Flavour a nat­u­ral win­ner, but imag­i­na­tion is also re­warded

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays Afloat - Ju­dith Elen

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

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