One of the few politicians to publish a cookbook, the Premier of South Australia favoured an eclectic and informal style of cooking, rather than the stuffy, formal French approach. Don Dunstan’s Cookbook included Indian and Malay dishes, as well as French, Italian, Greek and Swedish ones. He saw this multicultural mix as a distinctly Australian cooking style.
Don Dunstan was one of the modern era’s most flamboyant and unconventional politicians. Famous for turning up to a parliamentary sitting in pink shorts, he had progressive views on everything from gender politics and Aboriginal land rights to food. He served as Premier of South Australia for a short time in 1967 and again from 1970 to 1979. During that period, he steered many forward-thinking changes to South Australia’s laws.
It was also during that time that he published Don Dunstan’s Cookbook, with recipes influenced by his travels. He devoted entire chapters to Indian and Malay cooking, at a time when Australians were just beginning to discover Asian cuisines. ‘I find a continuous satisfaction in growing, preparing, serving and eating food, and want to share it with you,’ he wrote in a chapter titled The Joy of Cooking.
Among the many achievements of the Dunstan government was the extension of drinking hours to 10pm (although South Australia was the last jurisdiction in Australia to do so). Dunstan also championed legislation to allow al fresco dining.
In 1994, he opened a restaurant called “Don’s Table” together with Stephen Cheng, his partner. Cheng was the chef while Dunstan was front-of-house. It seems that Cheng’s brother was involved as a financial backer, but withdrew his investment in 1998 causing the restaurant to close.