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…

Playing with my widgets, and other double entendres

I’ve been fiddling with my blog for days – still parked on the sofa in front of those frothing horses until the bitter bloody end of the dressage, watching young, toothy Charlotte Something win gold for GBR to a soundtrack of Live and Let Die, Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem (never let it be said that parochialism doesn’t win points on the board, even in a country that’s not Australia). One thing you can deduce from watching a competition like this is that people who do dressage probably can’t dance, and if they do, they’d do it with the white man’s overbite (thank you Billy Crystal) to ELO. Or maybe it would be the white man’s overbit. Oh never mind.

Anyway – I’m having trouble with my widgets. (Fiddling with my blog? Trouble with my widgets? I’ve turned into Benny Hill.) I’ve lost a sizeable chunk of my life this week faffing around on the Dashboard . The only writing I’ve managed is a censoring of my own work.

Yes, in order to stay on message with Plan B, I have tempered my language un petit peu to ensure I don’t alienate any multinational corporations when I approach them with a Monetise This sponsorship package. (Ha! And you thought I’d learned nothing from my years dangling on the lower rungs of the publishing ladder, didn’t you.)

It also means I don’t have to tick the ‘R’ box in my Dashboard settings. Someone might take this as a porn site. Hmm… Fifty Shades of Oy Vey. Smack me with the salt beef, Shlomo.

This week has not been one of particular joy. Suffice to say, it has comprised a woman who should go to bed at a decent hour or learn how to use her laptop properly, her crumbling mother and the ignominies of illness. Well, at least we can still laugh about it. Actually, we do laugh quite a lot – but not about it so much.

So, moving right along to the good bits. The first, a literary dinner with a briefly-lost-but-now-happily-refound friend at Christine Manfield’s restaurant, Universal, where a favourite author of mine, Charlotte Wood, did a bit of reading, and Christine and Alex Herbert did a bit of cooking. All extremely well. Although I was happy to pass on the chocolate hedgehog – even if it was accompanied by the wonderful story that Charlotte read from her book, Love and Hunger, which wove said choc slice into its denoument (not literally wove, obviously; literarily).

Charlotte brings out the worst in me. Writer envy, interesting-holiday envy, colourful-country-upbringing envy and blog envy. Her widgets seem in perfect order.

The other good bit this week? Our dog has spectacularly healthy ear canals, according to Simon the vet. This is quite unusual in a Labrador. Who knew? But it may be enough to qualify me as a doggy day-care practitioner, should Plan B not come to fruition.