Margaret River Gourmet Escape is like no other food festival I’ve been to. To start with, the main Gourmet Village is set on the beautiful grounds of Leeuwin Estate. A line of tall timber karri and marri trees on either side of the long road past vineyards and pastures greet guests like a red carpet leading to the stone built cellar door. The pretty native bush garden attracts birds and bees and the lush expansive green lawn is crying out for well-dressed picnickers to throw out a rug and relax with a glass of wine. It’s that sort of place.
During the weekend of the Gourmet Escape, Leeuwen Estate is transformed into a food and wine lover’s playground. In one weekend, 45 of the biggest names in international and Australian food and wine that included three in the world’s top 50, eight Michelin stars and over 20 Chefs Hats. The list of exhibitors is longer than an eight year old’s Christmas wish list, and the number of stages and pavilions would rival that of Splendour in the Grass or the Big Day Out. The stars of Gourmet Escape, Heston Blumenthal, Alex Atala, Rick Stein, Shane Osborn, and Adriano Zumbo just to name a few, are the rock stars of the food and wine world.
Rows of marquee stalls offering samples of this, tastings of that, information or just a friendly chat, shot off from the main stage that was catering for thousands with live camera feeds and a big screen. Demonstrations were not limited to the main stage; they also took place in a number of kitchens and appliance pop up showrooms across the grounds. Margaret River’s best eateries had tasting dishes on offer that cost 1 GEM, the currency of the day. 1 GEM equals $7. Many of Margaret River’s 130 odd wineries were offering tastings or glasses of wine for 1 or 2 GEMS, depending on the wine. The Gourmet Village was buzzing with activity but the vibe was relaxed with everybody out to have a good day.
Feeling a little foggy after too much good food and wine the night before at the Gourmet Beach BBQ at Castle Rock Beach cooked by George Colombaris and Luke Dale-Roberts, my first taste stop had to be coffee at Dimattina. The Western Australian coffee roasters import their beans from all over the world including Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and Sumatra. They had a mini roaster on site that took between nine and 13 minutes to roast the green beans. Caffeine hit the spot nicely.
As a Gourmet Escape seasoned veteran – well, I went to the inaugural event last year – I went straight to the Gourmet Traveller Wine theatre as soon as we arrived to book into a wine education tasting session. I liked the look of the chardonnay tasting and paid 1 GEM to reserve my place at 3pm. The panel of prominent Margaret River wine makers commented and shared their thoughts as we tasted five different but palatable chardonnays from Juniper Estate, Leeuwin Estate Art Series (crowd favourite), Flametree, Xanadu (wine maker Glenn Goodall is a finalist in the Gourmet Traveller Wine winemaker of the year awards), and Vasse Felix.
I tried the Swedish Rekonderlig apple cider, only because my husband had gone off with my wine tasting glass so I had to have something that came in bottle or plastic cup, as the case was. I’m not a cider fan, but on a hot day, the Rekonderlig cider was cold, refreshing and thankfully not sickly-sweet. I’m now a cider convert.
I had to have the Mount Barker chicken liver parfait with Manjimup truffles, chardonnay jelly served with crusty Jean-Pierre Sancho baguette from Muster Bar and Grill. The pate was rich, smooth and creamy. The Goanna Gallery and Bush Café’s beer braised ox cheek bun with truffle mustard was a hit and needed the pickled cabbage on top to cut through the richness of the meat. Weaving between happy patrons, I was impressed with the variety of stall holders; oysters from South Australia, chocolate artisans and chocolate makers, bakers, macaroon specialists, gelati stall, green tea, organic coffee, kitchen gadgets, truffles, imported cheese, local cheese, organic butchers, farmers, cook books galore, healthy juices and treats, and cocktail making classes.
The Margaret River Gourmet Escape is much more than wine and food sampling over two days at Leeuwin Estate. There were 28 satellite events held across the region from long table winery lunches, to beach BBQs, to dinner with Heston Blumenthal, as well as educational sessions with chefs at the cutting edge of food trends.
I’ll be back next year. What’s not to love when the best of Margaret River is all in one place? And what a beautiful place it is.
Margaret River Gourmet Escape
22-24 November 2013
Annual event held in the Margaret River region each November
Tickets start from $38
This story was also published on Escape Lounge