Party like a pa­gan

Ho­bart’s mid-win­ter cel­e­bra­tion of food, wine and the sol­stice will take you back to the roots of civil­i­sa­tion — you might not even be able to Instagram it

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Food - Mi­landa Rout

The melt­down of a wi-fi net­work in one of Australia’s cap­i­tal cities is surely the sign of a good party. That’s what hap­pened last June when al­most 45,000 peo­ple at­tended the Win­ter Feast in Ho­bart, a three-day food fes­ti­val cel­e­brat­ing the win­ter sol­stice and the best Tas­ma­nian food and wine.

“In my 30 years of or­gan­is­ing events, I have never seen an event grow so fast or have so much in­ter­est so quickly as this one,’’ says artis­tic direc­tor Gil­lian Min­ervini of the fes­ti­val, which is only two years old. “We av­er­aged be­tween 10,000 and 15,000 peo­ple a night. It was al­most im­pos­si­ble to get a flight from Syd­ney or Mel­bourne to Ho­bart last year when it was on, even the wi-fi went down be­cause there were so many peo­ple in that par­tic­u­lar area.”

The Win­ter Feast is part of Ho­bart’s Dark Mofo fes­ti­val, the brain­child of David Walsh’s ground­break­ing Mu­seum of Old and New Art. Last year’s event at­tracted 120,000 peo­ple to mu­sic, art and theatre per­for­mances that cel­e­brate all things win­tery, dark, sub­ver­sive and even a lit­tle bit strange. This year it runs from June 12 to June 22 and cul­mi­nates in a naked dawn swim in the freez­ing River Der­went.

Min­ervini, a Syd­ney-based events cre­ator and direc­tor, says MONA ap­proached her three years ago to “do a big food event” cel­e­brat­ing Tas­ma­nian pro­duce as part of the first Dark Mofo. “There are a lot of food fes­ti­vals now and they are very for­mu­laic,” she tells WISH. “We wanted to do some­thing that was very dif­fer­ent and draw on the sol­stice and cel­e­brate Ho­bart in win­ter. Half of the event is out­side. We have th­ese amaz­ing huge open fires and peo­ple love it. If you dress well — and I rec­om­mend a cou­ple of pairs of socks, not just one — and you have the right whisky and the right food and a spot by the fire, it is in­cred­i­bly at­mo­spheric and it is a lovely place to be.”

The Win­ter Feast is held at an old pier wharf in Ho­bart for five days this year from June 17 to 21 (it was ex­tended from three days last year be­cause of over­whelm­ing de­mand, not enough seats, too many queues and a few com­plaints). The venue will be trans­formed into a gi­ant bird’s nest. “The owls are not what they seem,’’ the Win­ter Feast web­site notes, quot­ing tele­vi­sion show Twin Peaks. “Be­ware the birds and ban­quet for five nights in­side a gi­ant nest.”

“My favourite mo­ment is when peo­ple first walk into the venue,” says Min­ervini. “The de­sign­ers do such an ex­tra­or­di­nary job with what re­ally is a gi­ant aero­plane han­gar. Just hear­ing peo­ple gasp at the trans­for­ma­tion or just walk­ing around the site and see­ing peo­ple taken to­tally by sur­prise by a wilder­beest or some sort of weird en­ter­tain­ment hap­pen­ing around them — it is just fan­tas­tic.”

To help cel­e­brate the long­est (and cold­est) night of the year, as well as the pa­gan-in­spired de­sign and en­ter­tain­ment, you have the food, glo­ri­ous food. Dozens of lo­cal food ven­dors are se­lected by the cu­ra­tor, the hap­pily named Jo Cook, and guest chefs are flown in from around the coun­try. This year Sean Mo­ran (from iconic Bondi restau­rant Sean’s Pa­naroma) and Jake Kel­lie (from the Estelle Bistro in Mel­bourne) are on board as well as Tas­ma­nian pro­duc­ers of whisky, rice pa­per rolls, croque mon­sieurs, wood-fired cray­fish, Ethiopian stews, fruit crum­bles, In­dian street food, quince cider, smoked pulled pork burg­ers (I could go on but I am mak­ing my­self too hun­gry).

Cook says she scouts Tas­ma­nia for pro­duc­ers and tests ven­dors’ wares at the weekly MONA food mar­kets dur­ing the sum­mer. She lim­its each ven­dor to just three dishes. “So what they do, they do re­ally well,’’ Cook says. “It’s food I want to eat, it’s food I would be re­ally proud to eat and to share with any­body.”

Cook has es­pe­cially vivid mem­o­ries of last year’s roasted pork buns by Tas­ma­nian farmer, chef and cook­book writer Matthew Evans. “He is just at the top of his game,” she says. “He raises his own cat­tle and rare breed pigs so you know they have just been cared for beau­ti­fully and then he is an ex­cel­lent chef ... He does a fat pig bun. [The roasted pork] is all pulled apart and the juices and fat are put back in, it is drip­ping with flavour, it is just beau­ti­ful.”

The feast takes the use of fire to the point of art. “We do this mas­sive BBQ — it’s an in­stal­la­tion, re­ally,” says Min­ervini. “Tak­ing th­ese chefs out of their very nice kitchens and lit­er­ally hav­ing them on the street, with th­ese walls of BBQ and fire and an al­most me­dieval way to cook meat — it is just fan­tas­tic. [They are all] cov­ered in char­coal by the end of the night.”

The Win­ter Feast, now run­ning for five days, uses fire to cook, to warm din­ers and even as art­work

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