From reliable sauces down under
WHEN Tony Bilson says ''a good restaurant should embrace all aspects of culture,'' he's not saying it off the top of his head.
At one of his landmark Sydney restaurants, Kinselas, patrons dined on some of Australia's most innovative cuisine while they viewed ground-breaking performances of cabaret, political satire and even modern dance - in a converted funeral parlour.
Mr Bilson, one of Australia's best-known chefs, is no food snob - he also says ''a hamburger can be a beautiful thing''.
The engaging Bilson will be the guest chef for this year's 6th annual festival of Australian wine and food at the Excelsior Hotel in Causeway Bay from May 1-15.
''There are really only two aspects to my cooking,'' he said. ''One is a great respect for the primary ingredient, which means getting the best available. The second is that the sauces provide a spectrum of tastes that complement that ingredient. It's accessible, modern and healthy - but not in a bean-sprout sort of way.'' This is Mr Bilson's first visit to Hongkong. A casual sort in a rumpled navy blue linen suit and Warhol-inspired bow tie, he feels completely at ease in Beijing, cooking for landed gentry in England or weaving his way home with friends after an evening at the pub.
He combines the attributes of a savvy host, one who enjoys the extremes of humanity, knows how to listen and contribute without dominating a conversation. He is the opposite of haughty.
Mr Bilson plans to give Hongkong diners an adequate choice over the next two weeks. Seafood and game will feature heavily, including such choices as ''Carpaccio of Tasmanian salmon marinated with chardonnay, chervil and virgin olive oil'', ''Sydney seafood quenelles with a shellfish tartar'', and ''Tasmanian lobster medallions braised in shiraz, with mushroom caps and garlic oil''.
A wide range of other Australian ingredients will also feature, including yabbies, lamb, venison, oysters, scallops, snapper, John Dory, Queensland tropical fruits and the magnificent King Island cheeses.
Australian wine commentator Roy Moorfield and the country's first Asian Sommelier of the Year, Malaysian-born William Chong, will also be on hand to explain the extensive range of Australian wines.
Despite the lively cultural scene that has developed in the country in recent years, Mr Bilson believes the overriding influence on better cuisine has been the development of Australian wine. ''The two go together,'' he said. ''In fact, my food is totally irrelevant without wine'' Mr Bilson has operated a number of restaurants over the past two decades and added to the development of the new Australian cuisine that developed from the 1970s.
In 1971, he met Gay Cheeseman and together they opened Bon Gout in a downmarket area of South Sydney, which ''served food unlike anything else that had been seen in Sydney''. After rave reviews, the Bilson name had established itself.
A few years later, they bought a rundown tea house on an estuary of the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney. Following a renovation designed by architect Glenn Murcutt, they launched the Berowra Waters Inn, today one of Australia's most famous restaurants.
In 1982, Mr Bilson and financier Leon Fink opened Kinselas, named after the funeral parlour that occupied the site, which quickly gained a reputation as one of Sydney's hottest performance venues.