Time to throw our gourmet chops on the barbie
WITH our culinary interest piqued by television food shows, the rise of the celebrity chef and events such as this month’s Sydney International Food Festival, it’s little wonder Australia’s tourism industry is turning its attention to the gastronomic traveller.
Tourism boards are positioning their regions as food and wine hubs and promoting their diverse culinary offers — from food trails and cellar doors to farmers’ markets — to lure back tourists who’ve been taking their money overseas.
‘‘Food and wine is integral to any visitor experience,’’ South Australian Tourism Commission marketing director David O’Loughlin says. ‘‘So it’s critical that the tourism and food and wine industries align to develop, market and deliver . . . the most appealing product possible.’’
Victorian Tourism Minister Louise Asher says gastronomic experiences are a ‘‘core attraction’’, and the annual Melbourne Food & Wine Festival plays a ‘‘pivotal role in the national and global positioning of Victoria’s food and wine offerings’’; a ‘‘catalyst for visitors to book a trip to Victoria’’.
Meanwhile, Tasmanian visitor survey data for the year ending in March shows that 57 per cent of visitors participate in at least one food and beverage activity, and that people are increasingly citing food as a key aspect of their travels.
Niche wine and food experiences are becoming drivers of destination choice, and while wine regions such as Western Australia’s Margaret River and South Australia’s fertile growing districts have long been tourist magnets, a more cohesive, coordinated and well-marketed campaign to integrate wine and food tourism would help position Australia as a destination with serious gastronomic chops.
With our diverse culinary experiences and restaurants increasingly appearing on world’s best lists, we have so much more to offer than that big, red rock and the world’s most unusual wildlife. HERE’S how to make a meal that will nourish body and soul: take some excess pastry from a pie manufacturer, vegetables that have been rescued from a grocer, eggs that didn’t quite meet the specifications for market but are farm-fresh nonetheless, locally produced cheese that’s edging towards its use-by date, and a handful of herbs from a volunteer’s garden.
Mix it all together and you’ve got yourself a quiche. Multiply the recipe by a couple of thousand and you’ve made a decent contribution to the vulnerable people of Melbourne who rely on charities for their daily bread.
It was a recipe that appealed to Sandy Dudakov when she decided to give up her job in property management 10 years ago and volunteer full-time instead.
‘‘I was approaching a significant birthday and it was time for reflection on life,’’ she says. ‘‘I happened to see a little article in the paper about this group called One Umbrella [now FareShare] and what they were doing made a lot of sense to me.
‘‘They were collecting food that was being thrown away and in a very small, humble way were making meals and giving them to charities.’’ Dudakov donned an apron and began chopping and dicing, rescuing food from supermarkets, wholesalers, manufacturers, farmers and caterers, and delivering meals to charities. Today she sits on FareShare’s board, continues to volunteer full-time and recently pioneered a secondary schools program that puts students to work in the kitchen and gets them thinking about food wastage and the value of volunteering.
‘‘They do also learn some life skills — we’ve taught a couple of kids how to use a potato peeler,’’ Dudakov says.
But if volunteers at FareShare think they’re going to be transformed into MasterChefs, their illusions are quickly shattered, for here they are put to work chopping hundreds of kilograms of vegies, cracking thousands of eggs and rolling out acres of pastry.
‘‘Our chef may have chosen zucchinis and capsicums and potatoes and sweet potatoes, and the task might be peeling and chopping — chopping onions is the least favourite job in our kitchen,’’ Dudakov says.
‘‘Or it may be that we’ve made a pasta with meat sauce or a lamb ragout or a beef casserole. What the mix will be we never know, but we all know how to chop. We all know how to crack the eggs.’’
But volunteers are occasionally exposed to the more glamorous side of the food business, such as the time FareShare was offered 400kg of non-perishables left over from the Iron Chef television series.
‘‘We picked up everything from legumes through to saffron threads, which are worth more per gram than gold,’’ FareShare chief executive Marcus Godinho says.
‘‘Sometimes donations come in from inner-city providores. We might have a big curry we’re making with vegetables and meat, but you’re pouring in jars of $20 curry paste on top of it.
‘‘It’s very hearty and standard fare, but it can become very gourmet when we get these treats. It’s remarkable sometimes what finds its way into the kitchen.’’
And remarkable how many Australians are going hungry: a decade ago FareShare was making 300 pies on a Saturday morning; today it produces 2000 meals a day and is fast outgrowing its premises.
‘‘We help around 300 charities in Victoria with free food, and last year we would have saved them around $6 million,’’ Godinho says. ‘‘[But] our research shows that we need to be making around 4000 meals a day. Our No 1 priority is to establish a larger kitchen that can meet this community need.’’
FareShare chief executive Marcus Godinho with Sandy Dudakov