Time to throw our gourmet chops on the bar­bie

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - The Food Issue - MICHELLE ROWE CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

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.’’

PIC­TURE: DAVID BLU­MEN­THAL

Fare­Share chief ex­ec­u­tive Mar­cus God­inho with Sandy Du­dakov

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