The Weekend Australian - Magazine
A taste of reality
For switched-on Foodies, this show hits the spot
Aftertaste is one of the freshest things ABC Television has broadcast in years. Now, I realise you don’t come to this page for television commentary; rightly so. But given the central character of the series is a washed-up, penniless, Michelin-starred chef back home in Australia and desperately seeking redemption, the subject matter is presumed to be of some interest.
For a bit of quirky, light comedydrama in the vein of, say, Rosehaven, Aftertaste gets a whole lot more of the food/restaurant/chef thing right than some of our so-called reality TV series. And you can laugh with it. The script was, I have it on good authority, thoroughly researched in the company of a noted Adelaide chef over many bottles of wine.
Take this exchange between “angry white guy” chef/antihero Easton West (played by Willunga actor Erik Thomson) and a saucy, assertive winemaker named Margot (Rachel Griffiths). “Wow, that’s got some bite,” says the classicist Easton as he indulges in a pre-coital glass of Margot’s eponymous red among the spectacular rolling vineyards. Margot: “Our wines are 100 per cent natural; no pesticides, no preservatives. Just the taste of grape.” Easton: “One of those.” And later, after a fling in the barrel room that fails to excite the restaurant investment instincts in Margot that Easton had hoped for: “She’s a whack job; she makes natural wine – tastes like tinea and sheep’s piss.”
There’s a scene several episodes later when our man barbecues rabbits using a Hills Hoist, an idea stolen directly from the real-life Lola’s Pergola pop-up on the banks of the Torrens, part of the Adelaide Festival in 2014. So much of Aftertaste rings true.
But the real star of the show is the Adelaide Hills. It’s not food porn; it’s travel porn. Well, if you’re into beautiful hilly Australian countryside etched with vine rows, old country pubs, farmers markets and cute village restaurants. Aftertaste was indeed shot at locations across the Hills including Stirling and Uraidla; it breathed new life into Patch Kitchen & Garden, a Stirling cafe that shut its doors early in the Covid fiasco.
For television, Patch became Zhao’s, a fictional restaurant owned by wunderkind next-gen chef Ben Zhao, played by Remy Hii, who West once claimed would “never be anything more than a small-town Chinese cook”. Ouch. But people are coming from everywhere to eat at Zhao’s; he’s the bomb. And naturally, Zhao reckons the Michelin star system, and everything else West holds sacred, is a crock.
It’s a wonderful generational study of the way cookery, merit systems and the craft of the chef-restaurateur have changed in the past 25 years. “People are over the angry white guy shtick,” Zhao tells West from the smug pulpit of his own apparent success. And of course, he’s right. I’ve known a few Easton Wests in my time, chefs whose obstinacy has seen them fail natural selection.
Anyway, Zhao’s is nominally in
Uraidla; last time I was there the pub had recently reopened after a major (and appropriate) makeover; across the road was Lost in a Forest, a “wood oven wine lounge” co-owned by the late and muchlamented winemaker Taras Ochota. The very quirky but rather special Summertown Aristologist was going great guns 1km away, a “restaurant” also co-owned by a wine producer. Winemakers who may have inspired Margot were blossoming like spring leaves at bud-burst.
The whole area, it seemed, had turned into Woodstock for food and wine people toasting their good fortune with Basket Range pétillant naturel. Lucy Margaux, Jauma, Ochota Barrels, BK Wines, The Other Right, Gentle Folk – these are some of the most prominent labels in Australian natural, lowintervention wine, and the Hills wine scene’s sense of community is palpable. In the words of veteran New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov: “This counterculture is not a single group of winemakers working toward one goal, but a spectrum encompassing many different degrees of rebellion from the mainstream Australian standards set in the 1990s. What they have in common is the myriad beautiful wines they produce.”
Margot would be right at home. Easton has some adjustment to make. Can’t wait for season two.