Noosa International Food & Wine Festival 2013

It was glorious on the Sunshine Coast – squeaky clean blue skies that made your head spin, and gentle, sand-sifting waves the temperature of a baby’s bottle. The Noosa International Food & Wine Festival pulled out all the stops this year, its 10th anniversary. All manner of international hot-shot chefs took part, but it was the Asian Food Trail, that, as it does every year, stole this gal’s heart. I was there to escort one of the bus-loads of revellers. So I was working, kinda…

A Friday afternoon spent at a mile-long table under a canopy in the Sunshine Coast’s shimmering green hinterland, eating pungent sticky rice, spiced seafood, mellow drunken chicken and a fierce pork curry that had been simmering in a wok the size of Tasmania.

The place – Garnisha Spice Farm, a sprawling wonderland of curry and chilli plants, and all manner of exotic, fragrant trees and shrubs. The chefs – Martin Boetz, Louis Tikaram, Christine Manfield, Poh Ling Yeoh and David Thompson, a culinary dream team in a dream setting.

David Thompson

David Thompson threw caution to the wind (and handfuls of tiny, orange, supercharged scud chillies into his Southern Thai curry), so it came with a health warning as he served it up. But paired with the simplest of accompaniments – torn soft-boiled eggs, mounds of freshly picked herbs (parsley, basil, coriander) and mountains of steamed rice – it transformed into another of David’s multi-faceted flavour miracles that are mysterious, wonderful and utterly indescribable. So I won’t try. The man is a bloody alchemist; ‘nuff said.

The previous day had been a complete contrast in tones – glowering skies, the slow, relentless ‘pit, pit, pit’ of rain against that same white canopy, guests huddled against the big wood-fire oven for warmth. Imagine! On the sultry Sunshine Coast! But the food created its own glow – that day, as well as Marty, Louis, Christine and Poh’s aromatic offerings, we gorged on a terracotta-red, melting Indian goat curry that bubbled like a semi-dormant volcano in that same gargantuan wok, presided over by chef Ragini Dey, of Adelaide’s Spice Kitchen restaurant.

Ragini’s lime pickle, and her pineapple and macadamia raita

A stand-out dish – especially when paired with her fantastic lime chutney (she kindly shared the recipe, writing it down for me in my little notebook). It’s a cracker – sweet, sour, tangy, bitter, the limes simply quartered and thrown into the mix – and takes about 20 minutes to make (another reason I wanted the recipe, me being such a lazy-arse cook and all). Here it is, in all its delicious simplicity. As for the recipe for that outrageously good goat curry – perhaps Ragini’s just-published book, Spice Kitchen (Hardie Grant), has the answer…

Combine I kg quartered limes, 1 tsp asafoetida, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp chilli powder, 1 tsp chopped ginger, 4 tbs salt (yes, really – be still my hardening arteries  the salt leaches out the lime juice, according to Ragini) and 30ml vegetable oil in a saucepan and cook for 15 minutes or until the limes are just soft. Add 500g sugar and stir for 2 minutes or until it dissolves. Remove from heat, cool for a little while, then refrigerate before serving. Eat, die and go to heaven.

There was an element of sadness underlying these two dreamily spice-laden days – for Marty Boetz, they were the last in his capacity as chef and co-owner of Longrain, Sydney and Melbourne. He’s packing his knife pouch and going bush permanently to concentrate on his Cooks Co-op in the Hawkesbury region. Hopefully, festival organisers Jim Berardo and Greg O’Brien will persuade him to come back next year and forever more – because it wouldn’t be the same without him.

Elsewhere at this, my sixth, Noosa extravaganza, I discovered a few things – and rediscovered others:

*       When two or more chefs are gathered together in one place, there will be no sleep ’til dawn (and frequently none then, either).

Umi Budo

*        Umi budo (sea grape) – is now officially my new favourite salty snack, a kind of seaweed equivalent to caviar, all pop-in-the-mouth oceanic deliciousness.

*        Matt Preston is a chick-photo magnet. So many smart phones, so little time.

*        Matt Preston is also a kid magnet, our mutual friend’s two-year-old so smitten by his gargantuan, cartoonish charms, she was putty in his hands.

*       Curtis Mayfield’s Move on Up still sounds great whether you’ve been up all night drinking or you’re making a bleary 5am cup of English Breakfast among people who still are.

*       People turn into ’orrible ravening, grasping beasts when there’s free stuff – any kind of free stuff – but especially if the free stuff involves Adriano Zumbo.

*        Hand-churned cultured butter does not a balanced meal make, but it comes a close second.

*        Degustations should be seen and not heard.

The morning after

So long, Noosa – until next year…