Gastronomic gadabout Cindy Bunt has never been overseas — she travels from her kitchen

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

Despite having never travelled overseas, the 46-year-old has an obsession with exploring flavours different to the ones she experienced growing up in rural Australia.

Ms Bunt runs cooking and gardening classes from her home in Compton.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Getting an early love of rye toast and pickles from her German father, it wasn’t until the inception of the internet that Ms Bunt could really venture outside meat and three veg.

“As soon as I could look up recipes and see a gorgeous picture of the food … I would work backwards and make [the dishes],” Ms Bunt said.

A woman in a brown knitted sweater stands over a rustic kitchen bench cutting capsicums, smiling.
Ms Bunt is able to share a world of flavour from her country kitchen.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

But it wasn’t until Cindy and her then husband hosted backpackers through a farm workers program that her world really opened up.

Between 2011 and 2015, Ms Bunt had 150 people from around the world stay and work on the family’s farm at Apsley, a small Victorian town with a few hundred people.

Accustomed to feeding large numbers, Ms Bunt was running a nursery and cafe at the time.

At the end of each day, they would often have 10 or so people around the table, sharing a dish cooked with fresh ingredients from the garden.

Cindy Bush Australian bush meal
A table set for a French meal in an Australian bush setting is prepared by farm worker Matthias.(Supplied: Cindy Bunt)

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

“It was such a joyful time.”

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

Two men with beards stand inside a kitchen smiling, strips of dry spaghetti hanging from their arms.
Backpackers from France and Wales act as Ms Bunt’s pasta drying rack.(Supplied: Robyn Verrall)

Then there were the two Taiwanese women who made Cindy a 40 clove of garlic soup, a supposed remedy for menstrual pain.

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

Making it your own

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

Since then, her weekly workshops have taught people to make Lebanese-inspired food, to Korean, Japanese, Moroccan, and beyond — often for the first time.

“Because [a lot of these people] live rurally, the chances of [them] getting this food or trying this food is limited to none,” Ms Bunt said.

A bowl of hummus tip garnished with purple flower petals and olive oil.
Hummus from Ms Bunt’s Lebanese feast class.(Supplied: Cindy Bunt)

When it comes to dish selection, Ms Bunt tends to stick with the better-known dishes.

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

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

40 small labels with gardening and cooking classes written on them, pinned to a wall.
Some of the regular classes Ms Bunt runs, including macarons, Vietnamese feasts and Spanish paella.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

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

As well as having no cultural ties to any of the places she cooks from — aside from friends she has made on the farm — Ms Bunt will never be able to fully recreate these dishes.

“The flavour is going to be characterised 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, pictured in India, is happy to see dishes popping up outside of their usual settings.(Supplied: Dr Trang X. Ta)

Sharing food in faraway places

Having said that, the Australian National University lecturer believes there is a place for people to “capitalise” on food from outside their culture.

Growing up in Seattle but born in Vietnam to Asian parents, Dr Trang is a self-described “advocate for difference”.

She would rather see a white woman sell Chinese food than have no Chinese at all.

“Not everyone has the privilege to have the resources to travel to those regions and taste those distinctive flavours.

Tables lined with hundreds of different meat and seafood skewers.
Dr Ta visits often visits China for work, as well as other Chinese-speaking nations such as Singapore and Hong Kong.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

The important thing is to avoid any claims to authenticity.

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

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

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

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