Earth Lessons: Melbourne Food & Wine Festival.

Brunyfire has just returned from a galloping gastronomical couple of days of pure gluttony in Melbourne during the city’s  Food and Wine Festival, 2013 that involved fire, dirt, hot rocks, cooking demonstrations, copious amounts of wine and food tastings, exhibitions about food, celebrity chef spotting and temperatures in the upper 30s.Melbourne Food Festival guide, 2013The festival started on the 1st March and finished yesterday, Sunday, the 17th during which time, over 200 events in and around the city have been played out.  The theme of this year’s event followed on from that of last year’s – ‘Fire’ (sadly, I missed out on this one by a hair – tickets sold out the day the event was advertised), and focused on the topic –  ‘Earth’.  The ‘earth’ theme’s intention was to celebrate both the stuff that you can grow and cook things in, and to look at ways of treating and protecting it (as a sustainable whole) so future generations will also be able to grow and cook things in it too.

The earth theme was most dominant at the Ceres Community Park – a 7 acre sustainability and environment centre and urban farm in Melbourne’s inner north – a mere tram ride away from my hotel in the CBD.  Here, Earth Masterclasses included the laying of a Kiwi hangi, a Hawaiian imu, cooking in clay, food demos from the park’s veggie patch and chook pens, wine tasting throughout the day and a dinner finale.

Of the whole festival menu, this was the main draw for Brunyfire, and at a hefty $455 tag for the day’s event, I was pretty determined to get my money’s worth!  It started off pretty well at 2pm in the afternoon with a range of cocktails and canapes……..P1010960…….. the beetroot, celery and watermelon cocktail, featured Tasmania’s own Lark Island Rum – with a lemon zest and oregano crust on the watermelon slice – a fiery little number that helped to combat the escalating heat of the day.Slide1Forgoing his snappy suits and signature cravats for a red shirt and shorts – Master Chef judge, food writer and Master of Ceremonies for the day Matt Preston, was not quite looking his usual dapper self in the 30+ something afternoon heat………..P1010967………unlike Aunty Carolyn Briggs – a Boonwurrung elder from Victoria and recognised keeper of the history and genealogies of her people – who performed a welcome to country for the Earth Class participants, with cool aplomb.  P1010966Aunty Carolyn Briggs ran an indigenous food restaurant Tjanabi in the heart of Melbourne from 2007 until 2010, that attempted to introduce bush tucker to both local and international palates within a modern context.  Despite being a representative elder of considerable standing, and custodian of country in Melbourne, Briggs has strong connections with Tasmania.

Aunty Carolyn Briggs is a descendent of George Briggs, a teenage convict from Dunstable in Bedfordshire who became a whaler and later took as his wife, Woretermoeteyenner of the Pairrebeenne people of north-east Van Diemen’s Land in 1810.  Aunty Carolyn told me with great pride, and a glint in her eye, that’s the reason her hair is red.  She’s following in the tradition of the indigenous men of Tasmania, who were well known for their cosmetic practice of using a mixture of red ochre and fat in their hair to create the iconic ‘rat tail’ hair style.  George Briggs who worked the seas off the north west coast of Tasmania, was white skinned with fiery red hair!

In her address, Briggs entreated us all to take care of the land and to treat the earth with respect if we wished to maintain our dependence upon it.  Briggs is knowledgeable in the way of native plants – as bush food, in ceremonies and as medicine and demonstrated this by presenting each of us with a gum leaf that represented a pledge to tread the earth lightly and with respect.  She also illustrated the importance of recognising bush tucker and to understand its seasonality with the Kangaroo Apple, or Solanum aviculare, which is toxic in the condition as seen below and is only edible when it changes colour from green to yellow.P1010971The Kangaroo Apple was growing at Ceres, and this flower was the last on the bush before the fruit would start to form.P1010992The group was then directed to the hangi and imu pits, where we met Ed Kenney from Hawaii.  Kenney runs his own restaurant Town in Honolulu whose culinary mantra is always ‘local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always’.  P1010994Aloha ʻAina or ‘love of the land’ was the overriding emphasis that emerged from watching this unassuming and passionate guy whose understanding of earth, air, fire and water made his presentation the highlight of the event for me.  I’ll be writing a separate piece about Ed Kenney’s Hawaiian imu as he was so generous in his information and his imu looked a lot easier than a hangi that Brunyfire’s firepit is just waiting for an experimental imu happening.  Aunty Carolyn also referred to the aboriginal (and Torres Strait islanders) version of an earth oven, the kup murri – another experiment waiting to happen…… P1010981In the meantime, note the fast action Blunny (Tassie Blundstone boot) clad footwork of Ed Kenney as he walks on hot rocks (under the rapidly drying out, water saturated hessian bags) to get the basket of food he’s just prepared, under wraps in time for dinner.

Matt Wilkinson grew up between the rolling pastures and industrial jungle of Barnsley, South Yorkshire in Northern England. Growing up in a pub, his passion for food and a cheeky ale developed. Learning his trade in the kitchens of London and Edinburgh, he has since opened his own café in east Brunswick, Melbourne with the unlikely name of Pope Joan,  as well as a local drinking house next door The Bishop of Ostia. P1010995Wilkinson is mad about fresh seasonal produce, and went so far as to plant several beds of sweetcorn and salad greens at Ceres for his cookery demonstration well before the festival.  Exhorting all participants to pluck produce, sniff the soil, generally get down and dirty oh – and buy the book………51TaimODWyL…….this amusing man made a simple salad of roasted sweet corn, zucchini and assorted leaves, served up with smoked yoghurt and what must be the world’s simplest mayo – 3 eggs (boiled for 3 1/2 minutes) – shelled – blended together with 1 tsp Dijon mustard and 1tbsp chardonnay vinegar.  Continue blitzing whilst you add 250 gms melted butter – chuck in some finely chopped herbs…….P1010998So – it doesn’t look that great (it was only a sample after all) – but it tasted pretty good.

Next, and more relevant to Brunyfire was the Italian chef, Massimo Spigaroli’s presentation of Clay Baked Guinea Fowl.  Though he’s lauded in Italy and beyond as a great chef, mentor, teacher and culatello maker (means ‘little backside’ – a pretty specky kind of prosciutto)  Massimo regards himself to be as much a farmer as a chef. His restaurant the Al Cavallino Bianco (At the Sign of The White Pony) adjoins the abundant family farm that produces native pigs and cattle, geese, ducks, chickens, fruit, vegetables and grains.P1020014Spigaroli first boned and butterflied his guinea fowl while his assistant prepared the ‘clay’.  Again – this was such a good demo that I’ll deal with it separately and in more detail.   Suffice it to say at this point that the bird was stuffed and dressed with Spigaroli’s signature prosciutto wrapped in ‘clay’ and cooked for about 40 minutes in a wood fired oven.P1020023The blackened encased bird was then pulled out on a short handled peel and the hard crust cracked and opened.  A delicious morsel with a nice blend of pork mince and bird flesh – the spuds were also ‘clay’ wrapped.P1020031And finally, there was the hangi – this was what I had really come to see and to learn about.  I had previously written to Ben Shewry……..P1020049……. the New Zealand chef of Attica fame, to ask if I could watch the preparation of the pit and the lighting of the fire.  Not surprisingly, I received a resounding negative!  I had also attempted to book a table at this renown restaurant, only to learn that attempting to get a table with a days notice, for a place that has a 5 month waiting list, was a bit stupid!  Shewry is one of a growing number of chef’s in Australia (Tassie’s own, Garagistes’ Luke Burgess is another) to make foraging a key factor of their menu – Shewry forages around the city for a lot of his ingredients.Shewry picks about 70 or 80 different items – the most popular being the wild fennel pollen and the leaves; sea blight and glasswort, beech spinach and also dune spinach and four kinds of seaweed, kelp and sea lettuce.  Shewry grew up on the family farm in New Zealand and relates to many of his memories of growing up and foraging which he relates in his new book Origin: the Food of Ben Shewry, three years in the making. Beautifully produced with its shots of fabulous New Zealand, stories and recipes are set in a dramatically dark and moody ambience – with foraging and the traditions of laying a hangi, playing an important element of the book.  On the left is Shewry’s signature dish……..9781741969870-5……..comprising a Virgina roast potato (from South Australia) that has been compacted in earth and cooked in the oven for three hours – replicating the Maori Hangi cooking methods (on the right). P1020065Eventually, the hangi and the imu were unearthed and the dinner for all was prepared – by this time, we were all pretty hungry, it was getting dark – the wine was beginning to flow in earnest……..P1020072……..and the dinner setting was looking fantastic.P1020071We finally get to eat the lamb and vegetables that came from Shewry’s hangi and Kenney’s imu – the meat was fall off the bone tender, retaining its moisture with an earthy, smokey taste – the spuds were equally good, but the carrots – well – they just tasted like warm, mushy and smokey burlap!!

Time to slip away from the hyperbole onto the last #96 tram and wend my weary way back to my hostel.

Happy days……..


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