Cover story:

This week we pre­view the 2017 de­li­cious Pro­duce Awards and shine a light on some of the best food in the na­tion

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - NEWS -

Cool as a cu­cum­ber is one way to de­scribe ac­claimed chef An­drew McCon­nell. But even the un­flap­pable Mel­bur­nian could barely con­tain his ex­cite­ment at the re­cent na­tional judg­ing of the de­li­cious.

Pro­duce Awards. Ap­prais­ing en­trants from the “earth” cat­e­gory, in­clud­ing heir­loom car­rots, or­ganic mush­rooms and bio­dy­namic greens, he was over­whelmed. “It’s like be­ing in a mar­ket in the south of France, if not bet­ter,” he says.

Two decades ago, Aus­tralian in­gre­di­ents were con­sid­ered lack­lus­tre by some in­dus­try play­ers. But in re­cent times, savvy farm­ers, fish­er­men and culi­nary en­trepreneurs have raised the bar, spik­ing de­mand for Aus­tralian fare around the globe.

Food makes up seven of the top 10 fastest grow­ing in­dus­tries, ac­cord­ing to IBIS­World.The to­tal value of farm ex­ports is pro­jected to reach $48.7 bil­lion in 2017-18,with pre­mium prod­ucts par­tic­u­larly sought. Rock lob­ster, our most lu­cra­tive seafood, is ex­pected to reach ex­port val­ues of $716 mil­lion.

“We have world-class res­tau­rants in Aus­tralia be­cause we have world-class pro­duce,” says chef and restau­ra­teur Matt Mo­ran. He nominates Mondo White Rocks veal from Western Aus­tralia and Blackmore Wagyu from Vic­to­ria (“the best out­side of Ja­pan”) as two in­dus­try stand­outs. Blackmore has drawn plau­dits from em­i­nent chefs in­clud­ing the UK’s He­ston Blu­men­thal and Amer­i­can Thomas Keller. “Plus we’re sell­ing truf­fles to the French,” says Mo­ran, laugh­ing at the irony. Aus­tralia is now the fourth largest truf­fle pro­ducer in the world.

Gavin Booth of Aus­tralian Truf­fle Traders in Man­jimup, WA, says a decade ago, there was some re­sis­tance in Europe to an­tipodean truf­fles. “But once chefs tasted them, they loved them,” he says. Like many truf­fle farm­ers, Booth ex­ports 80 per cent of his crop, mostly to Miche­lin-starred venues.

The list of home­grown he­roes is a long one. Sher Wagyu from Vic­to­ria is on the menu at up­scale es­tab­lish­ments

in­clud­ing the Man­darin Ori­en­tal ho­tel in Hong Kong and New York’s Mo­ri­moto restau­rant. Aus­tralia’s Oys­ter Coast in Sydney de­liv­ers oys­ters to dis­cern­ing din­ers in Asia within 30 hours. Goat’s cheese from Vic­to­ria’s Mered­ith Dairy flies off the shelves at Whole Foods in Los An­ge­les, while Co­bram Es­tate keeps amass­ing awards in New York for its out­stand­ing ex­tra vir­gin olive oils.

The ver­dant bounty of Aus­tralian pro­duce has re­ceived ex­po­sure from two events re­cently. First was Noma Aus­tralia, the sell-out Sydney pop-up from Dan­ish chef Rene Redzepi, which ran from late Jan­uary to April in 2016.

“That a chef the cal­i­bre of Rene was in­spired enough by Aus­tralian in­gre­di­ents to or­ches­trate the pop-up speaks vol­umes,” says chef Kylie Kwong. “As he showed, we are up with the best.”

Sec­ond was The World’s 50 Best Restau­rant Awards, the Os­cars of gas­tron­omy, which was held in Mel­bourne in April this year. In­ter­na­tional chefs, som­me­liers and gour­mands who at­tended were ex­posed to lo­cal trea­sures in­clud­ing Fraser Island span­ner crab, Pa­roo kan­ga­roo, Mooloolaba tuna and West Aus­tralian scampi. Ac­cord­ing to event host Tourism Aus­tralia: “The project has al­ready gen­er­ated over 4000 me­dia ar­ti­cles with an au­di­ence reach of 3.9 bil­lion and an equiv­a­lent ad­ver­tis­ing value of over $42 mil­lion.”

“We’ve changed peo­ple’s per­cep­tions,” says Mo­ran. “Now I am so proud for any for­eign chef to come here. They all say we have the best food in the world.” The chef says he is reg­u­larly wowed by lo­cal pro­duce he has never seen be­fore.

Na­tive in­gre­di­ents, spot­lighted by Redzepi and other pi­o­neer­ing chefs, are find­ing favour too.The Lime Caviar Com­pany from Queensland cur­rently dis­patches fresh fin­ger limes to the UK, Italy, Sin­ga­pore, Hong Kong and France. Miche­lin-starred chefs Jean-Luc Ra­banel and Paul Bo­cuse are fans, and so too are re­tail­ers such as Eataly in Mi­lan.The com­pany will next year

un­veil a pack­aged ver­sion of cit­rus caviar. “It’s a world-first – a frozen, spoon­able lime caviar with no preser­va­tives,” says owner Ian Dou­glas.

The de­li­cious. Pro­duce Awards show­cases the cream of the crop, the most sus­tain­able, eth­i­cal and palat­able prod­ucts from around the coun­try. State judg­ing took place ear­lier in the year, then in June, 10 lead­ing chefs, in­clud­ing McCon­nell, Mo­ran, Mag­gie Beer and Shan­non Ben­nett, as­sem­bled for the na­tional eval­u­a­tion.

“We fo­cus on new prod­ucts, con­sis­tently out­stand­ing pro­duc­ers and what’s on the radar of our fore­most chefs,” says project man­ager Lucy Al­lon. Al­lon has the ex­act­ness of a sci­en­tist and the lo­gis­ti­cal prow­ess of a mil­i­tary com­man­der – traits that come in handy when wran­gling the cor­nu­copia of en­trants from coast to coast.

This year’s con­tenders in­clude every­thing from or­ganic quinoa to pas­tured quail. When the judges tasted the game bird, the re­ac­tion was very pos­i­tive. “The flavour was phe­nom­e­nal,” says Beer. “I’ve never had flavour like that be­fore,” adds McCon­nell.

The win­ners of the 2017 Pro­duce Awards will be an­nounced at a gala event in Mel­bourne to­mor­row night. Find out who

they are in the Septem­ber is­sue of de­li­cious.

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