The BBQ is an Australian comedy film written and directed by Stephen Amis, filmed on location at Wodonga. My Kitchen Rules co-host Manu Feildel has a guest role in this film.

Dazza has a passion for barbequing. He accidentally gives his neighbours food poisoning. To make amends he seeks tutelage from the tyrannical Scottish chef and together they enter an international barbecue competition.

Stars Shane Jacobson, Manu Feildel, Julia Zemiro, Magda Szubanski, Nicholas Hammond and Frederick
Genre Comedy

Where there's smoke

The great Australian barbecue is a distinctively egalitarian custom, and now, thanks to a multicultural cast, it has its own movie, writes CRAIG MATHIESON.

'' The barbecue is a cornerstone of Aussie culture and everyone puts aside their differences for a few hours to come together over a few snags.''

In 2013, Australian filmmaker Stephen Amis was thinking about his next movie. He'd just gone through the release of his previous feature, The 25th Reich, a loopy time-travel B-movie made for genre geeks, and now he wanted to do something completely the opposite, a work commercially broad and quintessentially Australian. What he came up was with a concept, a title, and a hook all in one flamegrilled form: the barbecue.

'' It's such an obvious Australian icon, just begging to be turned into a film ,'' recalls Amis. '' I couldn't actually figure out why it hadn't already been made at some point over the last 25 years. The barbecue is like a mythological watering hole where every animal comes together without conflict .''

Five years later the resulting film is released this Thursday on approximately 175 screens nationally. The BBQ is a genial Aussie comedy that stars screen everyman Shane Jacobson as Darren '' Dazza"Cook, a barbecue salesman and family man from the suburbs who presides over a backyard blowout every weekend, to the growing chagrin of his wife, Diane (Julia Zemiro, far away from the six-string chic of RocKwiz).

After a mishap involving unrefrigerated prawns brings on a mass bout of food poisoning that draws the attention of the media, Dazza has to make good by entering a barbecuing competition at the behest of his boss. To improve his chances he's sent off to be tutored by a barbecue master, the Butcher (Magda Szubanski, with a serious Scottish accent), before he has to confront his biggest rival, and her nefarious former protege, the egotistical French barbecue master Andre Mont Blanc (My Kitchen Rules host Manu Feildel).

What the film does, from the opening scene at a contented Dazza's barbecue, is fix the idea of a barbecue as a fulcrum of Australian society. As in real life, the barbecue is the great leveller, drawing in and cheerfully pollinating different classes and races. Because the basic idea is so utilitarian, nearly any culture can get their head around the idea of throwing some meat on a grill above a flame .

'' The idea of barbecuing is not particularly Australian, but it's certainly been embraced here in a very particular way,'' notes Professor Kate Darian-Smith , a historian at the University of Tasmania. '' In Australia we believe that everyone can barbecue and that everyone can put something on the barbecue. It's a simple, egalitarian way of cooking.

'' There's a whole barbecue industry now, and people are making it more elaborate, but it still builds on those simple beginnings.''

It's notable that when you're in the United States, for example, barbecue is a culinary reference, bringing to mind the low and slow cooked meats that have long been a delicacy of America's southern states - classic beef brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. In Australia the barbecue's focus has always been social, with a tradition so basic - sausages in white bread, chops - that the food was a secondary concern to the gathering that cooked it.

'' It's such a memorable experience: there's the smell, the heat from standing around the barbecue, the noise of playing children, and the food always tastes good because it's been prepared communally,'' says Darian-Smith , whose own barbecue upbringing was in her parents' backyard in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when like so many fathers of that era her dad was a proponent of '' very well done"meat.

'' The barbecue is a cornerstone of Aussie culture and everyone puts aside their differences for a few hours to come together over a few snags, charred chops and a potato salad,'' Amis says '' It's an incredible hobby and pastime, but it's also a community event. That's what I love about a barbecue and that's what drove the script. It's all about community and is multicultural.''

The idea of the barbecue, like much else, was brought back to Europe by Spanish explorers who observed the Taino, the 15th century indigenous people of the Caribbean, using a simple wooden framework to cook meat above a fire ; the flame and the smoke bestowed flavour on the chosen cuts (or entire beast) and that became what the Spanish called barbacoa. With few resources one could be set up virtually anywhere.

The concept had arrived in England before the First Fleet reached Botany Bay in January 1788, but while colonists were searing meat throughout the 19th century - when the railway arrived in the central NSW town of Mudgee in 1884 the local community celebrated with a '' bullock roast"- it wasn't until the start of the 20th century, alongside the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia, that the term barbecue entered the lexicon.

It was after World War II, with the boom in suburban homes, that the barbecue moved from being a public event to a staple of the private home. The advent of the patio created an outdoor space readymade for a simple barbecue, whether knocked together with a few bricks and a hotplate or purpose built. The barbecue was also the first place that Australian men felt comfortable cooking, becoming a stepping stone to the kitchen.

'' The barbecue enabled and encouraged men to cook in public and in private for the first time,'' Kate Darian-Smith . '' It does create other gender barriers, in that while men could cook the meat they wouldn't make the salad, but encouraging them to be part of the cooking process was a good thing in the 1950s and 1960s.''

By the time the gas bottle came into service, and Paul Hogan was promising America he'd put '' another shrimp on the barbie"in 1984, the barbecue was synonymous with Australia. Compulsory voting even allowed for compulsory purchase of a snag in bread from the charity barbecue at your local polling place.

'' Saying come over for a barbie is part of the culture,'' Darian-Smith observes. '' The barbecue food we most associate with one is the simple sausage in a piece of white bread, which is what you still get outside a Bunnings on any weekend. Anyone can make those.''

When Manu Feildel arrived in Sydney as a 26-yearold chef in 1999 he'd been in Australia less than a fortnight before he was first invited to a barbecue, and like many who settle here from overseas he took to the occasion with a convert's joy. When Feildel and his now wife, Clarissa, brought a family home in the Sydney beachside suburb of Maroubra in 2015, it came with an open plan dining area that opened into an outdoor area where he's installed a charcoal spit and rotisserie barbecue.

'' It's been part of Australian life forever,'' Feildel says. '' We just had our three-year-old's birthday party last weekend with a barbecue for 25 people and I love how you do that in Australia.''

However, Feildel was nonplussed by the sometimes repetitive menu choices and ill-defined fare he would encounter at Australian barbecues. The cult of the humble Australian barbecue snag did not win him over.

'' I'm familiar with snags and there are a lot of crap sausages,'' Feildel says. '' I'm French, and French and German sausages are a lot more chunky and flavoursome . French sausages are made with respect, but here they're putting in anything and everything"

As the barbecue has evolved as a piece of equipment, acquiring multiple burners and the ability to grill, broil and smoke through a gleaming and increasingly large (and expensive) unit, the breadth of what we're cooking and the complexity of techniques involved has grown in parallel proportion. Charring certain dishes is still welcome, just not the sausages anymore. Feildel, for example, favours a steak, which he'll add flavoured butter to as it grills, whole fish , and a lamb shoulder on the spit when he's hosting a barbecue.

Whenever customers get to visit the kitchen at Donovans, the St Kilda foreshore restaurant that's been a Melbourne dining mainstay for over two decades now, they're invariably drawn to the Josper, a grill and charcoal oven that's central to the Mediterranean-infused menu of head chef Emma D'Alessandro .

Fuelled by a compressed hardwood that burns at 1000 degrees and leaves just 3 per cent ash, the Josper is both the busiest section at Donovans and a signpost towards the barbecue's 21st century options.

Donovans serves not only whole fish , prawns, eye fillet and T-bone steaks, but also as autumn looms they'll do root vegetables as a barbecue dish and are testing possible desserts. Recently D'Alessandro and her pastry chef have been experimenting with putting a banana on the Josper and cooking it until the yellow skin was black.

'' The result inside was this wonderful smooth, creamy, sweet, caramelised banana that we turned into an ice-cream . Really, the sky is the limit,'' D'Alessandro says. '' If you told someone to do that they would tell you it would just turn out burnt, but actually it puts everything onto a whole new level of flavour .''

D'Alessandro , who grew up in Upper Ferntree Gully with a pool and a barbecue that smelt of her father's blackened onion in the backyard, practises the same philosophy at home with her husband, where they barbecue on their deck using ingredients from their own garden, such as zucchini they grill, alongside a full chicken or wagyu beef strip loin. Barbecue food, she believes, can be whatever suits the person holding the tongs.

'' You can still do a simple barbecue and have it be awesome, while something more fancy requires some technique,'' D'Alessandro suggests.

'' Try a two-inch thick porterhouse steak, which has an even amount of fat through it, as well as seafood such as prawns and scallops in a half shell with some added citrus butter. Let the butter bubble and that imparts a wonderful flavour in just two minutes.''

But even if the menu changes, the broader significance of the barbecue stays the same. Kate Darian-Smith points out how crucial the spread of barbecues in national parks and municipal gardens has been - they're a magnet for extended family and friend circles, particularly with migrant groups just getting established on the housing ladder. Asked if France has a similar ritual to the barbecue, Manu Feildel is quick to say no.

The barbecue, as Stephen Amis realised, is one of the things that helps tie Australia together. Shane Jacobson's Dazza, admits Amis, is based on the director's brother-in-law , who also throws (minus bad prawns) a barbecue every Saturday.

'' He's very laidback and the whole neighbourhood comes to them,'' marvels Amis. '' What could be more Australian than that?''

Source: Where there's smoke
Stephen Amis | TheAge
This article is from the February 18, 2018 issue of The Age Digital Edition.

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