The Noosa International Food and Wine Festival, the most joyous food festival we’ve ever visited (part 1)

appetizers at hinterland tour lunch, noosa international food and wine festival

My greedy, gorgeous wife S and I have been to many food and wine festivals, in many different places, over the last decade and a half. We’ve attended festivals as speakers, as working journalists and as members of the public. Some festivals are rather high-brow. Others try hard to connect with the everyman. Many others fall in between, offering a mix of small, exclusive (which means expensive) dinners coupled with affordable experiences that can accommodate large crowds. This can be a hard formula to get right, and many festivals are still struggling to find the right balance. A few others, however, seem to have discovered the magic formula for food festival success.

A few weeks ago, S and I found ourselves attending such a festival. Not only has the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival (held in the small holiday/retiree town of Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast) perfected the balance between luxury and accessibility, it’s done so with a laid-back sense of humour that is utterly infectious. Before Noosa, I had never attended a food and wine festival in which everyone–the chefs, producers, participants, even the festival staff–seemed to be having so much fun. And for that alone, I would definitely consider going back again and again.  Continue Reading →

Neil Perry’s Awesome Asian Dipping Sauce

When I was counting down my favourite meals of last year, I wrote that one of them was had at Neil Perry’s very sexy Chinese restaurant, Spice Temple. While I had originally gone in slightly skeptical, I left a believer. And while the food may not have been the most authentic, it certainly had flavour, and a lot of heart.

Since then, and because of that visit, my hot and hungry spouse S and I have been cooking more and more from Perry’s Chinese cookbook, Balance and Harmony: Asian Food. It was a book that we had originally purchased (before our meal at Spice Temple) because it was, well, pretty. As cookbook collectors, we occasionally buy texts not because we want to cook from them but because of the pictures, or the layout and design, or because we have all of the chef’s other books, or for any number of reasons. Neil’s recent books are beautiful. They’re a joy to look at, with clean design and gorgeous photos. And so, while we had poured over Balance and Harmony: Asian Food several times, we had never intended to actually use it as a real reference. When we wanted to cook Chinese, we usually turned to authorities like Barbara Tropp, Fuchsia Dunlop or Grace Young. But after that meal at Spice Temple, we decided to give Perry’s book a try. And we’ve been really happy we did. (Keep reading)

Charsiu quail with Mandarin pancakes and a lime and cucumber salad

When I was in the 5th grade, each student in my science class was given a small quail’s egg and asked to look after it. The eggs were housed in a large incubator. We were to ensure that our assigned egg would develop properly and were asked to study the hatching process. When the teeny tiny baby quails were finally hatched, we were given a few weeks to play with the super cute baby birds (and study them) before the little suckers were brought to “the wild” and set free. Of course, as I think back, I really don’t know if what our teachers told us was the truth. Where in the world in or even around New York City would you take 50 or 60 baby quail to set them free? Were they brought to a pretty little farm in upstate New York? Or let loose in a lovely patch of forest? Or (heaven forbid but potentially more probable) sold to some very happy butcher, who turned our little friends into delectable goodies waiting to be picked up by some greedy gourmand?

Of course, when I was 9 years old, I could never have fathomed eating those cute little critters. Now though, older, cynical, and much more omnivorous, I’m a big fan of eating quail. I really like the slight gameyness of quail as well as the tenderness of the meat when cooked just right. (Keep reading)

Two reasons to head up to Hunter

Now, you might not need any convincing to head up to the Hunter Valley on your next trip to New South Wales, Australia. Knowing it’s the country’s oldest and one of its most exciting wine regions may be all the reason you need. But just in case you needed a little extra motivation, S and I have sussed out two amazing places that alone are reason enough to head up to Hunter.

1. The Rock restaurant and Andrew Clarke’s stunning food

There are good vineyard and wine country restaurants and then there are great ones. The Rock restaurant at Poole’s Rock Wines is definitely one of the latter. It’s been named the Australia’s Best Restaurant in a Winery at the 2008 Restaurant and Catering Association awards. It is the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide’s highest ranked restaurant in Hunter, and the only restaurant in the region with two hats. Housed in a glass-walled building, overlooking a block of 90-year old shiraz vines, the clean modern room and its views are equally inviting. The Rock is actually two restaurants in one. By day, it is the Firestick Cafe, a cool, contemporary cafe that serves simple but beautifully made cafe food: wood-fired, thin crust pizzas; a luxe wagyu burger with caramelized onions and fries; pork schnitzel and crushed potato, rocket and waldorf salad. The pizzas looked especially gorgeoous. And I love Chef Andrew Clarke’s combination ideas, like the confit pork belly, caramelized fennel and gherkins pizza. (Keep reading)

Sydney International Food Festival (a small slice)


Chefs from the Showcase Gala Dinner posing while plating. Photo by Dominic Loneragen of the(sydney)magazine.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of attending quite a number of food festivals in different parts of the world. Most recently, I was in Sydney, Australia, to check out the first-ever Sydney International Food Festival, both as a panel-speaker and also as an invited observer. I was particularly excited to head down under for this particular festival because its director, the amazing Joanna Savill, is an old and very special friend. Joanna is one of the most respected foodies on the planet, let alone Australia. Among her many accomplishments, Joanna is co-editor of the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and co-creator of the landmark TV Series, The Food Lover’s Guide to Australia. My darling wife S and I first met Joanna back in 2001 (of course, we were already fans) and have been friends ever since then.

Joanna has taken what used to be known as the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Month and has turned it into a stellar international food festival worth planning your Australia trip around. The Festival is still a month-long, with different programmes and components happening throughout the month of October. Whether a person is more into gritty streetside dining or is a fan of fine dining, the Festival has been truly able to deliver an experience for each and every kind of foodie out there. Joanna’s also smartly sexed up several events, introducing star power to bring in the crowds. For example, the Festival’s opening event was a day of Barbecue Madness. But Joanna didn’t just bring in anyone to lead the barbecue. Oh no… she enlisted the help of Fergus Henderson of St John in London to work with 12 well-known Sydney chefs, turning a simple bbq into a powerhouse gastronomic event!

I had flown down to take part in the World Chef Showcase. This 2 day series of talks and demonstrations featured some really amazing culinary talent. The theme for this year’s Showcase was The Best of Asia, which I thought was fantastic. We don’t even properly celebrate our own region at most of our own festivals. I thought it was inspiring and exciting for the Sydney Festival to be championing the best of Asian cuisine, chefs, food writers, and restaurateurs. The participant list was simply amazing. Superstars like David Thompson, Peter Gordon, Pichet Ong, Jereme Leung, Kylie Kwong, Alvin Leung, Fuchsia Dunlop, Cheong Liew, Rainer Becker, Neil Perry, Chui Lee Luk, Andre Chiang, Yu Bo, Yoshihiro Murata, Mamoru Tatemori, and Tetsuya Wakuda (among others) all took their turns on stage during the weekend of 10-11 October. Each day, there were three consecutive tracks of talks and demos. On the first, Track 1 focused on Thailand and Vietnam; track 2 on China; while track 3 was the “world” track which featured chefs like Sergi Arola and Alexandre Bourdas. The second day, track 1 was Asia; track 2 was titled “Creative”; and track 3 focused on Japan.
(Keep reading)

Buon Ricordo, Sydney

There are a small handful of dishes, cooked by an equally small number of amazing chefs, that I’d travel for. At the top of my list is Chef Armando Percuoco‘s fettuccine al tartufovo. Chef Armando’s fettucine with cream and parmesan, topped with a fried truffle egg, and tossed at your table, is one of those life-altering dishes. To me, it might just be the best pasta dish I’ve ever had, anywhere in the world. This ridiculously simple yet rich and oh so delicious plate of food is, quite simply, worth flying all the way to Sydney for.

Of course, there are many other gustatory reasons to go to Sydney–like Kylie’s duck, Tets’ ocean trout, Bill’s scrambled eggs, Peter Gilmore’s Sea Pearls, or this week the Sydney International Food Festival’s World Chef Showcase. But none (to me) are as addictively appealing as Armando’s truffled egg pasta. I’ve actually written about this heavenly plate of food back in 2005; in fact, it was my 10th post. But that was just a little reminiscent musing. This weekend, thanks to Tourism Australia, Tourism New South Wales and the Food Festival bringing me in for a little song and dance on stage, I’m getting the chance to revisit some favourite restaurants, as well as try a few new ones. Of course, the first place I ran to, within hours of landing on the ground, was Buon Ricordo. (Keep reading)

The Wine & Truffle Company

The highlight of our recent trip down under was a visit to The Wine & Truffle Company in Manjimup. Manjimup is approximately 4 hours (by car) south of Perth. And while that’s a bit further than most visitors would usually venture, a trip to this part of WA is well worth it.

Over the past few years, S and I have been really impressed with the quality of the truffles coming from this young but successful Australian truffery (and winery). Top chefs like Tetsuya Wakuda and Thomas Keller order truffles from them, so you know the quality is top-notch. And since the Australian seasons are the opposite of those in the Northern hemisphere, this means chefs working in America and Europe can now offer their guests what would normally be a Fall and Winter delicacy during their Spring and Summer. (Keep reading)

Southern Forests

After spending an incredible day attending the Mundaring Truffle Festival, S and I decided we had to see The Wine & Truffle Company‘s operations in Manjimup first-hand. Manjimup is located in the very beautiful Southern Forests area of Western Australia. By car, it’s a four hour drive. But one that is well worth it. The Southern Forests, while not as popular or as widely known (internationally) as the Margaret River region, is rich with vineyards, cute places to stay, picturesque towns, fabulous produce, and amazing scenery. It really is a gorgeous part of WA. Having always stopped at Margaret River, I was kicking myself for not having discovered this area sooner. (Keep reading)

Mundaring Truffle Festival


Chef Alain Fabreques dishes chopped truffle over his signature truffled eggs

Last weekend, my darling wife S and I skipped town to check out a festival that we’d only recently heard about, but which we knew we simply had to attend. The Mundaring Truffle Festival, held in a small suburb just 30 minutes drive from Perth, Western Australia, is a gustatory celebration of the Black Perigord Truffle. The Festival’s official literature describes it rather perfectly: “For one glorious, over-indulgent weekend during the height of the West Australian truffle season, the picturesque hills community of Mundaring transforms into a bustling Festival village filled with truffle-themed events, an open-air produce market, the annual Perth Hills Wine Show and much, much more.” The Festival, which took place 8-9 August, also happened to coincide perfectly with Singapore’s National Day (long weekend) holiday. Perfect timing for us.

The Mundaring Truffle Festival is in its third year and while marketed primarly domestically, it is begining to attract foreign visitors like S and me. This year, the Festival attracted over 25,000 people, which more than doubled last year’s attendance numbers. I can only imagine how massive and well-attended this Festival might become over the next 5-10 years. It has the potential, if it’s growth is planned and managed well, to become one of the most exciting and leading food festivals in the region. (Keep reading)