Restaurant Criticism

Joan Campbell

Australian Restaurant Critics: Joan Campbell
Joan Campbell food editor of Vogue publications and Australia's most influential palate.
Photograph ©Tony Knox 1991

Food editor of Vogue Entertaining - hers are the sensitivities that sift through the "tastes of ..." to dictate how this season will taste.

She says: "People are essentially voyeurs and they love to know how other people live."And that is what she does so well - culinary snapshots of other cultures: "You want to just do something very simple like having prawns and put - what I call the taste of Thai is just quick - just a toss of it, really and have a bit of lemon grass and ginger and ... we have quite a lot of Italian stuff here and I'm not talking about dead serious Italian stuff I'm talking about 'tastes of' - people love the 'tastes of' - they love those roasted peppers, polenta's madly fashionable now ... we've tried Mexican and cast it out ... we've tried Cajun and cast it out and we've tried a lot of stuff - got bored with them, wrong tastes - I mean like that blackened red fish - that just ruins fish."

She doesn't think that the home cook: "is very interested anymore in making demi-glace, whereas they used to think it was wonderful to do all that ... they use balsamic vinegar, don't make a proper sauce, just a salsa." But, she says, a good grasp of the basics is essential: "it all leans on something else and the basics of everything are the same - you've got good basics you just change the flavours, with a good bavarois, you change fifty-seven flavours.

"I've come to the conclusion that chefs really aren't very interested in cooking these things [that require technique] - there's only a very few people who are and those are the ones that are trained."

What are they interested in cooking?: "Well salmon or something with salsa or char-grilled - I mean we are too far away [in Australia] to get real training."

Do a lot of them get away without learning the basics?: "Well this is the saddest thing because I mean they have got to have the basics - everybody has to have the basics because everything is a play on the

Leo Schofield questioned that: "Oh, but Leo's not a cook - he'd kill me for that - he does the best tomato salad out of Elizabeth David but that's where it ceases."

June 1991

Update November 1996

Joan is now Director of Food Vogue Publications. Her eye is undimmed and her importance increases.

Mietta O'Donnell & Tony Knox
©Mietta's 1996