Flavour a natural winner, but imagination is also rewarded
THIS is the third year Vogue Entertaining+Travel Produce Awards have championed the growers and suppliers of the finest produce the country can offer professional chefs and home kitchens.
Cooks in search of the best rely on specialist suppliers and farmers markets for their discoveries, and these too are remembered in the awards.
At Sydney’s Aria restaurant this week, VE+T announced its list of winners for 2008, while chef Matt Moran offered tastes of the prize-winning produce.
VE+T editor-in-chief Trudi Jenkins said there were more than 200 entrants — the categories are earth, dairy, paddock and sea— and she praised small producers, citing the hardships imposed by drought and the imagination involved in turning to drought-resistant crops such as capers, which used to be available only as an import. The key, she told the gathering, is flavour over the demands of shelf-life.
And the winners — apart from us, our health, flavour and freshness — are . . .
From the earth: Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms, with its spectrum of delicately coloured fungi grown in a disused railway tunnel at Mittagong in NSW (the owner, microbiologist Noel Arrold, is working towards organic certification). www.li-sunexoticmushrooms.com.au.
From the dairy: Holy Goat La Luna, cheeses handmade daily from the organic milk of goats grazing on native herbs and grasses in the foothills of Victoria’s Mt Alexander (the herd is small to preserve the pastures; the goats are lovely, Carla Meurs, co-owner with Ann-Marie Monda, tells Food Detective, and each one has a personality). www.ripeorganics.com.au/holy-goat.
From the paddock: Glenloth Game Squab in Victoria is supplied by 25 growers, ensuring consistent quality; it runs its own processing plant. (Glenloth was also named producer of the year.) (03) 5493 7383.
From the sea: Woodbridge Smokehouse Cold-Smoked Ocean Trout with Pepper Berry Liquor comes from the much-lauded smokehouse run by Roger Scales at an organic apple orchard on Tasmania’s D’Entrecasteaux Channel. This is Woodbridge’s second award. www.woodbridgesmokehouse.com.au.
Awards also went to stone-milled wheat flour (heritage), biodynamic honey (new product) and the best supplier; a handful of names were highly commended.
Chef David Rayner, of Queensland’s River House Restaurant, was honoured for his outstanding use of regional produce, a crucial showcasing role. Among local farmers markets, the winner was Albany Farmers Market in Western Australia (with Cardinia Ranges Farmers Market in Victoria as runner-up).
One of Detective’s favourite food neighbourhoods, northeastern Victoria, won the regional award (with South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula highly commended). And, finally, veteran cheesemaker Gabrielle Kervella collected, to much applause, the Maggie Beer Award for her contribution to our food. Beer tells Detective that Kervella, who has retired from her farm at Gidgegannup, northeast of Perth, plays a key consulting role with younger makers. She lives amid the rolling hills of northern New Zealand. www.vogueentertaining.com.au.
RIVER House chef Rayner, among the stars at VE+T ’ s Aria do this week, is a champion of the 50km principle — from paddock to plate, as he puts it — of sourcing food. At two dinners next month, planned in conjunction with VE+T , five courses will feature produce grown within a 50km radius of Rayner’s Noosa back yard (including VE+T ’ s highly commended Noosa Spanner Crabs).
Apart from the glass of Henriot Champagne (which is produced in Reims) on arrival. June 26 and 27; $76 a head. www.riverhouserestaurant.com.au.
INDUSTRY body the Australian Hotels Association, honouring the country’s leading hotel restaurants, has awarded Astral chef Sean Connolly, of Sydney’s Star City, chef of the year for the third time running. Restaurant of the year was jointly awarded to Astral and chef Tony Bilson’s Bilson’s Restaurant at Radisson Plaza Hotel Sydney. www.astralrestaurant.com.au; www.bilsons.com.au.
INDIA’S Taj Blue Diamond at Pune is the loser as Taj Hotel and Water Bar Blue Sydney snaffles its former executive chef. Oswin Bosco Charles Ribeiro is the newly appointed chef at Blue Sydney at Woolloomooloo, after 15 years in leading kitchens in India, including Mumbai’s Taj President, where he was executive sous chef. Expect to see a stimulating blend of Indian and Italian dishes on Ribeiro’s menu, seasoned with a liberal dash of his originality. www.tajhotels.com/sydney.
THE Sydney Italian Festival opens on Tuesday and buzzes away until June 10, with dinners and lunches, chefs’ tables, demonstrations and masterclasses, tastings and walking tours. Though the festival officially ends on June 10 with a tasting of central and southern Italian cheeses at the GPO Cheese and Wine Room in Martin Place ($60), in true Italian fashion the fun lingers on until June 14, with a final long lunch celebrating Emilia Romagna, at Cucina Italiana cooking school in Annandale. www.cucinaitaliana.com.au; www.sydneyitalian.com.au.
MELBOURNE’S already effervescing award winner Vue de Monde, under chef Shannon Bennett, is opening the country’s first Dom Perignon Private Dining Room, showcasing the French house’s range of champagnes, including rare vintages from the cellars at Hautvillers north of Epernay, matched with special Bennett-created dishes. The room is reportedly moodily opulent, with a large, charcoal-toned dining table, dark walls, jet-black carpet and striped black Catifa chairs. A plasma-screen television will allow customers a view of kitchen activities. The room will officially be launched on Wednesday during a visit by Dom Perignon’s chef de cave Richard Geoffroy, when the 2000 vintage will also be released. The degustation menu, with champagnes, promises to be suitably dramatic at $590 a head.
The following evening, the room will be opened to private parties of 10 to 14. There will be a range of set options, all of them sumptuous. www.vuedemonde.com.au.
BRITISH cookery queen Delia Smith’s latest book, HowtoCheatatCooking (Random House, $59.95), has been the target of criticism from British chefs to panellists at Melbourne’s recent Food & Wine Festival, who had something to say about her betrayal of the cause of cooking with care.
English group Consensus Action on Salt and Health claims that Smith could be putting people’s health at risk with the high salt content of some of the recipes, which use ready-made foods — often already rich in salt — rather than fresh ingredients, to save time. The campaigners say one recipe for two people contains more than 14g of salt, not including extra salt added while cooking the sauce and pasta; the maximum recommended salt intake is 6g a day.
There has also been mention of the gratuitous listing of brands in recipes. However, other chefs, including Jamie Oliver, have been similarly castigated, in Oliver’s case for the apparently promotional use of his own kitchen equipment on his TV shows.
FIND of the week: The Queensland Government’s Wine and Food Map of Queensland, from north Queensland to the Sunshine Coast hinterland, Darling Downs to the Scenic Rim. Wineries, dairies and coffee farms are a feature in a clear, informative layout. $9.95; www.hemamaps.com.
DETECTIVE loves: The dedication of small growers and the networks that support them, from farmers markets to the chefs who base their menus on local produce.
DETECTIVE loathes: After agonies of indecision, seeing the dish she imagined and longed for delivered to the next table.
Veteran cheesemaker: Gabrielle Kervella