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Margaret River Gourmet Escape 2014

After an epic time at last year’s Gourmet Escape in Margaret River, I didn’t think it could get any better, or any bigger.

I was wrong on both counts. The main event, the Gourmet Village at Leeuwin Estate had over 140 exhibitors on both Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd November – chocolate, farm produce, olive oil, cheese, coffee roasters, cocktail specialists, kitchen gadgets, condiments, bakeries, patisseries, gelatarias, truffle products, brewers, wineries of course and more. For the uninitiated, the huge choice together with the buzzing activity, smells and sights could be a little overwhelming.

Bahen Chocolate - the unflavoured variety has just two ingredients, cacao and sugar

Bahen Chocolate – the unflavoured variety has just two ingredients, cacao and sugar

Besides wandering around sipping and nibbling tasty offerings, there were demonstrations and education sessions galore. The star line up of chefs included Heston Blumenthal, Massimo Bottura (Italian 3-Michelin-starred chef), Rick Stein, Sat Bains, as well as Australian chefs Peter Gilmore, Frank Camorra, George Calombaris, Poh Ling Yeow, Matt Stone, Aaron Carr and Tony Howell just to scratch the surface. They demonstrated their dishes on the main stage that was like a rock concert set for chefs, big screens and all.

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Margaret River Gourmet Escape main stage

If you’ve always wanted to learn how to chop through an onion like a chef – then the Chef’s Skillery was for you. For those who’ve just found their wine palate, expert sommeliers were teaching beginners the art of wine tasting at the Around the Barrel sessions. There were Farm to Table demonstrations, wine and food matching, table talks, seafood master classes, book signings and more.

The Brewhouse was a great new addition, showcasing local and boutique beers. I enjoyed the natural lager of Young Henrys and the clean taste of Colonial #1 Brew.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Canon Food Photography Classes were a new edition this year. For just $20, a small group of six were given the use of Canon 70D DSLR cameras and expert instruction for an hour on the art of lighting.

The team at Canon teaching us how to photograph food and lighting techniques

The team at Canon teaching us how to photograph food and lighting techniques

At the end of the class, we got to keep our 8GB SD card containing all the photos we’d taken. For foodies like myself, this was an awesome inclusion.

Canon Food Photography workshop, $20

Canon Food Photography workshop, $20

The VIP Area

On Sunday I had the pleasure of being invited into the Audi Platinum Lounge, inside the Leeuwin Estate restaurant. It was my kind of foodie heaven. An oyster shucker opening fresh Albany and South Australian oysters, a sashimi bar with king fish, encrusted salmon and chargrilled octopus, a charcuterie station that included duck liver parfait, prosciutto, chorizo, and terrine, a cheese buffet with gorgonzola and the biggest wheel of parmesan in the State, and more. I was polite and did not gobble everything up at once, which required a skill of restraint that is hard to exercise in such situations.

Encrusted salmon sashimi at Leeuwen Esate

Encrusted salmon sashimi at Leeuwen Esate

Best of all, I was able to rub shoulders with the who’s who of the food and wine world and invited celebrities. I chatted to Kirk Pengilly from INXS – yes, INXS and again, extreme restraint was exercised and I did not ask for a selfie, as much as (really) I wanted to. Two glasses of Leeuwin Estate Art Series wine were included with the $220 entry ticket and I reckon it’s worth it – I could’ve eaten my ticket price in oysters (bit didn’t – see above).

Gorgonzola - heavenly creamy

Gorgonzola – heavenly creamy

Satellite Events

There were also over 20 satellite events that included the top tier $600 per head international cabernet tasting at Cape Mentelle, a long table lunch at Fraser Gallop, Gourmet Beach BBQs, a long table fiesta, Food for Thought panel sessions, Feast in the Forest, Foraging dinners, a trivia night, Sunset Beats and Bites and more. The tickets ranged in price, starting from $50 per person.

Food for Thought Session - Farm Graze Forage with AA Gill (MC), chefs  Jock Zonfrillo, Daniel Berlin & Matt Stone

Food for Thought Session – Hunter-Gatherers with AA Gill (MC), chefs Jock Zonfrillo, Daniel Berlin & Matt Stone

I attended the Hunter Gatherers Food for Thought session at Voyager Estate as a guest of the event. Hosted by the controversial AA Gill (food critic), chefs Jock Zonfrillo, Daniel Berlin & Matt Stone talked about eating native food, not wasting food, eating what’s in season, eating organic, and choosing food for nutrition value and taste, rather than what it looks like.

My new food hero is Matt Stone – he has a fantastic food philosophy of not wasting food and eating in season. He was the chef behind Perth’s Greenhouse which was built using 100% recycled material, and his restaurant in Melbourne, Brothl, uses scraps from Neil Perry’s Rockpool restaurant to make nutritious broths. There is no wastage of food or anything at Brothl.

Margaret River Gourmet Escape Event Tips

On Saturday, we enjoyed the Gourmet Village by deploying our event strategy:

  1. Arrive early
  2. Buy extra GEMs in the queue to enter (Gourmet Escape Money, 1 GEM = $7)
  3. Immediately find a shady spot to use as a base for the day
  4. Ensure you have a big enough posse to mind the base and take it in turns to explore the event

It worked well, as it had done in previous years. What I hadn’t done so well was study the program from cover to cover, something I would recommend the avid foodie do in order to decide which sessions to go to. With so much on offer, it was easy to get distracted chatting to a producer, watching one demonstration while missing a big name chef was on the main stage, or an interesting session at the Farm to Table or Table Talk elsewhere.

It’s been announced that the Margaret River Gourmet Escape will continue until 2017. Since it generates 33,000 room nights in the region, my number one tip is to book to go as soon as next year’s dates are announced.

The lovely Michelle and Sarah from Tourism WA enjoying the event

The lovely Michelle and Sarah from Tourism WA enjoying the event

Verdict

The crowds were up this year, or so it felt. It was busy in the Gourmet Village on both Saturday and Sunday. Queues for the 16 restaurants offering tasting dishes were long by mid-afternoon and one stallholder had sold out by 2.30pm with several others selling out before the end of the day, which seemed like bad planning on their part. Having said that, there was more space, more shade, a bigger event footprint, more chefs, more stalls, more interactive sessions, and new sessions as well as favourites repeated from the past two years. It was another stellar weekend in the stunning Margaret River region.

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Disclosure:

Dianne Bortoletto was invited as a guest of Escape Lounge into the Audi Platinum Lounge VIP area.  Travelletto was invited to the Food for Thought Session by the event.

A similar version of this article was first published on Escape Lounge, CheckIn.com.au’s inspiration travel page.

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