Ask any relatively intelligent American to throw out an Australian phrase, and he'll probably say either "G'day, mate" or "throw another shrimp on the barbie." This limited knowledge of Australian slang might lead one to think that Australians don't barbecue much other than shrimp, but this is, of course, not true.
The Australian notion of barbecuing is akin to our idea of grilling -- if you can put it on a grill and make it taste better, do it. And Australians love grilling, possibly more than we do. An article from CNN claims that nearly every Australian with a patio has a grill, and they love to use them to get a feeling of being outside the city on a relaxing vacation.
Of course, that's not what it's going to feel like at the Houston International Festival, where some of the city's finest chefs will be slaving over scalding grills for hours on end to create masterpieces of exotic barbecue. It will be hot. It will be brutal. And for those of us not cooking, it will likely be delicious.
The festival has lined up competitors Kevin Bryant of Eleven XI, Donald Chang of Nara, Dwayne Carrington of Fiesta Mart, Susie Jimenez of Trenza, Soren Pedersen of Sorrel Urban Bistro, Bob Iacovone of Fish & the Knife, Joe Gerardi of Fleming's Steakhouse, Staci Davis of Radical Eats, Patricia Alvarez-Burdette of Mr. Peeples and Jason Gould of Cyclone Anaya's. Gould is a native Australian, so he knows a thing or two about a good old fashioned barbecue.
"First off, you can't call it barbecue," he says. "It's barbie. During the summer we barbie every weekend. It's very much just grilling and spending time outdoors and gathering mates over and cooking up sausages, burgers, lamb chops and whatever else you can think of. You can make it as causal or as fancy and you like. There's no limit to what you can do when you're having a barbie."
Gould says his mom used to do all the cooking in the kitchen growing up, but the barbie was his father's territory, and his specialty was grilled potatoes. Because he's used to such a variety of foods finding their way onto his grill, Gould made sure that there will be many options at the cook-off. Unlike Texas barbecues, which are usually very beef-centered, this competition will feature other meats and seafood options in addition to Lone Star Legacy Beef, all provided by Fiesta Mart.
In Australia, the meats most traditionally prepared on the barbie are lamb and "sausage sizzle," similar to a hot dog but usually served in a slice of bread instead of a bun.
Gould is also involved with the Australian American Chamber of Commerce here in Houston (Did you know Perth is our sister city?), and he'll be working with the organization to serve sausage rolls, classic Australian street food, on May 3.
"Some people don't know much about Australian food," Gould says, "but it's not unlike modern American food in that it's influenced by all these other ethnicities. Australia was colonized by the British, but we have more Greeks than anywhere else in the world other than Greece. We have a huge Middle Eastern population, as well as many Chinese, Japanese and Sri Lankan people. The one thing that makes the cuisine unique to Australia is that we now have indigenous flavors in modern Australian food. Things that the aboriginals had been using for centuries are being incorporated into food to make it uniquely Australian."
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Gould intends to use some of these "uniquely Australian" flavors at the cook-off to truly showcase Australian barbecue...er...barbie.
I'll be there judging the event along with Peter Remington, the publisher of Houston Modern Luxury; Lance Zierlein, host of the morning show on Sports Talk 790; Eric Sandler, food writer at CultureMap; Ron Jenkins, a board member of the Houston Festival Foundation; and Daniel Vaughan, who last year was hired as barbecue editor at Texas Monthly.
If the barbecue cook-off isn't really your thing, check out the rest of the festival on the cheap with this week's Voice Daily Deal. Through tomorrow, get a ticket to the festival ($60 value) for just $30. The deal includes admission as well as food and beverages.