Christine Manfield is one of Australia’s most celebrated chefs - a curious cook, a perfectionist inspired by the culinary melting pot of global flavours and textures, and a writer whose successful, award winning books – A Personal Guide to India & Bhutan, Dessert Divas, Tasting India, Fire, Spice, Stir, Paramount Cooking and Paramount Desserts have spiced up the lives of keen cooks everywhere.
As one of Australia’s leading culinary ambassadors, her professional culinary life as restaurateur culminated in three ground breaking, award winning restaurants: Paramount in Sydney 1993 to 2000, East@West in London 2003 to 2005 and Universal 2007 to 2013.
An inveterate traveller, Christine continues to broaden her global interests hosting bespoke gastronomic tours to exotic destinations including India, Spain, Morocco, Bhutan, France, SE Asia and Tasmania.
Why is celebrating cultural diversity important to you?
I have long been an advocate for equality in all its forms. It’s vital to celebrate cultural diversity, it makes a society all that much richer, to be Inclusive, sensitive to different needs and to be welcoming – to shout it from the rooftops. This (A Taste of Harmony) campaign is so very important given the shameful black period of our current political history that rules and divides with its bigotry and racism.
How do you embrace cultural diversity in your own life?
Back when I was a school teacher in Adelaide in the early ‘80s, I managed to get a kitchen built at the primary school for every class to use. One year, when I was the school’s visual arts teacher (literacy based learning through visual arts), I got each class to study one country for a month, to learn and appreciate its customs and culture, culminating in a ‘celebration of food’ day when each class prepared a dish from their chosen country and we set up hawker style stalls so kids could go around and taste. In addition, they were learning acceptance and tolerance and encouraging curiosity, breaking down barriers.
These days, it is easily expressed through my food and where I choose to work and with the people I choose to work with. My last restaurant Universal was named as a symbol of diversity, through flavours of the world and also those who made up the Universal team – we were from everywhere, uniting for a common cause – a story told through food.
Food is often the most direct way of breaking down barriers, prejudice and discrimination. Sharing food at the table with friends and strangers is often the least threatening way to get people to think about difference and diversity. Cooking is an act of love and something that can be so easily shared.
What is your favourite cuisine to cook and why?
I don’t have any one favourite, as I like flavours and cuisines from all over the world. Having the freedom to choose, keeps life interesting! I think that need for difference came from growing up in a place that was myopic and introspective, I wanted to see and taste the big wide world, it set me on my path, for which I am most grateful.
When it comes to food and cooking, what have you learnt from other cultures?
I am indebted to the direct influences that immigrants in Australia have made to our food culture and also through my travel experiences that have broadened my scope and palate, and informed so much of what I do at work. The growing awareness and respect of our aboriginal communities and indigenous foods has fortunately been added to the mix, we have something tangible and different to show the rest of the world.
Is there a food experience you will never forget from your around-the-world travels?
I travel anywhere the food is intriguing – and preferably spicy, that offers a point of difference to everyday life. There have been so many special WOW moments, whether it’s a new ingredient or a way of cooking and bringing flavours together that it’s too hard to single any one out, but collectively have given me a deep appreciation for celebrating point of difference.
Why should Australians celebrate A Taste of Harmony
It should be a custom, an automatic given to share and value different cultural customs, to see them equally and treated accordingly. Let’s show our best face to the world by celebrating and embracing diversity. There is absolutely nothing to fear.