It’s about time that one of the best wine and food regions in the country had a festival fitting to celebrate all that is offers. Hello Margaret River Gourmet Escape.
The inaugural event was held in November (2012) with the main Gourmet Village festival hosted at the renowned Leeuwin Estate winery on Saturday and Sunday. There were many satellite events that paid tribute to or showcased the culinary skills of some of the world’s best chefs and Australia’s leading chefs.
There were four big-name International chefs, 23 Australian chefs, three wine masters and writers, and one food critic. Names such as Heston Blumenthal, René Redzepi, Alex Atala, and David Chang standing side-by-side with Australia’s Neil Perry, Peter Gilmore, Tetsuya Wakuda, Matt Moran, George Colombaris, and Tony Howell from the famed Cape Lodge, the Gourmet Escape was set to be every foodie’s dream event.
The Gourmet Escape had been heavily promoted, and we expected that it was going to get really busy, so we arrived early, about 30 minutes before doors opened at 11am. We weren’t the only ones there early, there was a crowd forming. I don’t think the organisers expected this as we were ushered into queues like sheep three time before being allowed in. Queue to get wrist bands, queue to get GEMS (currency – I’ll explain that later) and queue to buy a $5 wine glass for tasting. Parking onsite was easy and plentiful at that time of the morning.
The currency on site for wine and food tastings as well as entry into some of the events were known as GEMS – cardboard tokens that cost $7 each. Thankfully we had pre-purchased some with our tickets (four each). Later in the day it became a headache trying to buy more GEMS. Purchases for some other items could be paid for by cash and / or card, depending on the vendor. I bought a vegetable peeler / shredder (3 for $20 – Merry Christmas Mum and Mother-in law!), a set of 3 vac seal plastic containers ($80 – yep, it was at the end of the day after a touch too much wine, but I have to say they are ace!), and some deliciously healthy green tea from Gano Vital (4 tins of 25 tea bags for $60).
Of the 100+ exhibitors / stall at Leeuwin Estate, there were 14 pop up restaurants, cooking demos, panel discussions, wine tasting, music including a quite bizarre lady playing the spoons to a crowd of captivated children, and merchants selling everything from sprout growing kits to stainless steel cookware to organic olive oil. Of course there were loads of wine tasting stalls and a small taste was free. A glass of wine cost 1 GEM ($7). A tapas size plate of food was 1 GEM. The food did seem a little light on compared to the number of wine stalls.
Some of the events onsite cost GEMS to enter. Because we arrived super early, we paid and registered for the Riedel cheese and wine matching session at 2pm (45mins duration). That cost 1 GEM and we all agreed it was the best value for money of the day. We were given four half-glasses of wine, four cheeses to taste with the matching wine, and a copy of Gourmet Wine Magazine. I was interesting and the wines and cheeses were delicious. Bargain for 1 GEM.
Because of our early arrival, we were able to secure a space – a little arm chair and some stools under the Little Creatures marquee. There was a small group of us coming and going all day and it served as the perfect meeting patch and respite from the bleating sun for those with more sensitive skin.
Later in the afternoon, we listened to a talk by Rene Redzepi, head chef of Noma Restaurant in Denmark that has wine the San Pellegrino best restaurant of the year twice. Interesting.
Sadly, Heston didn’t make to Australia after a fatal car accident in Hong Kong involving two of his chefs a couple of days before.
The Satellite events included BBQs on the beach cooked by Matt Moran and George Colambaris ($150pp), a long table lunch at Fraser Gallop winery ($180pp), a tribute dinner to Heston Blumenthal at Vasse Felix ($300pp) just to name a few. They all sounded fantastic, but seriously expensive. So we just opted for the Gourmet Village ($37pp plus GEMS).
The general vibe of the Gourmet Village was relaxed, although is was packed for a few hours in the middle of the day. Thank goodness for our little patch we secured! It was a really enjoyable day and I’ll definitely be back next year. I would say from what everyone has been saying since it was held, that the Gourmet Escape has been a huge success. Well done!