Foodie Gadabout Cindy Bunt has never been overseas – she travels from her kitchen

From her home in Compton on the Limestone Coast in South Australia, Cindy Bunt has made her living sharing the foods of different cultures at her Post & Rail cooking school.

Although she has never traveled overseas, the 46-year-old is obsessed with exploring different flavors from those she experienced growing up in rural Australia.

Ms Bunt runs cooking and gardening lessons from her home in Compton.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

Having had an early love of rye toast and pickles from her German father, it wasn’t until the creation of the internet that Ms Bunt was able to truly venture outside of meat and three veggies.

“As soon as I could search for recipes and see a great photo of the food…I would work backwards and do [the dishes]“said Ms. Bunt.

A woman wearing a brown knitted sweater stands over a rustic kitchen bench cutting peppers, smiling.
Mrs. Bunt is able to share a world of flavors from her country kitchen.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

But it wasn’t until Cindy and her then-husband took in backpackers through a farmworker program that her world really opened up.

Between 2011 and 2015, Ms Bunt brought 150 people from all over the world to stay and work on the family farm in Apsley, a small Victorian town of a few hundred people.

Accustomed to feeding large numbers, Mrs Bunt at the time ran a nursery and a café.

At the end of each day, they often had about ten people around the table, sharing a dish cooked with fresh ingredients from the garden.

Cindy Bush Aussie Bush Meal
A table laid for a French meal in an Australian bush setting is prepared by farmhand Matthias.(Provided: Cindy Bunt)

“We were talking about it during the day, ‘Which country should we visit tonight?'”

“It was such a happy moment.”

A Japanese visitor was so determined to make Cindy a traditional meal that he asked his mother to send in recipes for udon noodle soup, raw salmon sushi and chicken katsudon.

Two bearded men stand inside a kitchen smiling, strips of dry spaghetti hanging from their arms.
Backpackers from France and Wales act as pasta dryers for Mrs Bunt.(Provided: Robyn Verrall)

Then there were the two Taiwanese who prepared Cindy a soup with 40 cloves of garlic, a supposed cure for menstrual pain.

“Boy, oh boy that came out of your pores the next day,” Ms Bunt said.

make it your own

Inspired by all she has learned and seen, Ms Bunt opened her own cooking school in 2018.

Since then, his weekly workshops have taught people how to make dishes inspired by Lebanese, Korean, Japanese, Moroccan and beyond – often for the first time.

“Because [a lot of these people] live in rural areas, the chances of [them] getting that food or trying that food is limited to nothing,” Ms Bunt said.

A tip bowl of hummus topped with purple flower petals and olive oil.
Ms. Bunt’s Lebanese Feast Class Hummus.(Provided: Cindy Bunt)

When it comes to food selection, Mrs. Bunt tends to stick to the most well-known dishes.

“Basically, I’ll do the popular things we think [that culture’s] the food is,” Ms. Bunt said.

“[But] then I have to give my touch on it. I’m always a person with one less dish, one less step to get the same result.”

40 small labels with gardening and cooking lessons written on them, pinned to the wall.
Some of the regular courses Ms Bunt teaches including macaroons, Vietnamese feasts and Spanish paella.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

Ms. Bunt’s awareness of offering something slightly different is a good approach according to food anthropologist Trang X Ta.

Aside from having no cultural connection to any of the places she cooks — other than the friends she made at the farm — Ms. Bunt will never be able to fully recreate these dishes.

“The flavor is going to be characterized by the ingredients you have access to,” Dr. Trang said.

A woman in a green shawl stands in front of a wide mountain range at sunset.
Dr. Trang X. Ta, photographed in India, is happy to see dishes popping up outside of their usual setting.(Provided: Dr. Trang X. Ta)

Sharing food in distant places

That said, the Australian National University lecturer believes there is a place for people to “capitalize” on food outside of their culture.

Raised in Seattle but born in Vietnam to Asian parents, Dr. Trang describes himself as an “advocate of difference”.

She would rather see a white woman selling Chinese food than not have any Chinese at all.

“Not everyone is privileged to have the resources to travel to these regions and taste these distinctive flavors.

Tables lined with hundreds of different meat and seafood skewers.
Dr. Ta often travels to China for work, as well as to other Chinese-speaking countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

The important thing is to avoid any claim to authenticity.

But again, who has the power to define what is authentic?

“Cuisines around the world have always been a fusion of different ingredients from different parts of the world,” Dr. Trang said.

It’s a world with endless opportunities for Cindy Bunt.

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