LAST weekend, Margaret River hosted its inaugural food and wine festival – The Margaret River Gourmet Escape. It truly was a fantastic way to showcase to the rest of Australia and the world what our rich and beautiful South West has to offer.
I'm not going to dwell on Heston Blumenthal not being able to attend, as he did the right thing for his chefs, but also there was so much culinary and literary talent present at the event (see the roll call at the end of this article) that there was no reason for anyone to feel disappointed about not seeing a "celebrity chef".
The event opened on Thursday night with a VIP dinner at Smiths Beach. If you were lucky enough to attend this, you would have spent the sunset rubbing shoulders with the who's-who of the restaurant world while enjoying food provided by Lamonts, Forest Hill, Vasse Felix, Cape Lodge and Must.
Many satellite and fringe events were hosted in the region as part of the festival. This was a chance for people to have dinner or lunch cooked by one of the headlining chefs or even spend time with the local winemakers.
Beach BBQ Dinner – Smiths Beach
The setting of this dinner was in one word – spectacular. Teepees were set up on the beach looking out across the soft sand to the crashing waves. The best part – no shoes required! Everyone got to lounge around barefoot and enjoy a couple of drinks and the view before being called in for dinner. This satellite event was hosted by Matt Stone (Greenhouse) and featured wines from Arlewood. On the menu were BBQ Tiger prawns, marron ala plancha, baharrat spiced lamb and Lamonts pavlova with poached berries and passionfruit. Matt talked us through how he was cooking the food, which was insightful and educating. The food was of course incredible and there was no way anyone would go hungry. The company was great too. I was on my own but the people at my table were great to talk to as we reviewed the day's events. Matt Stone gave an interesting interview during the dinner saying that "food is the new rock" as he likened chefs to rock stars but ended humbly with, "we're just cooking". I have never experienced eating dinner somewhere so beautiful and I highly recommend attending this event next year.
Brunch with the Best – Voyager Estate
A late addition to the line up of events, this was the highlight of the weekend for me. Hosted by Sydney Morning Herald's Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack, this event was about looking to the future of food. Rene Redzepi (Noma), Alex Atala (D.O.M) and Peter Gilmore (Quay) gave us their thoughts and predictions for the rest of the decade. It was so inspiring and I walked away with a hope that people's relationship with food will change. Both Redzepi and Atala felt very strongly about using local producers and supporting small suppliers. They believed in eating less meat and more veges and reducing the wastage of food – especially when it comes to an animal. All three chefs wanted people to learn to cook using fresh produce rather than ready-made meals and Atala made such a poignant point when he said, "we need to look at how our grandmothers did it".
Bloggers did come up in discussion and it was refreshing to hear Gilmore say "tweeting a photo is all about sharing the experience of food". Atala yet again graced the conversation with his words of wisdom likening a person tweeting or blogging about food to a knife, "it can be used to feed people or kill people".
Whilst all this discussion was occurring we got to enjoy incredible food prepared by Voyager chef Nigel Harvey and Must chef Russell Blaikie - Shark Bay crab and Japanese mayonnaise roll, slow cooked Margaret River free range egg with beans and a Margaret River venison chorizo crumb, The Farm House lamb and pork sausages - Bahen & Co chocolate gateaux, seasonal fruit crown and blueberry and yogurt muffin.
With the main event being sold out on Saturday, I was prepared for some unruly and annoying crowds but then I remembered I wasn't at a music festival. We arrived early and it seemed a bit chaotic to start with as there were A LOT of people waiting to get in but this soon dissipated as we were allowed to enter the wonder of the Gourmet Village.
There was just so much to do - from attending intimate Q&A sessions with people like George Colombaris to watching panel discussions with AA Gill and cooking demonstrations with Rene Redzepi on the main stage. There was a wine theatre to help you unleash your inner sommelier and also a Breville test kitchen, where you could try out a multitude of their cooking appliances. There was even something for the kids – a Masterchef Kids Cooking Class! I feel I was a little underprepared for how much there was to do. I just walked around most of the day in absolute awe. Next year I will come up with a "timetable" of what I want to attend throughout the day!
There were pop-up restaurants from the likes of Must, Capel Vale, Vasse Felix and Voyager just to name a few. Each restaurant showcased a dish that you could purchase for 1 GEM (the currency at the event 1 GEM = $7). I tried the char sui braised lamb shoulder from Capel Vale. The meat fell apart at the touch and texture was sticky with that beautiful sweet char sui flavour soaked through the meat. They offered recipe cards for the dish – so I shall be trying this at home soon!
There was an abundance of interesting exhibitors showcasing wines, beef, oils, coffee, cakes, chilli, ice cream, ciders, beers – everything you can imagine. Every time I walked down a lane I would spot something I hadn't seen before. All the exhibitors were generous and helpful with their tastings of food and wine. If you liked a wine that you tasted you could buy a glass of it for a GEM. It was quite handy walking around with my Riedel wine glass full of something wonderful like a Willespie Shiraz (this was our favourite winery of the day).
If the main events weren't enough, many of the exhibitors were also hosting their own events like cooking demonstrations and tutored tastings.
My only complaint about the event was the lack of obvious water. All wine exhibitors offered it from a jug but it was difficult to find a place to buy it. We asked information and they didn't know of any. There was a rain water tank that you could use to fill your wine glass with but I can imagine it may have been difficult if you had children.
One of the great things about this event was that I got to experience wines and foods from places I have never heard of. It was fantastic. So many of them will now have my business and hopefully the business of other private buyers, restaurants and suppliers.
The overall success of this event is credit to everyone involved. I am so proud to say that this was held in the state that I live in, only a few hours from Perth. Next year's event should be on everyone's "must do" list – especially if you care about supporting our local producers of food and wine.
Breakfast – Caves House
Before braving the Gourmet Village - Trev, Tim, Richard and I decided to check out Caves House for breakfast as it was only around the corner from where we were staying. We arrived a little before the opening time of 8am and a cleaner told us they weren't open yet and to go somewhere else. Weird. Instead, we walked around the beautiful gardens of Caves House to wait out the 5 mins.
The prices peak at $19.50 for the Caves Breakfast – eggs, bacon, toast, chipolatas, tomatoes & mushrooms. Trev and Richard ordered this whilst I ordered the grilled field mushroom – poached eggs, spinach, asparagus ($17.50) and Tim ordered scrambled eggs on toast ($9.50).
They use local Yallingup Coffee, which is something I love to see - small local providers being used by locals. The meals were HUGE; a perfect start to our day. Tim's scrambled eggs were creamy and all of our eggs were cooked perfectly. Trev and Richard both commented that their meals could have been hotter but other than that; they agreed their meals were enjoyable. My mushrooms, although firm, did lack a bit of flavour. However, the crunchy spinach and "just" blanched asparagus gave the dish a fresh lift.
Other than the initial "cleaning guy" – the service was very friendly and fast. Caves House is worth a visit at any time of the day. Even if it is just to sit and enjoy the lovely surrounds.