I have not always been a foodie. I admit that for the vast majority of my earlier years I was a person who ate for the sake of eating; as opposed to properly learning to enjoy and savour my food, differentiating textures, flavours and essences. I was a slave to the supermarket duopoly – purchasing pre-sliced bread and pre-packaged mushrooms, my focus being more economical at the time. Eyes glazed, I didn’t particularly care whether my garlic came from China or Mexico, the cherries Tasmanian or imported from the US.
It was traveling around Australia which first sparked my interest in food. My first family trip interstate was down to the gorgeous island of Tasmania, where for almost every meal we gorged on plump scallops strewn through simple meals like stir fries as though they were confetti. On our road trips between towns, we drove past farms where beside the road lay stands with boxes of Tasmanian cherries, each one the size of a golf ball and deliciously sweet and burstingly ripe with dark juice.
And how can I forget my first trip down the South Coast of New South Wales to Batemans Bay a few years ago, where en route to Mogo Zoo the sister and I decided to stop off at a run-down, stand-alone bakery that had been recommended in the Good Food Guide for their sourdough. No bircher muesli, hash browns or sausages here, but simply eggs on toast, eggs and bacon on toast, mushrooms on toast, or eggs, bacon and mushrooms on toast. We had our doubts… up to the second that we chewed on our first mouthful of real, locally-produced and home-made sourdough toast.
And I haven’t gone back to supermarket pre-sliced bread since…!
I’ve since visited various foodie markets during the weekends where I can spare the time (or wake up early enough!). It requires you to be present in the flesh to stare wide-eyed at how many varieties of garlic there are, savouring the crisp crunch and give under your teeth of an unwaxed rosy perfumed apple, or scarfing down a bread roll filled with egg and crispy, savoury artisan bacon.
It’s not all about just looks and taste though. What also needs to be taken into consideration is provenance and the environmental impact of food products, as well as their long-term sustainability.
The world’s resources – while tasty – are also finite.
There has been an emergence of producers across Australia who have taken this into consideration, and with years of hard labour, finesse and effort brought out food products that rival those across the world, and that are even much sought after by world-renown chefs. So what better way to celebrate and promote this than with the delicious. Produce Awards? I graciously accepted (whilst internally squealing like a hyperactive piglet) an invitation to the 2014 delicious. Produce Awards lunch at ARIA Restaurant in Sydney, which would showcase the wonderful work of some of this year’s finalists. And with it being at ARIA, of course Matt Moran had a hand in designing the menu, having been one of the judges on the selection panel.
The delicious. Produce Awards categories include from the Earth, from the Sea, from the Paddock and from the Dairy.
We started off our luncheon with Shucked Pacific oysters with Yarra Valley Brook Trout Caviar and eschalot dressing.
Just look at that gleam. Would you believe it, the trout and Atlantic Salmon from Yarra Valley are gently hand-milked (under a gentle, natural anaesthetic) before being returned to their natural environment? So every savoury and tangy pop of caviar on your tongue is completely sustainable.
Of course we were served with your customary bread roll as soon as we were seated. We had the option of dipping the warm farl of bread into a dainty dish of Cobram Estate First Harvest extra virgin olive oil, but once I had a taste of the The Butter Factory Myrtleford butter…
I’m not a person who enjoys eating butter on its own, but I changed my mind. It was literally like eating the lightest savoury cream imaginable. “I can’t believe it’s butter!” would be an appropriate thing to say here. I’ve had a snoop around on their website and they sell Black Truffle Butter for $16…. *cue doe-eyed look of longing*. Get in while it’s hot.
Our entrees arrived, and I was rather dismayed to see that it was very pink. This was our Clean Seas Hiramasa Kingfish with The Butter Factory Myrtleford creme fraiche, Snowy River Station sea spray, beetroot and horseradish.
Fish with creme fraiche and beetroot – sea, dairy and earth all at once – who would have thought of such a combination? But it was simple and beautiful; the Yellowtail kingfish melting in the mouth with the light, slightly tangy flavour of the creme fraiche and the earthy flavour from the beetroot. The sea spray, reminding me slightly of a spikier succulent with its distinctive shape, added a lovely subtle saltiness to the dish.
Before we moved onto our main, the sides arrived – a vibrant leafy salad (which I didn’t bother taking a photo of, haha) and an incredibly indulgent Paris mash. Potato with your butter, anyone? ;)
I later found out that Sher Wagyu has won gold medals in various produce awards in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and a finalist in 2012. It’s also marketed as Sher Black in Japan. Frankly, I’m not surprised as those two slices of wagyu steak have destroyed a good $10 pub steak for me forever. But then again, it really wouldn’t even compare because this steak was a whole different ball game. Meltingly tender, juicy beyond belief, and with a beautiful natural flavour and essence that went beyond the XO sauce. I cleared my plate methodically, leaving one centimetre square of wagyu ’til the very end so that the flavour would linger on my palate for longer.
The watercress was also beautiful – very much aesthetically. Darling Mills is a specialist grower of salad produce and edible flowers, and now that I’ve heard of them I’ll be sure to look out for them at Eveleigh Markets as I’ve been meaning to buy some edible flowers and micro herbs for my own home cooking.
And time finally rolled around to our dessert. The Drysdale Cheeses goat’s milk yoghurt sorbet with Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnut and mandarin sounded like an utterly bizarre combination of ingredients; particularly to one who has sampled many varieties of goat’s milk products in Amsterdam. It was lovely to look at when it arrived.
The mandarin sorbet was intensely good. It tasted like the essence of a thousand mandarins compacted into that one delicate quenelle of orange sorbet. The thinly shaved layer of Jerusalem artichoke added an element of balance to the dish, and beneath it was the single scoop of that goat’s milk yoghurt sorbet.
Of course such a clean, refreshing vibrant-tasting yoghurt would come from a place like the Bellarine Peninsula, south of Melbourne. It was almost as though you could taste the crisp air and the all-natural fodder for the goats… ….or I could have just been letting my imagination run away with me; feeling as though that with tasting and savouring one little morsel it’s opening me up to a whole new level of sensory experiences – imagining a life outside of the urban grind, with daydreams and fantasies of places I’ve never been and am yet to explore.
…But is that not the point of all of this? ;)