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…

Stuff I like – February

Vegies and photography by Martin Boetz

Cooks Co-op
A host of chefs and restaurateurs around the country are turning to their own backyards (and coastline or countryside) to source ingredients through growing and foraging. Think Clint Nolan at Harvest in Fremantle, WA; in NSW, the boys at Three Blue Ducks in Bronte, and Alex Puskas and James Parry at Sixpenny in Stanmore; Luke Burgess at Garagistes in Hobart, and Ben Shewry of Attica in Melbourne. Martin Boetz, co-owner and executive chef of Longrain, Sydney and Melbourne, is now taking it a step further. He’s long been a committed exponent of sustainable and ethical produce, and, about a year ago, bought an 11-hectare property overlooking the Hawkesbury River, an hour or so north of Sydney. He’s spent the past year planting the acreage with an assortment of herbs and vegetables to supplement his restaurant kitchen and is now living there full-time – commuting daily to inner-city Surry Hills. “The plan is to link up with other like-minded chefs and cooks to grow our own produce as a co-op, and to include interested local small farmers, who’ll be guaranteed a more reliable and regular outlet by supplying their produce direct to the chefs, too.” The Cooks Co-op HQ is a converted barn on the property, set up as a commercial kitchen, where chefs can bring their teams to a “kind of chefs’ retreat – a creative space where they can work up recipe and menu ideas, or learn about growing efficiently and sustainably, away from the distractions of their restaurant kitchens,” says Marty. Local producers will also be able to use it to value-add to their surplus produce – to make preserves, pickles, jams and so on. Marty is also putting on regular events, dinners and lunches for the public – where he or guest chefs will cook with ingredients grown in the region: “Things like a lunch celebrating the first tomato harvest.” And it doesn’t stop there – Marty hopes to see this develop into an Australia-wide initiative, with chef-farmer collectives in each state. “Ultimately, it could mean that we have a national network where we can swap ingredients and share our knowledge and experiences.” Follow the Cooks Co-op at www.facebook.com/cookscoop.

Room with a view

You could also snuggle up in a cottage on Marty’s property, which has the most amazing views of the Hawkesbury river. It costs $180 per night (minimum two nights), which not only means you get to wake up to that view, but includes eggs from the local chooks, a few fresh fixings from the garden and a bottle of something nice and grapey. Check it out at www.james-rose.com.au.

 

 

Luke Mangan

 

Lucy Allon

Appetite for Excellence
While that tiresome twosome big it up on MasterChef: The Professionals, there’s another competition humming along nicely without the tears, tokenism and fake posh English accent. Launched by Luke Mangan and Lucy Allon in 2005, the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence awards have been helping to raise the, um, bar, of the hospitality industry by supporting and promoting the work of young chefs, waiters and, since 2009, restaurateurs. Among the fantastic prizes and opportunities available on offer, the winning chef and waiter go on to compete at the San’Pellegrino Cooking Cup in Venice, where the poor souls are confined to quarters on a luxury racing yacht, cooking and waiting against an international selection of their industry peers. This year’s judging panel includes Peter Gilmore, Peter Doyle and Christine Manfield and Mark Best, and the 2012 young restaurateur of the year, Katrina Birchmeier, of Hobart’s wonderful Garagistes. Among the cook-offs, masterclasses and regional tours contestants take part in, there are two events open to the public, called Whet Your Appetite. The first of these, featuring former winners from Adelaide and further afield, is in Adelaide in late April, at brand-spanking-new Public in the CBD, where last year’s young chef of the year, Stewart Wesson, is now manning the stoves. The second will be at a so-far-unconfirmed hotspot in Brisbane later this year. Entrants must nominate themselves, so if you know any talented young ‘uns in the industry who you think deserve recognition, badger them to go online and enter. Applications open 4 February and close 14 April. Check it all out at www.appetiteforexcellence.com.

And finally… a subject very close to my heart…

Tomato, bean and basil salad

Meat Free Week
Factory farming is anathema. And yes, I know we’re guilty of standing on our well-fed, rarefied, First World pedestals as we rail against the mass-production of cheap food. But there’s a cost – not just to the millions of animals that suffer untold (and told, thanks to the likes of Lyn White of Animals Australia and Voiceless) horrors in the name of affordable protein, but to us, both in terms of our own short-term health and the long-term health of this planet. Whether you’re rethinking your meat consumption for health, budgetary or ethical reasons, Australia’s first Meat Free Week campaign, 18 – 24 March, is an engaging, inclusive, non-confrontational way of considering the options. The website is a mine of information on the subject, and the women behind it: Melissa Dixon, Helen Lear, Lainie Bracher and Shonagh Walker, are enthusiastic, unbombastic (yeah, I know – no such word) exponents of the cause. Their initiative has been embraced by chefs such as Simon Bryant and Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander and Bill Granger, who are sharing vegie recipes to ease the meat-free pain. And the pic? That’s one of my own modest meat-free efforts – and, if I may say so myself, absolutely delicious. If you want the recipe, email me at sally@monetisethis.com.au. Otherwise, go to www.meatfreeweek.com and indulge your First World conscience.