Rottnest Cruise and Wild Seafood Feast

When the email pinged in my inbox inviting me on a Wild Seafood Experience and cruise on Rottnest Island (20km off the coast of Perth), I signed up straight away. The new tour is an ocean-to-plate boat cruise called Wild Seafood Experience by Rottnest Cruises, blending two of Western Australia’s great icons − Rottnest Island and the Western Rock Lobster (crayfish).

The 2.5-hour cruise is the first-ever interactive seafood tour – and by interactive I mean passengers catch lunch – on Rottnest Island. It was a stunning summer’s day and the cruise on Rottnest Cruises’ multi-level charter vessel around to Parakeet Bay, with an ice cold beer in hand, was sheer bliss.  Here’s a short video about our day:

On the way we stopped to catch lunch, taking it in turns to haul up the cray pots, cheering as each one of the six pots was raised on board with several crayfish inside. Pots were rebaited  with fish heads, and the crays removed. Each lobster was measured to ensure it met compliance, quick photo for insta, then in the crate to be prepared for lunch. It was fun and interesting – I’d never caught a lobster before.

Before lunch, we jumped in crystal clear Indian Ocean for a swim, while crewman Kent was busy shucking oysters for us, then in a first for me, passed me one as I was swimming. Eating freshly shucked oysters while in the ocean, heaven! We devoured an elaborate banquet of sea-fresh delicacies that included Mandurah blue swimmer crabs, king prawns, fresh fish tacos, marinated Fremantle octopus, loads of salads and of course just-caught crayfish, cooked live in an open, on-board kitchen. All this, while taking in Rottnest’s Insta-perfect views and enjoying unlimited beer, wine and bubbles. Now, that’s living.

I was invited, but I wouldn’t rave about anything to you unless I thought it was exceptional, and Rottnest Cruises’ Wild Seafood Experience is exceptional. For a short time, it’s just $175 per adult, totally worth it. The boat caters for 30 guests and a new slightly bigger boat will be in operation soon.

Rottnest lighthouse from boat

 

Rottnest Cruises’ Wild Seafood Experience operates from Rottnest Island daily from 11am to 1.30pm. Introductory cruise cost (valid until February 28, 2019) is $175 per adult or $125 per child (not ideal for children under 5) and is fully inclusive of three courses (canapes, seafood buffet lunch and dessert), with unlimited beverages.

For bookings, phone +61 8 9586 1136 or visit rottnestcruises.com

Did you know…?

The western rock lobster is one of the family of ‘spiny’ lobsters, colourful and protected by a strong carapace. They are sometimes called ‘crayfish’ or ‘crays’. They canlive for more than 20 years and grow to weigh 5 kg. But due to fishing rules, fishers rarely catch animals heavier than 3 kg. When temperatures are cooler they mature at six to seven years old, when their carapace reaches a length of about 90 mm. In warmer water they mature at smaller sizes, usually at about 70 mm.

 

To read more, head to the Department of Fisheries website here.

 

 

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Three top cooking shows to binge watch these holidays

If you love food, chances are you like to watch food related and cooking shows on TV. Here are three cooking shows worth watching these holidays.

Salt, Acid, Fat, Heat – Netflix

The official line: Chef and food writer Samin Nosrat travels the world to explore four basic keys to wonderful cooking, serving up feasts and helpful tips along the way.

To say I loved this four-part series is an understatement. It’s hardly a cooking show, it’s a travelogue that documents historic uses of salt, acid, fat and heat with lots of beautiful footage, interactions with local experts from all corners of the world and interesting facts and tips. Presenter Samin Nosrat is just so likeable, I feel like we’re friends even though we’ve never met. Samin’s delight as she discovers new tastes or foods is endearing and her explanations are informative. She cooks dishes using the principles she’s learnt and her down-to-earth approach is relatable. Episode one is based on fat and set in Italy, so my heart was won from the beginning.

Watch it on Netflix (first month free).

 

Jamie and the Nonnas – Ten

Jamie Oliver, like him or hate him, he has nailed this series. Firstly, it’s set in Italy and what’s not to love about all that beautiful scenery? Secondly, the Nonnas are so cute! I love how they tell him off if he’s not doing something correctly (every Italian would relate to this!). Thirdly, the food cooked is accessible and looks delicious. Jamie and his sidekick and mentor, Italian chef Gennaro Contaldo, travel across Italy discovering traditional regional dishes, taking instruction from local Nonnas (grandmothers in Italian) on how to make them.

For years I loved Jamie and I have said it more than once – he’s changing the way the world eats. What I love is how he shows that cooking can be easy, healthy and tasty – it doesn’t need to be complicated. However, in recent times he’s become a bit of a commercial / corporate sell-out which I don’t like so much. That aside, this show is easy watching and entertaining. Watch it for the Nonnas, their beautiful dishes and the stunning Italian scenery. It’s free on Ten and catch up on Ten Play but episodes do expire, so don’t leave this too long!

 

The Final Table – Netflix

Netflix has pimped up the cooking competition and turned it into a star-studded major Hollywood production, the most expensive non-scripted series ever produced rumoured to cost $20 million. Think MasterChef but instead of home cook contestants and crazy challenges, there are 24 highly acclaimed chefs from around the world who compete in pairs.

Over 10-episodes, they cook the national dish from a different country including Italy, India, Mexico UK and USA in one hour and are judged by food critics and celebrities from that country. The teams deemed to have cooked the worst dishes have to cook again in an elimination round that is judged by a heavy-hitting (and often intimidating) chef from that country. In the final, remaining chefs are separated to cook as individuals to win the prize, which isn’t money, it’s glory; a seat at The Final Table.

Australian chefs Mark Best and Shane Osborn are undoubtedly the most awarded and creative amongst the contestant chefs and I’ll declare that I’m totally biased not only because they are Australians, but I worked with Mark at Truffle Kerfuffle and I’ve interviewed both of them for articles I wrote about the show in Fairfax’s Good Food and on Broadsheet. The bromance between the pair makes it great viewing as they play up to the fact that they are the oldest contestants, dropping hilarious dad-jokes at every opportunity. This fun clip on Instagram showcases their mateship on the show perfectly.

The camaraderie between each of the chefs in their teams was engaging and I found myself way more emotionally invested than I expected. I even shed a tear when of the other teams were eliminated.

What I love about this show are the stakes, the chefs have a lot to lose and not a lot to gain by competing. There’s no crazy twists, no bitching between teams, no meltdowns or tantrums, just seriously impressive cooking in under one hour.

One thing I liked less was the celebrity judges. I understand why Netflix went down this route, but I think it would’ve been better just to have proper food critics and chefs do the judging rather than models, comedians, actors, football stars and the like. It was a minor annoyance and one I got over pretty quickly when American comedian-actor Dax Shepard was a judge – he added a lot of fun to the US episode.

Watch The Final Table for Mark and Shane, they do Australia proud. You’ll find yourself really liking some of the other chefs too as their passion, skills and personality are revealed further with each episode. The finale is heart-racing exciting.  On Netflix (first month free).

 

What I’m watching now

I’m behind the times I know (I just got a Netflix account about six weeks ago) but I have just started watching The Chefs Table on Netflix. Episode 1 in the first season is on Italian chef Massimo Bottura – I LOVE him. Besides having the Number One restaurant on the World’s Best 50 List, he is a crazy creative chef who is on a crusade to use food waste and the bits we usually throw out (not shown in this program but that’s one reason I respect him). It’s not a cooking show but it tells the chef’s story – a bit like Australian Story on the ABC. I can’t wait to watch the rest of it.

What food shows do you love to watch? Any recommendations?

“People who love to eat are always the best people” – Julia Child.

 

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Why you shouldn’t miss the Gourmet Escape this year

The countdown is on for greatest food and wine festival in the county, the Margaret River Gourmet Escape this year held from 16 to 18 November 2018, and in the event’s six-year history, this is not one to miss.

Why go this year?

In my opinion, the biggest reason to go this year isn’t Nigella Lawson or Rick Stein. Next year, the Gourmet Escape will evolve to align with the State Government’s strategy to drive more tourists to Perth (to fill all the new hotel beds), so a new element will be added in a different location, namely, in the Swan Valley. The Gourmet Escape will also take place next year in Margaret River and they say it’ll be similar … but one can never be too sure. That said, this year’s line up is as epic as ever with so many amazing dinners, lunches, talks, cooking demos, book signings, masterclasses and more – you’d be crazy to miss it. Besides, FOMO! We all know that feeling of seeing everyone else post about an epic event.

I’ve posted in the past some simple steps to follow to make the most of your Gourmet Escape weekend – read it here.

The major festival component, the Gourmet Village, returns to Leeuwin Estate Winery on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 November from 11am to 6pm, where visitors can sample the best food, wine, beer, cider and produce the Margaret River region and WA has to offer.

Festival goers can meet some of the world’s most-loved and respected culinary talent including Nigella Lawson, Rick Stein, Skye Gyngell, Ashley Palmer-Watts and more as they appear at attractions within the Gourmet Village throughout the weekend.

A party vibe is assured with live music across the weekend, provided by some of WA’s most exciting artists, including DJ Rio De Niro who will be resident DJ on the Chef’s Amphitheatre on both days.

This year will see the return of some of the Village’s most popular attractions and installations along with new experiences for both the budget-conscious and the high flyers.

Margaret River Gourmet Escape Village

Margaret River Gourmet Escape Village

What’s new at the Village this year:

  • Kids 16 and under gain free entry and there’s plenty to keep them entertained.
    (I’m not sure how I feel about this. I like that most people don’t bring their kids to the Gourmet Village – it means the parents can relax for once and enjoy themselves, and for the non-parents out there, there’s no need to tolerate other people’s little darlings running around or whining that they are bored / hungry / tired / hot / sick, or worse, wandering off causing panic, etc. I say, parents, have a day off and leave the little ones if you can.Just imagine all those uninterrupted conversations you can have. p.s. I love my friends’ kids, it’s fun when they are free of them.)
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  • The Little Kitchen Garden will prove the Village isn’t just for grown-ups. Children, and the whole family, can learn the importance of food and community. Each half-hour class will introduce children and their parents to the pleasures of growing and cooking their own food. Note keywords: “and their parents” – this isn’t a babysitting service or a kids club.
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  • Consuming Conversations – an intimate gathering with some of the world’s most influential foodies, hosted by food writer Max Brearley.
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  • The Wine Hub – a series of informal and engaging wine tastings hosted by acclaimed wine critic Nick Stock.
    .
  • The West Winds Gin Masterclasses – Over 50% of the botanicals used in The West Winds Gins are indigenous to Australia. Visitors can learn more about their blends, the distilling process and enjoy a range of tastings in these informative and interactive masterclasses.
  • Regional Flavours – cooking demonstrations hosted by Rebecca Sullivan (from Warndu) with local chefs showcasing local producers from around Margaret River and beyond.
    .
  • MasterChef 2018 finalist and local Samira Damirova will be keeping her MasterChef mates Reece and Brendan busy as they serve her delicious menu at her pop-up restaurant – Lavash by Sam’s Foodie Goods.
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  • Black Brewing Co farmhouse ale & food matching – guests can sample limited release farmhouse ales by Black Brewing Co, paired with food matchings from their Caves Road Collective kitchen and learn about this lesser known seasonal beer style that’s rapidly growing in popularity.
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  • Wine & Sign – the most fun anyone is likely to have at a book signing. Limited tickets still available for Rick Stein’s session – includes a copy of his new Road to Mexico book and a glass of wine.
Margaret River Gourmet Escape Village good times

Good times at the Margaret River Gourmet Escape Village

Popular returning attractions and experiences:

  • Chef’s Amphitheatre – hosted by multi-talented comedian, actor and TV and radio presenter Matt Okine. Guests can enjoy on-stage demos, talks and taste-offs by some of the world’s best food talent – this year appearing in pairs for even more entertainment. Includes Nigella Lawson, Rick Stein, Monica Galetti, Ashley Palmer-Watts, Skye Gyngell, Laetitia Rouabah and more.
    .
  • The Butchers Block presented by Australian Good Meat – Past My Kitchen Rules winners Will and Steve will host meat mastery cooking demos and meat and wine pairings with canapés and more.
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  • Meet the Makers – festivalgoers are invited to talk and taste wine with some of the sharpest palates in the game including Emma Farrelly (State Buildings)  and Chris Morrison (award winning sommelier, wine communicator and educator)
    .
  • Bar Felix – a fusion of food and wine innovation and a sophisticated refuge featuring Vasse Felix wines, a wine school with the makers and delicious meals from their chefs.
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  • Leeuwin Estate Wine Theatre – an immersive food and wine pairing experience featuring five iconic Leeuwin Estate Art Series Wines perfectly matched with seasonal canapés.
    .
  • Devil’s Lair Winery and Masterclass – guests can meet the winemakers and take a masterclass with matched cheeses.
Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson

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Study Italian in Bergamo

My last trip to Italy was to study Italian in Bergamo. I’ll backtrack: I’m a part-time student (just 3 hours per week), studying Italian at the University of Western Australia (UWA), one of Australia’s oldest and most prestigious tertiary institutions. I’m about to finish my second year toward a Diploma of Italian Studies (and I should be studying now, not blogging!). If I’d chosen to add some core Arts units, I’d be able to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Italian, but I already have a Bachelor of Arts, so I’m just doing the Italian major subjects. And for Australians, you can do this through HECS rather than pay upfront fees. Winning.

As part of the Diploma, we had the option to do a study exchange in Bergamo, a beautiful medieval hilltop town about an hour north-east of Milan. This is what inspired and motivated me to enrol at UWA. I travelled to Bergamo with my sister-in-law Marnie. She was the one who first enrolled at UWA and when she told me she had, I thought to myself that I just had to do it with her because I wouldn’t be able to cope listening to her talk about it for the next three years.

Bergamo walls

Corso di Italiano per Stranieri

In July, for three intensive weeks, I attended the University of Bergamo every day for 5-6 hours of class time in a course called Corso di Italiano per Stranieri. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, when every spoken word is in Italian, which requires extreme concentration to understand and learn, it’s more than enough. To say it was exhausting is an understatement, but it was also exhilarating. At the end of each day, I was mentally drained, but that didn’t stop me going out every night for an apertivo or dinner. After all, I was in Italy to fully immerse in an Italian experience, it would’ve been rude not to. Plus the apartment we were staying in was hideously small and like a sauna in the humid Bergamo summer.

It was a harsh start at uni. We had a test, a really hard test actually, on our first day. This test graded students into five levels. Marnie and I both placed in level three. There were about 20 other students in our class who came from all over the world – Holly from Leeds, Amaya from Spain, Victor from Russia, Tatiana from Brazil, Teodora from Serbia, Egita from Latvia, Natasha from England, Raquel from Portugal, Taco from Perth, just to name a few. We had a great group. Our main teacher Luisa was just gorgeous and made the classes fun with lots of group activities and games. Our other teacher Claudia was more traditional in her teaching methods, which at times made the classes feel like they were never going to end.

Extra activities organised by the University of Bergamo included Italian films on Friday evenings (no subtitles!), a choice of drama or singing (I chose drama and made my acting debut playing an Australian student in Bergamo), visit to the Accademia Carrara (magnificent art gallery), a walking tour of the historic town and a walk in the Bergamo hills (didn’t go).

The University building itself was situated just outside the ancient city walls and it was new, modern with great facilities. It also had an amazing view over the valley of Bergamo. La cafeteria was meh – il caffe (coffee, espresso lungho per favore) was fine, thank God, but the food was what you’d expect in a Uni cafe, cheap. There was no way I was going to endure substandard food, after all, I was in Italy and I wanted every meal to be memorable (for the right reasons).

 

Bergamo & Day Trips 

Bergamo is beautiful. Perched on a hill, the narrow cobblestoned streets and stunning architecture attract lots of visitors making the Città Alta, the old town, quite touristy but no less beautiful. Città Bassa, the lower town, is where you’ll find better shopping, better value restaurants and a truer working-life Italian experience.

Città Alta, Bergamo

Our favourite go-to Cafe for breakfast – un cappuccino e un brioche (2 Euro) was Bar Perry, just down the hill from the University. We had breakfast there just about every day. The brioche or rather croissant was the best I’d ever had – crisp flakey outer and light but buttery soft inner. They also do a fantastic lunch – un panini con buffola mozzarella e pomodoro for 4 Euro and plates of pasta for 6 Euro.

Bergamo Bar Perry panini

For dinner, the best place we found was Dal Carlo, around the corner from our tiny sweatbox apartment. Marnie and I were charmed by the restauranteur Carlo who treated us like old friends and made a fuss that we were Australian. The food was always excellent, well priced and the atmosphere lively.  Marnie loved sitting on the deck outside surrounded by beautiful Italian buildings. We didn’t discover Dal Carlo until our second week and then ate there about five or six times. We watched the World Cup final there also on their big screen.

Dal Carlo ravioli

Dal Carlo terrace, Bergamo

I also loved the no-fuss Trattoria Giuliana d’Ambrosio with their handwritten photocopied menus that changed daily, sensational polenta bergamasca (polenta with buckwheat – so good), amazing buffet for contorni (salad and vegetables) and the set price for two (16 Euro) or three courses (20 Euro). We ate there twice, once on a Monday, and both times it was jam-packed. It’s nothing fancy, but a place run by an eccentric woman and like her, it’s full of character while the food was rustic and tasty local dishes.

There are loads of day trips you can do from Bergamo – we went to San Pellegrino on our first weekend and totally indulged in one of Europe’s best spas, QC Terme di San Pellegrino. Simply heavenly. It was so good in fact that our day trip turned into a weekend away when Marnie and I both refused to leave, booking a last minute hotel so we could spend more time at the spa.

We also spent a weekend in Varenna on Lake Como, and after the course had four days at Lake Iseo, a very beautiful smaller lake that attracts far more Italian tourists than western tourists. There we stayed in the plush serviced apartment hotel in the centre of town, the BorgoLago Suites – highly recommended for space, comfort, location and service. It was like a luxurious palace after our tiny Bergamo apartment.

Marnie and I at a Lido in Lenno, Lago di Como

If you’re an Italian student or a complete beginner wanting to learn Italian in Italy, I can highly recommend the Corso di Italian per Stranieri at the University of Bergamo.  Era una bellissima esperienza.

Lago d'Iseo sunset

Sunset at Lago d’Iseo

Top tips

  • Organise your accommodation in advance and through the University – ask lots of questions including distance to University, air conditioning, bedrooms and beds. Ask for photos. We did just that – our accommodation was cheap, and if I was an 18-year-old, I probably would’ve been fine sleeping on polyester sheets in a small single bed shoved in a corner of a tiny windowless “lounge room”. Remember UWA students should pay no more than 350 euro per person – we only discovered that after we’d accepted and ended up paying about 30% more.
  • Organise some day trips and get out of Bergamo – there’s so much to see! Plus it makes you feel like you’ve had a break. The uni also organises lots of extra outings.
  • Find a good place to eat like Dal Carlo or Bar Perry. Become a regular and make Italian friends for richer experience.

Have you got any Bergamo suggestions? Email me!

If you’re going to Bergamo or thinking of going, feel free to message / email me with any questions.

 

Other options

If you don’t want to do a serious course through a university, there are plenty of other options to learn Italian in Italy. One option I love the sound of is OzItaly – a long-term placement service that matches you with a host Italian family where you spend a few (agreed number of) hours per week teaching them English in return for lodging.

If cooking is more your thing, then check out courses offered by the cutest little cooking school in Southern Italy, The Awaiting Table. They also do courses where you cycle to wineries, specialist cooking courses, olive oil making, tomato sauce making and more.

In Franciacorta, near Lago d’Iseo

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Formula 1 Driver (the best 7 mins of my life)

The most fun I’ve ever had in seven minutes was without doubt in the F1 simulator at the Ferrari Museum in Maranello near Modena, in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.

I slid into the seat and was strapped in with a racing harness buckled up by a Ferrari attendant who looked very much the part of a pit crew in a full uniform, sans helmet. After attaching the steering wheel, he checked I could reach both pedals, a very stiff brake on the left and a smooth moving accelerator on the right. He explained the workings of the paddle gear shifts on either side of the steering wheel as well as how to keep it in automatic transmission. He pointed out the DRS turbo button and explained when to use it. Then he asked which track I wanted race.F1 simulator Maranello

Concaving around the front of my stationary Ferrari F1 car were three giant screens and graphics of six race tracks. Being in Italy and of Italian descent, in the Ferrari Museum, strapped into a Ferrari F1 simulator meant the decision had to be Monza. A good choice I was told, as it’s one of the easiest tracks to negotiate.

Lights out and racing.

Pedal to the metal. I did as instructed and went flat out, too excited to ease up as a bend quickly approached. After oversteering, I got back onto the track and the car seemed to continue on without a glitch, seemingly undamaged after hitting the barrier several times. This was a lot harder than it looked. Within moments, I was on a straight. I saw the green light and hit the DRS, watching the speedometer in the corner of the screen reach 300km/h, 307km/h, 322km/h. I was pushed back into the seat by some imaginary force. With my eye on my impressive speed, I didn’t see the next bend until I was in it, a tight hairpin, I skid off track and into the gravel. I slammed on the brakes, pressing them hard and the harness around my shoulders tightened, the seat vibrated and the centre of gravity shifted. This felt real.

Back on the gas and into another straight, going full tilt with DRS assistance, my racing harness sucked me into the seat and I squealed with delighted listening to the unmistakeable F1 engine roar as I clicked up to eighth gear. Then I took a wrong turn and ended up in pit lane and the car automatically slowed to 60km/h. I put all my weight onto the accelerator, nothing. I just had to endure the restricted speed zone and crawl through as if I’d been given a penalty. I made a mental note to keep left next lap.

After five laps of exhilarating speed, slides, skids and skirmishes with the barriers, my time as an F1 driver came to an end. My adrenalin was peaking and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I immediately wanted to do it again.

Stats:

  • Race Track: Monza
  • Fastest lap: 1:40 minutes
  • Fastest speed: 322km/h
  • Number of crashes: over 20
  • Number of corners successfully manoeuvred: 3 (or 7 if you count keeping two tyres on track)
  • Likelihood of being offered a test in a real F1 car: less than zero

Cost €25 (about AUD$40) for seven minutes.

Ask ten people what their dream car would be and it’s likely that nine of them would answer a Ferrari, and this is precisely why. So much fun!

An edited version of this was first published in Driven Women magazine 

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