A history of food in Australia and the rise of celebrity chefs like Peter Russell-Clarke and Bernard King

Peter Russell-Clarke's Come and Get It aired for 900 episodes . Picture: Getty Images
Peter Russell-Clarke's Come and Get It aired for 900 episodes . Picture: Getty Images

During the past two decades of the 20th century, food became something of a national obsession, and the "foodie" was its public face. The origin of the term is generally attributed to Gael Greene, writing in New York Magazine in 1980, but arguably it was with the publication of The Official Foodie Handbook by Ann Barr and Paul Levy in 1985 that the term became established.

"What is new about an interest in food?" they asked. "Everyone knows some older person who was called a 'gourmet' before the term 'foodie' arrived ... But foodies are new, children of the consumer boom ... Foodies are the ones talking about food in any gathering - salivating over restaurants, recipes, radicchio ... Food is the staple diet of social intercourse now."

And it was around this time that a class of journalist arose to enlighten the foodie.

Dorinda Hafner's A Taste of Africa was syndicated in 48 countries. Picture: SBS

Dorinda Hafner's A Taste of Africa was syndicated in 48 countries. Picture: SBS

Television and the rise of the celebrity chef

While there had been experimental and demonstration broadcasts of television since 1929 in Australia, the first licenses for public broadcasting were issued in 1956. In the same year Will Koeppen arrived in Australia from Berlin to be the executive chef of Melbourne's Chevron Hotel. Within a year Koeppen became the first chef appearing on the new medium. The Chef Presents screened between 1957 and 1959 on the commercial station HSV-7, beginning with just five minutes wedged before the 7pm news, and expanding to 15 minutes in the afternoon before Every Woman's Theatre, a half-hour drama series.

There was a six-year hiatus before the next television chef appeared. Graham Kerr was a self-taught cook, crediting the beginning of his career as the specialty catering officer in the British Army in the 1950s. He first appeared as a television chef in New Zealand.

In 1965 he was inveigled by Harry M. Miller, an Australian entertainment manager and entrepreneur, to present a half-hour cooking show, Entertaining with Kerr, on the recently established Network Ten. Kerr cooked while impeccably dressed in suit and tie, wine glass in hand, from which he would generously "slosh" wine into whatever he was cooking, arguably single-handedly popularising the practice.

True to the Land: A history of food in Australia, by Paul van Reyk. Reaktion Books, $49.99.

True to the Land: A history of food in Australia, by Paul van Reyk. Reaktion Books, $49.99.

Graham Kerr's Studio Kitchen can lay claim to the first cookery book tie-in to a television program. It brought together recipes Kerr had published in the program guide magazine TV Week. Kerr left Australia for Canada in 1969 to embark on a new series, The Galloping Gourmet, which also screened in Australia in 1969-71.

Where Kerr had presented with a Savile Row panache, his successor in the national-television-chef spot was the flamboyant Bernard King. King's career famously began with a lunch he hosted for actress Vivien Leigh.

Maureen Kistle, presenter of ABC television's A Woman's World, was also at the lunch and asked King to show his skills on the program. King went on to host a daily segment on Network Ten's Good Morning Australia, and then his own show King's Kitchen, which aired from 1972 to 1983.

King was the first television chef to promote sponsor-supplied products on his show.

Continuing the line of television chefs during this period were Peter Russell-Clarke and Ian Parmenter. Russell-Clarke hosted a five-minute show called Come and Get It, airing 900 episodes on the ABC network for nine years during the 1980s.

Ian Parmenter, like King and Russell-Clarke before him, was a self-taught cook. He was a journalist who joined the ABC network in 1974 and began presenting Consuming Passions in 1992. The program aired until 2001 and was sold on to 15 countries.

Ian Parmenter was a self-taught cook. Picture: Supplied

Ian Parmenter was a self-taught cook. Picture: Supplied

The men did not have it all their way, however. Ghanaian Dorinda Hafner responded to racism against her children in a primary school in Adelaide by beginning a cultural food program in the 1980s. The program was successful and Hafner soon was catering Cuisine Africaine private dinner parties. She then successfully approached the Special Broadcasting Service for a television program, A Taste of Africa. Hafner's program was syndicated in 48 countries.

Elizabeth Chong began her time as a television chef with short segments on the Network Ten breakfast program Good Morning Australia and went on to host and cook on her Tiny Delights series, which combined her travels around China with in-studio cooking demonstrations of Chinese regional dishes.

  • This is an edited extract from True to the Land: A history of food in Australia, by Paul van Reyk. Reaktion Books, $49.99.
This story Come and get it! The early days of the celebrity chef first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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