Christine Manfield, one of Australia’s most celebrated chefs and culinary ambassadors, speaks to BeanScene about her fascination with flavour and the importance of being brave.
Christine Manfield believes there are some things that should be enjoyed in their most natural form, and coffee is one of them. Mention of latte alternatives such as matcha, chai, broccoli, turmeric or cauliflower spark strong resistance from Christine, with the culinary icon questioning the interest and purpose in such fads.
“Sometimes we just need to take a leaf out of the Italians’ book. Go to Italy and get an education on how coffee should be served. It’s not to be drunk in large volumes, or with new-age alternatives. Coffee is coffee and milk is milk. I’m a purist when it comes to coffee. I find it offensive and so Americanised when it’s served as anything else,” Christine tells BeanScene.
Rather, Christine credits Australia’s European population for helping develop our coffee culture.
“We’ve been lucky. Italian immigration, which largely began in Melbourne, has had a really positive effect on Australian food, wine, and coffee culture. Because of the country’s immigrant history, we’ve been able to share great food and traditions with so many people,” Christine says.
Her own coffee tradition starts with a piccolo each morning, or a macchiato with a little extra milk on the side, which she caps at two by midday.
“I look for delicious flavour and texture, and nothing too acidic or astringent. Everyone’s palate is different. Some like it a bit more acidic and some like it more fruity, so it’s not definitive,” Christine says. “I don’t ever settle for second best, and that extends to good coffee. Life’s too short to drink crap.”
Christine admits she did abandon coffee for six years to alkalise her diet, a decision to help reduce coffee’s effect on arthritis and her gut health. While Christine says the impact was immediate, some things had to give, including her favourite vegetable eggplant and coffee, which she’s reintroduced to her diet.
When she’s not using her Nespresso capsule machine at home, a device Christine says “delivers consistency” and “takes the brainwork out of coffee making”, she enjoys visiting her local Sydney cafés. This includes Room 10 and Zinc Café in Potts Point, Latteria in Darlinghurst, and Brother Baba Budan and Patricia Coffee Brewers when in Melbourne.
“There’s so much good stuff in Melbourne. Sydney has gotten a lot better but if I had to say it, Melbourne still has the upper edge,” Christine says.
“What’s happened in the Australian coffee industry in the past five to 10 years has been pretty extraordinary, especially in terms of coffee roasting, which has gone through the roof. It’s pretty exciting. We can now offer a fresher product without having to rely on imported brands that have sat on a ship for four months and lost some of its freshness, vitality, and viscosity.”
Across the North Pacific Ocean into the United States, Christine still finds the coffee culture disappointing, and similarly in India, which despite its many coffee farms has “gone down the Starbucks, American chain route”. She does, however, commend London as one of the most progressive coffee cities.
“Lots of Australians have gone over there and spread good coffee culture and awareness. London now has a flourishing barista scene – check out Pavilion Café & Bakery on Broadway Market – and that’s the good thing about coffee in general, it’s flourishing,” Christine says.
That extends to Cape Town in South Africa where Christine spent half the day at Truth Coffee Roasting with Owner David Donde, and Tribe Coffee Roasting & Café, both employing Melbourne-trained baristas.
Beyond the café walls, Christine has also travelled to origin to experience coffee production in Bhutan, India, Vietnam, Colombia, Kenya, and Ecuador.
“It’s always good to see where things originate. Coffee appreciation has definitely evolved in the past 10 years from chefs and consumers. A lot of work is going into education and public awareness. More and more, we want to focus on the provenance of food source, minimise food miles, and eat healthier. Coffee is part and parcel with that,” Christine says.
“I’m a firm believer that everything has to be sustainable and free trade – the automatic markers we should be considering for everything we buy in our food chain, not just coffee.”
Christine describes her culinary career as “a never ending story”. She started out working as a hairdresser then a teacher, both of which she pursued for seven years. Christine turned to commercial kitchens in the 1980s with no formal training but a fascination for flavour and the origins of different cuisines. It’s this curiosity that’s led Christine to a fruitful career as a restaurateur at the helm of highly acclaimed restaurants including Paramount in Sydney from 1993 to 2000, East@West in London from 2003 to 2005, and Universal in Sydney from 2007 to 2013, in which she served seasonal coffee from Sydney-based Single O coffee roasters.
“I had no game plan. [Cooking] was just something I started doing and really enjoyed,” Christine says. “You can’t know it all when you start. But for me, it was about having an open mind, being curious, making brave decisions, and being prepared to step right outside of my comfort zone. It’s advice I give to lots of people in the industry. If you’re going to be timid and not brave enough, then really it’s not the game for you.
“The beautiful thing about the food world is that you can never stop learning. It’s infinite. There are always new things to discover. As long as I stay engaged, challenged, and interested, I’ll keep going. I’ve always had a very lateral approach to my work, and such a broad playing field. I’m not restricted or pigeonholed into one cuisine or country. I want to explore the whole lot.”
And explore she has. Using her travel expeditions and industry experience as inspiration, Christine has published 13 cookbooks (the 14th is on the way), and cements her love of coffee as an ingredient from “way back” when her first dessert book featured a chocolate tart with an espresso ice-cream cone on the cover.
“For me, it’s about working out what flavours are compatible with each other so you get a complete synergy and lovely chemistry happening in your mouth. Having a finely tuned, astute palate allows me to experiment with the alchemy of how flavours all work together,” Christine says.
This article appears in FULL in the August edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe HERE.
For more information on Christine Manfield’s upcoming food tours in 2019 and 2020, visit christinemanfield.com/tours