[White text on a black screen reads Rita Erlich, food and wine writer, editor, and consultant. In the right hand corner, the logo for Gusto! A culinary history of Victoria appears.
A woman in a red top sits in an empty restaurant. Behind her, a vase of colourful flowers stands on a white tablecloth-covered table. Stained glass windows let in the daylight.]
Rita Erlich: How I became involved in food writing is an interesting question because I’d always been interested in food and as a kid, I was interested in cooking rather than eating. Eating came much, much later. I’d written my first restaurant review for The Age when I was on staff ... in 1980. And then in 1983, Claude asked me if I’d join him in editing The Age Good Food Guide. When we reviewed restaurants for the Guide, Claude and I travelled all over the place. There was no place so remote we weren’t prepared to drive there. Which meant that my kids, who were growing up in the ’80s, ’cause they were born in the early ’80s, got to see a great deal of regional Victoria because we’d take summer holidays and Easter holidays and I’d say, 'Come on, there are restaurants we need to look at.' And I began collecting menus when I began reviewing restaurants because you could ask … Our habit was to introduce ourselves after we’d paid the bill. And we’d ask for a copy of the menu which became a record beyond the notes we took. And those menus just kept growing.
[Menus appear on a black background. The first, for Fanny's, is handwritten in elegant cursive script; the second, for Clichy, is handwritten with all the letters in upper case; the third, for Stephanie's in Spring 1984, is handwritten in cursive script with a floral border.]
Rita: And they became a terrific way of checking year to year how prices had changed, how menus had changed, how dishes had changed. Over the years, the collection grew and grew and grew. Now, every menu had something special – well, most menus, some more than others – most menus had something special.
[The front cover of a menu printed in green, black and cream features the name Two Faces in a bold serif font above images including a photographic print of a man and woman's faces, and a drawing of Cupid with a bow and arrow.
Inside, the menu is typed rather than handwritten.]
Rita: Two Faces was interesting because it was the menu that wasn’t handwritten. Even the daily specials weren’t handwritten.
[On the left side is a menu cover featuring a black circle containing the word Mietta’s printed in elegant cursive script. On the right side is a typewritten page of main courses.]
Rita: Printed menus were a sign of great formality. And we didn’t have menus that were written like shopping lists. 'Beef, Jerusalem artichokes … mushroom ... olive dust.' [Smiles broadly] And you think, 'Yeah, but how’s that cooked?' There were some menus which gave ... which went on for line after line, which were a kind of description of how the thing was cooked. So if you didn’t bring your glasses with you, you were in trouble. And there were ... The thing I didn’t like ... It’s easier to describe what I didn’t like. I was always wary of purple prose in menus and I watched out for verbs. I didn’t like things 'cascading'. I didn’t like things 'resting'. I didn’t particularly ... didn’t like things 'resting atop'. 'Resting atop a nest of' whatever it was.
It’s interesting how things change because they tend to go round in a great circle and at the beginning and end of the circle, people look at each other ... both ends look at each other with surprise and say, 'Oh, fancy meeting you here!' In the early ’80s, there were lots of very small growers and suppliers who knew that because there were restaurants opening all the time, they had an assured market, they had niche markets and that’s where we are now, only there are lots more restaurants now.
The ’80s were a rollercoaster, in fact. The ’80s were ... I think there were two or three recessions during the ’80s and it had a brief time of gorgeous, gorgeous excess. Just fabulous excess. There were chefs brought from France and from all over the place. There were wine dinners the like of which I have never ever seen again. So there were a few years where the motto was 'If you’ve got it, flaunt it.' In the early ’80s, Chardonnay was new and exciting. Chardonnay was the wine and you couldn’t give Shiraz away. Pinot grigio, Pinot gris didn’t exist. Riesling was having its same 'Now we love it, now we don’t' life. What else was around? Cabernet was big. Yarra Valley Cabernet was fabulous in the ’80s. We’re getting things now we didn’t get then. We’re getting ... For instance, shiitake mushrooms weren’t grown in Victoria, anywhere in the ’80s. There are now shiitake mushrooms grown in the Otways by suppliers who are doing fabulous things. We didn’t have ... we didn’t have rocket in the early ’80s. It was so ... I was so ... I’d like to go back there, actually. I get so tired of rocket salads. The wine industry has had a major part to play in the revitalisation of food in regional Victoria. Where there are good wineries, you get people travelling who want to eat well. So you get a market created.
[White credits on a black screen.
Senior producer: Andrew Barrie, Lightwell
Production assistant: Fiona McCallum, Lightwell
Editor: Steve McCallum
Direction and camera assistance: Antuong Nguyen
Cinematographer: Gus Kemp
Interviewer: Tracey Judd Iva (Gusto! exhibition curator)
Exhibition manager: Edwina Bartlem
Exhibition coordinator: Eleanor Adams
Rita Erlich, interviewed at Grossi Florentino, Melbourne
Concepts and research: Robert Heather, Tracey Judd Iva, Ann Carew, Edwina Bartlem, Anna Corkhill
Fanny’s c1980s, Clichy c1980s, Stephanie’s 1984, Two Faces c1970s and Mietta’s c1970s restaurant menus. Gift of Rita Erlich to the Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria, 2012.]
[The logo for Gusto! A culinary history of Victoria appears above the words A State Library of Victoria exhibition, 3 August 2012 – 28 April 2013. slv.vic.gov.au/gusto.
The logos of the State Library of Victoria and State Government of Victoria appear underneath.]
[Three lines of logos appear on a screen.
Sponsored by: City of Melbourne, William Angliss Institute.
Supported by: Markets of Melbourne.
Program partners: Melbourne Food & Wine Festival presented by Bank of Melbourne, Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, The Little Veggie Patch Company and The Sebel Heritage, Yarra Valley.]