Plain Fare to Fusion: Ethnic Impacts on the Process of Maturity in Brisbane's Restaurant Sector

Article excerpt

This article continues the advocacy themes of recent hospitality research, which promote an interdisciplinary approach. This embraces the culinary arts, broader humanities disciplines and media studies, among others, and might complement the dominant technical and business discourse apparent in hospitality management and food and beverage operations education and practice. Drawing on some of these alternative approaches, this article explores the historical development of an ethnically diverse contemporary restaurant scene in Queensland's capital city, Brisbane, Australia. It is argued that consumer demand has been the primary driver of this apparent culinary diversity. On the other hand, the proposition that this phenomenon of culinary diversity in Brisbane restaurants is attributable to colonial ethnic enclaves and the postwar immigration boom is critically appraised. This article's contribution is that it recognises, within this Queensland perspective, that market forces can be identified by, and the hospitality sector might benefit from, fields of endeavour beyond a business management framework.


Hospitality researchers acknowledge the contribution to credibility and accessibility of an interdisciplinary approach to its study (Brookes, Hampton & Roper, 1999). It has also been suggested that embracing gastronomic studies (Santich, 2004), 'history, culture, sociology, anthropology, philosophy' (O'Mahony, 2003, p. 37) and scrutinising the influence of the media (Bannerman, 1998) might complement the dominant paradigm of technical and business management foci currently in vogue with hospitality and food and beverage operations education and practice (Lynch, 2005). This article adopts a number of research methods from these social sciences, and develops a critical narrative. It argues that the ethnically diverse restaurant scene in Brisbane is a result of a plethora of social, political, cultural and economic factors, while concurrently it challenges the notion that earlier ethnic migrations into Queensland--at the turn of the 20th century and during the postwar (World War II) boom--contributed to this diversity. It is the objective of this article to demonstrate the potential value of critical scholarship, particularly in understanding dimensions of consumer demand, to the field of hospitality and tourism research.

Research Setting

Brisbane's contemporary restaurant scene is ethnically diverse. There is a high proportion of ethnic theme restaurants, ranging from Belgian to the ubiquitous Thai, and representations from traditional European styles like Swiss, speciality Asian cuisines including Sri Lankan, and an assortment of styles from the Americas. Ethnic influences are also visible in a great number of other establishments labelling themselves as 'moderne', modern Australian, a la carte, seafood, contemporary or fusion. In the 1950s, however, there were fewer restaurants and an even smaller proportion that were in any way affected by ethnic influences. At first glance, it seems plausible to attribute the development of ethnic diversity manifest in Brisbane's restaurants to long-time resident ethnic populations in Queensland--for example, the Chinese, or to the influx of migrants into Brisbane after World War II. Indeed, Symons (1982) notes that similar claims were made about the influence of postwar migration on restaurant food styles in the southern states.

It is argued that this proposition is insufficient to explain the diversity of cuisines evident in Brisbane today. Rather, a multifaceted explanation is offered. The postwar immigration boom is acknowledged inasmuch as it contributed to next generational ethnic communities who sought culinary experiences reflecting their heritage. However, emphasis is placed on the impact of a plethora of social, economic, cultural and political determinants, including tourism, class constructions, changing gender roles, Labor's official endorsement of multiculturalism in the early 1970s, media campaigning and the preeminence of Brisbane as a host for world events. …