Manna from heaven emerges out of the wilderness
LAST year fresh food producers in Tasmania’s northwest formed a consortium aptly named Produce of Heaven, including under this overarching umbrella vegetables and fruit such as apples and raspberries; King Island and Mersey valleys cheeses; wagyu beef; Petuna Seafoods; Hellyers Road Distillery (whisky and vodka); Ghost Rock Vineyard; even rainwater from King Island ( King Island Cloud Juice): about 55 businesses and 200 farmers all up.
So far the producers have been able to get the prices they’re looking for only by air-freighting their gourmet specialties to five-star hotels and high-end delis in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
But a fresh Produce of Heaven launch in Devonport next week aims to make the local products more easily available on home ground. Organiser Mark Baker tells FoodDetective that the industry tour is the first step to showcasing local farm gates in a region that has so much to offer tourists and food lovers.
The Tarkine, Tasmania’s largest unprotected wilderness and rainforest area, forms the backdrop for this heavenly produce. The consortium’s website will be live from May 19 (www.poh.com.au). Others are: www.tasfresh.com.au; www.hellyersroaddistillery.com.au; www.petuna.com; www.discovertasmania.com. ■ BARISTAS on the boil: Last weekend the function rooms at BCM Bar in Melbourne’s Docklands hissed with the heat of competition at the AustralAsian Specialty Coffee Association’s National Barista Championships. The national latte art and cupping championships made up the hattrick. (Cupping involves identifying a coffee’s origin, out of sets of three cups, sometimes from different growing altitudes in the same country.)
Champion 2006 barista David Makin— working a shiny red La Marzocca espresso machine, handmade in Florence and looking like a small sports car — came up trumps for 2008, against eight other state finalists watched by seven judges. Makin works for Melbourne coffee roaster Veneziano. Association vice-chairman Ben Bicknell tells FoodDetective that, after setting up, the baristas had 15 minutes to make four espressos, four cappuccinos and four cups of a signature espressobased drink of their own devising.
The newly crowned latte art champ is NSW finalist Habib Maarbani, from Morgans Kitchen, Liverpool, NSW, and champion taster is Catherine Ferrari of Perth roaster European Foods.
The three winners will compete at the world barista championship in Copenhagen in June. www.aasca.com. ■ SKYE Gyngell, former Sydneysider, now head chef at Petersham Nurseries in Surrey, England, in a recent edition of The Independent , writes in a paean to the potent brew: ‘‘ I grew up in Sydney, which has a fantastic coffee culture thanks to the huge number of Italians and Greeks who immigrated there after the war. Almost everywhere you go you can expect a good cup that’s intense, thick and smooth.’’ ■ MEANWHILE, the British press is mulling over the recently published S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list ( Food Detective , April 26-27), and lamenting a mere six Brit inclusions in 2008, down from 14 in 2005.
The truth is, things have been a bit grim for Britain in the past three lists, with only six inclusions in 2006, seven in 2007 and six again this year. TheIndependent says the international panel of judges was impressed by ‘‘ newer arrivals’’ and ‘‘ experimental cooking’’.
Australia’s two listed restaurants are Tetsuya’s and Rockpool (Fish). www.theworlds50best.com. ■ MUCH angst in British restaurant circles, as well, over the banishment of The River Cafe from the top 50, coming after a blaze at the restaurant early last month that began in the kitchens as customers were arriving for dinner and spread to the ground floor, closing the restaurant for what was originally expected to be two weeks. When Detective called to confirm a reopening date, she learned repairs were much more extensive than at first thought and the restaurant will now be closed until August. The River Cafe is taking the opportunity to do a complete refurb: ‘‘ It’s going to be fabulous,’’ Detective ’ s informant tells her.
A wall will be removed and the partial open kitchen extended so the entire work area will be on view and ‘‘ every chef will be part of the dining room’’.
The River Cafe-trained chefs include Jamie Oliver and Hugh FearnleyWhittingstall as well as a host of Aussies and imports, including Tobie Puttock, Darren Simpson, Ashley Hughes and Tom Kime. www.rivercafe.co.uk. ■ STILL in Britain, this year’s awards for excellence from tourism organisation Enjoy England, announced at a lavish evening in Liverpool at the end of last month, named The Salty Monk as B & B of the year. The 16th-century restaurant with rooms in Sidmouth, Devon, won on the quality of its contemporary English cuisine, as well as its accommodation.
In the restaurant category, Fifteen Cornwall in Watergate Bay took top spot. It offers seasonal, local produce and trains disadvantaged young people, with all profits going to charity. TheTimes’s Jill Dupleix was impressed on a recent visit. www.saltymonk.co.uk; www.fifteencornwall.co.uk. ■ EXCELLENCE at home: Rare treats at (A)Lure Dining Room at Perth’s Burswood Entertainment Complex at the end of the month when celeb chef Cheong Liew, of Adelaide’s Grange restaurant, presides over two dinners and a cookery demonstration. Liew tells Detective he hasn’t been to Perth for a long time; he’s looking forward to it and plans to transport a few of his favourite dishes.
The Four Dances of the Sea has been requested, from the Grange menu. And there’ll be quail filled with shiitake mushrooms, chicken liver, pork belly and duck mince, served in bamboo leaf, in a ■ LIEW’S cooking demonstration will feature the quail dish, ocean trout with black olives, black beans and ‘‘ a very heavy salad of pickled pawpaw and dill’’, and the intriguing Peruvian dessert. May 29, 12pm-3pm. ■ BRISBANE chef Philip Johnson, of E’cco Bistro fame (New Zealand-born, he has worked alongside Antony Worrall Thompson at London bistro Dell’Ugo, and is another River Cafe graduate), will offer a five-course dinner for the Sydney launch of his book of desserts, Decadence, at Liquidity Waterfront Restaurant, Rozelle. May 28, $135. www.liquidity.com.au. broth of duck bones and pig’s tail, with bitter almond milk; creamy and very white, Liew says.
And if you thought you knew everything about desserts, try this: a Peruvian baba, not au rhum, but au tequila syrup, and made of yolk with no flour, served with fresh berries and mascarpone. May 28 and 29, $190 a head, includes food and drinks. (08) 9362 7551; www.burswood.com.au. ■ WEBSITE to watch: Daylesford dynamo Alla Wolf-Tasker, of Victoria’s Lake House, is a moving force behind the Daylesford Macedon Produce group (their logo is a farm gate).
DMP links a long list of local producers and growers (from vegetables to rare-breed pork) with local chefs and others, making sure the bounty of the region is available at home, a logical state of affairs that is largely sabotaged by the big supermarket conglomerates. The group’s just-launched website lists useful information for visitors to Daylesford-Macedon (festivals, farmers markets, dinners) but there are also plans down the track to offer delectable fresh and seasonal produce beyond the boundaries of the region. www.dmproduce.com; www.lakehouse.com.au. ■ MEANWHILE, Manchester University researchers have found that eating pizza topped with tomato paste can help prevent sunburn and wrinkles, with the potential to protect against skin cancer and ageing. Over a mere 12 weeks, tomato-pasteeating test subjects had 33 per cent better protection against sunlight than those not eating the paste. Researchers think an antioxidant, lycopene, which gives tomatoes their colour, neutralises harmful molecules in skin exposed to ultra-violet rays. Cooked tomatoes contain higher levels of lycopene than raw. Presumably the pizza could be dispensed with. ■ FIND of the week: Autumnal Italian treats. Elementi pappardelle, made in Piedmont of 100 per cent durum wheat flour and slow-dried to produce a robustflavoured pasta, $4.75 a 250g pack. And for dessert, Piedmontese whole baby pears poached in red wine with lemon zest and a suggestion of cinnamon, in jars under the Simon Johnson label, $27.75, 550g. Simon Johnson stores nationally, www.simonjohnson.com. ■ DETECTIVE loves: Food growers working with chefs in their own region to showcase what’s fresh and local, so it isn’t all shipped out to somewhere else. ■ DETECTIVE loathes: Cold, tiled floors in restaurants, with winter coming on and noise levels rising.
Best in the west: Cheong Liew