Looking back at the Gold Coast’s food history, moments and places stand out like lightbulbs, heralding the pathways to change.
If the 20-year-ago mark was defined by the introduction of specialty coffee and café culture (largely thanks to Simon Gloftis), the last ten years have witnessed a multi-faceted diversity of cuisine, dining venues and service models. Not quite feast and famine, the stratospheric growth of the Gold Coast made hospitality a boom industry, only to be reined in by the pandemic, our adaptability tested to the max.
About ten years ago, the Gold Coast began to shrug off its maligned reputation as a tourist-driven ‘fast food’ mecca, establishing itself as one of the ‘hatted’ capitals of South-East Queensland. Restaurants such as The Fishhouse gained an international reputation for both food and wine, and Double Zero became the first pizzeria in Queensland to be granted international accreditation by Verace Pizza Napoletana Association.
A new home to numerous esteemed celebrity chefs who had worked with the likes of Rene Redzepi, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, the Coast became a foodie destination with food tourism being one of the three main reasons tourists give for visiting our city.
A Rethink of ‘Restaurant’
The idea of ‘dining out’ has changed dramatically over the last ten years. The movement from fine to more casual dining changed the industry, with eating out no longer reserved for a special occasion. More casual styles of ‘eateries’ such as Madame Tojo and Black Coffee Lyrics emerged that broke unwritten dining rules, and simpler food was served on our plates.
We basked in the sun at outdoor cafés and, when inside, ate at shopping centres remodelled as lifestyle venues where entertainment, food, financial and medical services were part of the shopping mix. Food trucks were legalised in the City of Gold Coast, bringing food to events and suburban streets. Miami Marketta and Night Quarter brought music, entertainment and food together under one roof, the highlight of the week for many Gold Coast locals.
The Rise of the Bakery
While sourdough bread had long held cult status in some circles, we can thank Ursula and Ben Watts for the rise of Gold Coast artisan bread. From the day the doors to their renovated Queenslander opened almost ten years ago, The Paddock Bakery took the Coast by storm. Since then, the Watts’s venues (and influence) have spread across the coast and down into North NSW producing wood-fired sourdough bread as well as chocolate oozing cookies, impossibly flaky cruffins and rich tarts of exceptional quality.
Meanwhile, Burleigh Baker’s Geoff Dance brought our attention to wholegrain sourdough bread as an aid to gut health and nutrition. To many, Geoff is ‘the face of Burleigh’. His commitment to organic and sustainable chemical free ingredients is legendary, his bread ‘the staff of life’.
Travel Through Food
As Australia has become more multiculturally diverse through immigration, our definition of Australian food has expanded. We not only take food journeys overseas, but migrants have brought their food to us, often adapting it to our produce and dining style.
Many will remember international food trends such as the rise of Taco Tuesday and the emergence of the Japanese izakaya, together with our eclectic gathering of inspiration from the Southeast Asian archipelago. We have seen some exciting international collaborations in our kitchens. As overseas travel has increased, so too has the demand for more cultural authenticity in our food. Pizza and tacos are two foods that show the full gamut of the journey.
Catering for Diversity
While the past ten years has seen an explosion of different cultural cuisines appear on our tables, a movement to inclusivity means that we are catering far better for dietaries. What was considered ‘fringe’ ten years ago has become an integral part of modern menus. Not only do we have excellent vegan restaurants such as Cardamom Pod Brickworks and Izakaya Midori, but most menus are clearly marked with gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. The Collective at Palm Beach is the epitome of modern dining with its five culturally influenced kitchens catering for a diversity of dietary requirements.
Crafty Beer & Spirits
Ten years ago, XXXX was our Queensland beer, and Cascade was seen as niche. How things have changed, with breweries and distilleries popping up across the Coast. Burleigh Brewing began a trend that grew into a mighty wave, our surf fraternity riding it to glory. Craft beer is now the norm. Gin making flourished due to its ease of production, with distilleries becoming tourist destinations as places to eat and drink.
Tech to Connect
Technology has been the runaway food medium of the last decade. From online booking platforms to QR code ordering in restaurants, almost every facet of food is channelled through media. We took the journey from Facebook to Instagram to Tik Tok chasing trending food products, recipes and hacks, with ‘influencers’ becoming the new ‘celebrity chefs’.
Wedged firmly between hedonism, dietaries and body image, ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ has never been truer than now, with young women driving food trends across the Gold Coast fed by what they see online.
Bring it to me
In the past ten years the ‘Meals on Wheels’ concept extended from the ‘shut in’ elderly to the whole population. Meals came from restaurants, ghost kitchens and food production companies tailored to buyers’ individual needs and delivered to the door, the trend amplified during Covid lockdowns. Supermarkets followed suit, pre-preparing meals to be finished or reheated at home. For many on the Coast, their everyday eating translated to easy, protein-rich meals ordered for the week. Ten years on, you can order a single choc top ice cream delivered to complete your own in-house Netflix experience. How bizarre!
The interest in our future has led to an overarching interest in sustainability, provenance (where our food comes from) and how food is produced, with food labeling struggling to keep up. Our outdoor lifestyle focuses on health (and hedonism), with coastal life trying to find a balance between the two. We have a plethora of local markets which bring us fresh food, some produce direct from local farms and artisan producers. Market shopping has become a weekly social outing, leading supermarkets to introduce marketing focused on ‘fresh’. Specialty supermarkets such as Ferry Road Markets, Harris Farms and Jones & Co boast a diversity of high-quality produce under one roof. They are the new food shopping destinations we could only have dreamed of ten years ago.
As we conclude the decade with financial clouds on the horizon and many households undergoing financial stress, the food industry is once more under the spotlight. There’s a trimming of the excess and a renewed focus on equity. Chefs are once more checking out underused cuts and overlooked, cheaper ingredients to cut costs. Lack of staffing has shed new light on employee happiness, with many more staff seeking work life balance and weekend work costs being passed on to consumers. Who knows what the next decade will bring.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was written for the 100th edition of Blank Street Press. For me, it was a huge honour to write food articles for Blank from editions 1 – 94. This retrospective seeks to cover the changes and trends that took place over that time Blank has been published. Let your own knowledge of the Coast help you fill in the details. Marj.