A little local flavour for you. I even spelled that with a u just so you’d know I was down under. Last weekend I went to Noosa for the annual Food and Wine Festival and I had a terrific time. Australians love food and wine.
Noosa is at the northern end of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, about 30 minutes from where I live. For Americans, Noosa would be the equivalent of Palm Beach except that in Australia you go north to get hot. According to some locals if you don’t drive a Rolls, Mercedes or something equally luxurious, stay out of Noosa. It’s not quite that snobby, honestly. Recently John and I were up there and we stopped for fish and chips to take to the beach and in the parking lot next to our car was a Rolls, and then there was a BMW and then two Porsches and a Mercedes. So maybe there IS something to it.
It’s a beautiful spot and if you have a chance to visit Australia, Noosa should be on the list of stops. This is a photo from summer and that would be a crowded beach.
We went on Saturday but the festival goes from Thursday to Sunday with every minute filled with some sort of food event. Next year I want to go all four days. I’m saving my coins now. On Thursday there was the Ruby Luncheon with chefs Stephanie Alexander and Nicky Riemer plus winemaker Jane Ferrari who talked about food, wine and their fantastic careers in food. Sorry I missed that one.
Thursday night saw the Gala Concert and Dinner where Maggie Beer and Simon Bryant cooked to the music of the Queensland Arts Orchestra. Cooking to music really intrigues me. There wasn’t much pre-show information – they wanted to keep it secret.
I haven’t heard how this went so I can’t report. It sounds like it would have been a real experience to be there.
On Friday there were lunches with Australian MasterChefs, Julie Goodwin, Adam Liaw and Kate Bracks who each demonstrated a course each to create a perfect lunch. If you didn’t choose that event, there was a French Country Picnic on the banks of the Noosa river with Jacques Reymond, Ben Batterbury, Ian Curley and Eric Pernoud. The picnic was supposed to transport everyone to provincial France.
Friday was a very busy day because there were several other choices like the Asian Food Trail, Seafood Afloat Trail and the Hinterland Food Trail where people got into buses or boats for an excellent afternoon of food and wine. Later it was party night in Noosa with more great food, wine and entertainment at Lions Park. Local band PocketLove started things off with ARIA star Anthony Callea following. The finale was the lovely and talented Jessica Mauboy.
After plonking down our $65 for each ticket, with our friends David and Jan we picked up our program and wine glasses and headed for foodie heaven, Sunshine Coast style. I might note for those of you enjoying summer in the Northern Hemisphere. This is winter Queensland style. Note that everyone is wearing footwear of some sort. That’s how you can tell it’s winter.
We walked through the main stage area and into grand marquee where food producers were showing off their produce and offering samples. I like food samples. It was early and we hadn’t had breakfast – saving room for all the food and wine.
Our first stop was the specialty food and wine wholesale, Fino. On offer were samples of Spanish jamon. I know this stuff is more expensive than gold but holy cow was it good. I know we don’t live close enough to Brisbane or Sydney where you’d expect to find this meat so I laughingly asked the guy slicing it where I could get it locally. “Be Fresh in Kawana,” he said. I nearly fell over. That’s almost close enough for me to walk. Now I just have to save my money so I can buy a small piece.
The hams are cured for a minimum of 24 months so it’s no wonder they’re so expensive. I had a taste of the back leg and John had the front leg. We both loved it but since we didn’t taste both I can’t tell you which was better.
Then we walked to two stalls from Victoria where John and I used to live. First was Gundowring Ice Cream which we used to buy when we lived down there. They say they’re the best ice cream in Australia and I think they might be right. They gave everyone who wanted one a small cone. I chose ironbark honey with almonds and toffee and John, reliable old John, had chocolate.
I was thinking he was really boring when there were all sorts of fancy flavors but I’d be wrong. The chocolate was made from dark, bitter Belgian couverture chocolate blended with creme anglaise. Gundowring milk their own cows so they control the quality of the milk. Why the name Gundowring? That’s the town the factory is located in.
Sorry, the photo is of someone else’s strawberry ice cream. We were too busy enjoying ours and I forgot to take a photo. argh.
The next stall was the Milawa Cheese Company. When we lived down south we would go to the Brown Brother’s Winery in Milawa and eat lunch at their Epicurean Center, visit the cellar door and then go down the street to Milawa Cheese for the best cheese in the region. They’re selling it up here now – guess where? Same place as the Spanish ham. Two wins in one day.
The kind folks at Milawa Cheese will tell you that cheese is milk’s leap into immortality. Sort of. John had Milawa Blue and I had Milawa Gold. Both delicious. I’ll admit that he gave me a taste of his but I ate all of mine. I feel guilty but only a little.
I could go on with all the stalls but I can share some of that information with you on another time.
It was time to see cooking demonstrations. Our first stop was Valli Little, food editor of Delicious magazine where she prepared Scallops with Asian Sauce Vierge and then Salmon with Spiced Carrot Sauce. They both looked fantastic. I was amazed to learn she made the sauce from carrot juice.
Not Quite Nigella did an interview with Valli Little a few years ago. You can check it out by clicking the link.
I did buy the cookbook with all the recipes that all of the chefs prepared over the two days of demonstrations. I have a lot of cooking to do. I missed a lot of the demos so I’m thankful that the book has lots of photos.
There were lots of chefs at the festival events. I loved every minute of it. Did you know that super dedicated foodies like us can volunteer to work with these chefs at events like this? With so much food to prepare and so few people to do it with, these food heros were looking for volunteers. NOW I hear about it. I’d love to do something like that.
The lunch we chose was by Matt Preston, an award winning food critic, food writer and one of the hosts/judges of Australia’s MasterChef series. Matt always wears a cravat and on his website there are photos of heaps of them and he’s given each one a name. There’s Long Michelle and Slutty Michelle (she doesn’t keep herself nice on the set) and Colonel Mustard for example. He’s a funny man.
The lamb was slow cooked with the most incredible salsa and green sauce I’ve ever eaten. The meat was too tough for me to eat but since childhood I’ve had a difficult time with tough meat. John has no trouble eating mine too. The salsa and the sauce were so good I didn’t miss the meat.
Just thinking now of that salsa with pomegranate seeds and coriander/cilantro makes me hungry.
While everyone else was sitting around relaxing in the sunshine with their glasses of wine, I saw Stephanie Alexander almost alone. I was able to have a lovely chat with her about her brand new autobiography, A Cook’s Life and her Kitchen Garden Foundation. She started a kitchen garden in one school because she was concerned that kids had no clue where their food came from. That was a while ago because she now has 269 schools and they’re increasing every day.
“With the growing influence of fast food, there are many children who have no idea what many vegetables are and even less information as to how to eat them,” she said. She wants to expand her program so that any school that wants a kitchen garden can have one as part of their curriculum. I think it’s a fantastic idea.
When I moved to Australia I came with some American cookbooks and no idea about some of the Australian ingredients. The first cookbook I bought here was Stephanie’s The Cook’s Companion. Later, I was given a second copy but I won’t part with either one. What if I slob on one? They’re not cheap and there are 1100 pages in the book. Stephanie Alexander is the Julia Child of Australia. So you see why I was thrilled to meet her.
Finally we saw Mark Best, chef and owner of Marque Restaurant in Surry Hills, Sydney. Marque has been named Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the year for 2012 and has received the Chef of the Year as well as 3 hats from the Sydney Morning Herald. He’s a pretty good cook.
Sadly, his recipes are not in the cookbook I bought. I have no idea why. It goes from David Thompson the king of Thai cooking to Ben Shewry from Attica, one of the top 100 restaurants in the world. I’ll have to check to see if Jan’s recipe book is missing Mark’s recipes too.
The last thing we did was to sit in on a panel discussion with all the top chefs including Fergus Henderson, Ben Shewry, Alvin Leung, Davide Scabin, David Thompson and Pat Nourse about the direction restaurant food will be taking over the next year or so. While everything they talked about was very interesting and often funny, nobody was telling anyone what they were going to do next and I don’t blame them.
I look forward to going back to Noosa next year! We have a spare room if you want to come with us.