Gourmet Escape and an afternoon of feasting in the Gourmet Village
My trip to Margaret River came about one afternoon on a bit of whim. I remember thinking last year after seeing the Gourmet Escape Festival line up that I would love to visit one year and after a resounding ‘yes’ from my cousin that she would be keen to join the road trip, the plans were set in motion.
Gourmet Escape is a three day festival held in November, celebrating the food and wine of the Margaret River region and bringing together some of the biggest names in food, both local and international. The festival has been running since 2012 and the WA State Government has committed to funding the event until 2017, such is its success.
Acting Tourism Minister John Day summed up the power of the festival as having “moved the culinary landscape. No other event in Australia attracts chefs with such culinary talent. It has achieved critical acclaim, generated tourism and established itself as a leading food and wine festival on the world stage in just two years, and given Western Australia a significant share of the culinary spotlight.” (Source: Margaret River Mail article)
The 2014 event saw the likes of Heston Blumenthal (Fat Duck, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, The Hinds Head in Bray, The Crown at Bray and The Perfectionists’ Café UK); Jonny Lake (Fat Duck); Claude Bosi (Hibiscus, London); Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana, Modena Italy) and Clare Smyth (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London) flying into Margaret River for the event. We also enjoyed meals by our homegrown heroes Jacques Reymond; George Calombaris (The Press Club, Gazi, Hellenic Republic & Jimmy Grants); Darren Robertson (Three Blue Ducks Sydney); Matt Wilkinson (Pope Joan, Hams & Bacon, Spud Bar Melbourne) and Peter Gilmore (Quay Sydney). And these were just the tip of the iceberg.
The heart of the festival is the Gourmet Village, which was held at one of the region’s iconic wineries Leeuwin Estate on the Saturday and Sunday. This year the event showcased more food and wine than ever before, along with Regional Pavilions showcasing produce from Genuinely Southern Forests, Geographe Wine Region and Great Southern Wine regions.
There was a range of restaurants from the region showcasing their talents with a selection of dishes available for purchase. All dishes were priced the same, which compared to similar events made it much more affordable. The currency of the festival was GEMs, which could be purchased from designated areas throughout the village. One GEM was equal to $7. My only suggestion to the organisers for next year would be to have more roving staff selling the GEMs as there were some fairly long queues during the day. Any time spent queuing is wasted 'eating' time! Some of the dishes included a Char Sui braised lamb shoulder with sour cream labna and a wattle seed roll from Capel Vale Winery and Match Restaurant; “The Farm House” free range pork croquette, remoulade, apple and celery leaf from Xanadu Wines and a Slider Bun with beef brisket and kimchi from Vasse Felix.
In addition to the restaurants there were cooking demonstrations at the Siemens Chef’s Theatre, tricks of the trade offered in intimate Chef’s Skillery sessions, wine tastings galore (including our favourite winery Fraser Gallop Estate), a chance to discover WA’s best craft beers in the Gourmet Village Brewhouse, Lurpack Table Talks led by Julia Taylor (ex MasterChef), cookbook signings and Canon Food Photography classes. Many of these events were free to attend and different sessions were held throughout the day. Only a few such as the Canon Food Photography session required payment of $20, which included the class, a memory card with your photos and 5 prints from the session.
We were lucky to score some of the best weather on the Saturday, which made our day in the Village a fantastic experience. There was so much to see and do and potentially we could have spent longer, but we were conscious not to eat too much and to also get some rest time before one of the highlights on our festival calendar, The Michelin Greats Dinner with Heston Blumenthal and friends. But, more on that in a future post.
Overall, I think one of the best things about the Gourmet Escape Festival is its accessibility to all ages, tastes and even budgets. Sure there were the big ticket dinners, which were well worth the expense, but you could also still be involved in all the fun of the festival with a number of free events throughout the weekend. Gourmet Village tickets started at just $38 per person and there was a Gourmet Food Trivia event, which apparently turned into a riotous food fight for just $50 per person. The choice was entirely yours. The festival still has a boutique feel to it, numbers for many of the highlight dinners are capped at just 100 people which means you can easily engage with and meet the chefs (and more importantly they are happy to pose for a photo and stop for a chat). Most of the people we chatted with were locals attending the event, and many were extremely impressed to hear we had travelled over from Melbourne just for the festival. My only hope is that in years to come, the festival maintains its laid-back, down to earth nature and that the events are kept small. I would hate to see it become just another impersonal food festival like so many in Australia have become.