Double Delicious is the perfect title for this nourishing night of storytelling and food by Contemporary Asian Australian Performance. Perfect because it has the double-punch of engaging your tastebuds as well as your emotions, and because the five storyteller-cooks all share their experiences of living with two cultures: Australia, where they all currently live, and their Asian heritage. It’s also an apt title because the food that emerges from that fusion is properly delicious.
First up is Korean chef Heather Jeong, who shares her love of the rituals of kimchi alongside the story of her sometimes difficult relationship with her father, eventually serving up a dish that’s not at all the kind of refined cuisine you might expect from a chef of her talents. Actor Valerie Berry shares a story of her family migrating from the Philippines, and the way her mother used food to stay anchored to her culture. Dancer and choreographer Raghav Handa talks about his attempts to connect with India, and how living a fulfilled single life presents a unique cultural challenge, and Benjamin Law ruminates on life on the Sunshine Coast in the 1980s and ‘90s as one of the only Asian-Australian families around, while picking up cooking techniques that his ancestors have been practicing for hundreds of years.
The audience all sit at large round tables, like at a wedding reception. As each story ends, a group of waiters whisk into the room with a new tasting dish referenced by the performers. All together, it makes up a modest meal, but the real joy is savouring the spice in your mouth as the next chapter unfolds.
The show ends with a story from veteran celebrity chef and author Elizabeth Chong, who lays out her five decades working to share the joys of Chinese food, from establishing her own cooking school in the 1960s, to appearing alongside Bert Newton as a weekly guest on Good Morning Australia. Spending so many years in front of classrooms and cameras has made her an expert storyteller, and it’s a huge privilege to hear her reflections on her work and the legacy she’s created. And then, of course, to taste one of her signature dishes.
Original concept creator Annette Shun Wah and director Darren Yap keep a tight handle on these five tales, and bring an appropriate theatricality to the proceedings, using movement, Verity Hampson’s lighting and projections, and music from Nicholas Ng to immerse the audience in the worlds these stories take us inside. And the stories are frequently deeply moving and gently provocative, turning focus to Australia’s multiculturalism and the way that notions of authenticity are shaped by our world.
Apart from cross-cultural exchanges, reflected in the dishes that come our way, the major theme that comes through is legacy, and how cultural knowledge is passed down, preserved and evolved. The way that this will happen as the reality of our international environment continues to evolve is anybody’s guess. But Double Delicious demonstrates just how strong our desire – or maybe even our need – is to connect through food and embed our cultures within it.