems at times that competitions are required to enable a good range of variously qualified Asian-Australians to speak to all of us here about them.


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Frances Bonner is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland. Her work on non-fiction television and celebrity involves much attention to food related topics. Her most recent book is Personality Presenters: Television's Intermediaries with Viewers (Ashgate, 2011).
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Author:Bonner, Frances
Publication:Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 1, 2015
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