TURN UP THE HEAT
TO defend his crown as 2007’s champion barbecue chef, The Australian’s Graeme Blundell competed in last weekend’s Settler’s Cove Celebration of Australian Food & Wine at Noosa on the Queensland Sunshine Coast. Picnic food was this year’s theme as newspaper and magazine food writers and critics cooked under canvas and were judged for two awards, the first by a panel of restaurateurs and chefs and the second by public vote from festival-goers who spent the afternoon scoffing the picnic fare.
Organisers Jim Berardo and Greg O’Brien of Berardo’s Restaurant and Bar couldn’t have dreamed up better weather. A big blue bowl of sky sat over Lions Park and the air was fizzing-fresh. Deni Hines, James Morrison and Marcia Hines performed in a grassy amphitheatre roamed by the occasional brush turkey and the contestants cooked in well-ventilated open-sided tents on the lawn.
Last year, the sweaty action took place in the overheated and sometimes smoky main marquee where, says Blundell, ‘‘ We all found out just how hot it must get in a professional kitchen.’’
The contestants worked very hard, assisted by supervising chef Shane Bailey from Berardo’s on the Beach, visiting chefs and teams of helpers from local restaurants. In Blundell’s case, his brigade comprised chef Patrick Edwards from the Hamilton Strand, 45 minutes inland from Port Fairy in Victoria, where he cooks ‘‘ modern Italian . . . trying to mix things up a bit, specialising in local produce like goat’s cheese and olive oil’’ and, assisting with assembly and serving the long queues, local waiters Sophie Holt and Tammy Moroney.
Blundell’s dish of Tajima wagyu beef burger with bush-pepper relish and Noosa Reds tomatoes didn’t win this year although applause from the ground placed him a clear second in the public vote category to VogueEntertaining+ Travel’s Matt Preston, whose triumphant creation was barbecued Barker’s Creek pork with fish sauce caramel and lime juice slaw.
Preston scooped the panel’s award as well and was instantly ribbed by his opponents and loudly accused of pork-barrelling votes.
The other food journos cooking on the day were Tony Love of Adelaide’s The Advertiser , Lizzie Loel of Brisbane’s Courier-Mail and Simon Thomsen of The SydneyMorningHerald . Good sports all, and every dish was a winner in DepartureLounge ’ s view. (Holt says she was so impressed with the rush for Blundell’s wagyu burgers she’s thinking of opening a stall to sell the takeaway dish at a Sunshine Coast growers market.)
THREE consecutive degustation dinners were held at Berardo’s Restaurant and Bar over the long weekend and Blundell and Lounge attended the Sunday night event, which was hosted by VE+T ’ s senior editor, Sally Feldman, who introduced the eight participating chefs to 115 appreciative diners. Spotted in the crowd were the immaculately groomed Di Sassi of Sassi at Bale in Port Douglas and chatty Simon Marnie of ABC radio and the LifeStyle Food Channel, who acted as compere for the festival events.
Lounge ’ s choices as star dishes of the night were Yamba prawn pasta with peas, pancetta and chilli by Alex Kearns of Glebe Street Diner in Sydney and black beans, black olives in saffron oil, ocean trout, mussels and fresh dill salad by Cheong Liew of The Grange in Adelaide. Liew, who earlier in the day shared one of Blundell’s wagyu burgers with Lounge , said the inspiration for the dish came while standing in a supermarket at Nambucca Heads on the NSW north coast. Lounge has never been so inspired in a Woolies or a Coles and made sure she fled into the night before she was roped into helping with the washing-up. Berardo and O’Brien estimate 2178 glasses were used for the nine-course feast.
THIS annual events-packed long weekend shows just what fabulous regional produce Australia has to offer. The camaraderie between chefs, food industry professionals and folk who just love good nosh and wine was exceptional. Long may it continue. www.celebratefoodandwine.com.
ON Tuesday night, Lounge, shaped like a sofa after the Noosa weekend, was spirited into the Qantas First Lounge at Sydney international airport by the airline’s Carlie Bulloch for a dinner with Qantas executive general manager John Borghetti and Neil Perry of Rockpool and a long table of guests.
The occasion was the 12-month anniversary of the Qantas First Lounge, which features a vertical tropical garden and customised furniture and was designed in tandem with the new A380 interiors.
Borghetti says about 88,000 seated meals have been served from the Perrydesigned menu (he’s the airline’s consultant chef) in the lounge since May last year; the most popular dish is Perry’s salt and pepper squid. About 50,000 self-serve buffet meals have also been scoffed and complimentary treatments in the Payot Paris day spa have hit the 10,000 mark. Perry claims you can get the best breakfast in Sydney at the First Lounge; certainly the coffee is popular, with an average of 5200 cups served a month.
Borghetti reckons he sat down a few years ago with the airline’s industrial design consultant Mark Newson (he’s the chap who created the award-winning Qantas Skybed in 2003) for a meal and ‘‘ several bottles of red wine’’ and they got to talking.
‘‘ Newson sketched some designs on a paper tablecloth and I woke up next morning with a 2000sq mfirst-class lounge in my pocket,’’ Borghetti said. Lounge could but knowingly nod.
Qantas will inaugurate its first A380, between Melbourne and Los Angeles, in October; the airline has also introduced Premium Economy cabins on selected B747-400 flights. www.qantas.com.au.
FIND OF THE WEEK: Enter a Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel Guides contest (runs May 28 to July 1) in conjunction with Angus & Robertson and you could win one of five prize packs of travel books worth $100 each. The bookseller is also offering 20 per cent off Eyewitness titles until July 1. To enter, describe in 200 words or less ‘‘ the most far-out place I’ve travelled to in the past 15 years’’. Send to: publicity@angusrobertson. com.au.
LOUNGE loves: The success at the Chelsea Flower Show in London of the fab Fleming’s and Trailfinders Australian Garden designed by Jamie Durie with 100 per cent indigenous plantings.
LOUNGE loathes: Airline passengers who recline their seats as meals are being served with no regard to those seated behind, battling with their tray tables.
Big bite: Cheong Liew with Graeme Blundell’s wagyu beef burger at Noosa’s food and wine event