We’re still reeling from the excitement of the Margaret River Gourmet Escape 2014 weekend. Looking through the many beautiful photos that have been steadily appearing all over the internet, it is clear that not only Chefs from around the world made it to the region, but people from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds travelled the distance for what is one of the biggest food festivals in Australia.
We headed down to the Gourmet Village at Leeuwin Estate and the sheer volume of people, the variety of stalls, and the quality of produce on display was incredibly impressive. Local producers had gone the extra mile to showcase their products with flair, while restaurants, cafes and beverage stations were overwhelmed with throngs of hungry people queuing for a taste of their wares.
There were wine tastings, cooking demos, classes for kids, book signings, you name it. Activities all day long to ensure that it was an eating fest that you could also learn something from.
The Siemens Chef’s Theatre was where the main events took place, with Chefs sharing their secrets and tips in light hearted cooking demos hosted by Masterchef winner Poh Ling Leow.
Massimo Bottura was particularly excited because our Executive Chef Michael Elfwing had managed to source him a 4 year old, uncut, whole wheel of Parmesan for his demo, a rare find in Italy let alone here in Australia. Needless to say Michael smiled all the way to our next stop. At the Chef’s Skillery tent presented by Foxtel’s Lifestyle FOOD Channel, Michael gave a demo on what he calls “an under-appreciated ingredient” – Abalone.
Michael started off by asking how many people had actually tried abalone before, and only a handful raised their hands. With a determined smile on his face, he animatedly began his 45 minute quest to change the perspective of those there on how they viewed Abalone. “It’s not the prettiest of things,” he remarks,”but there are children here so I won’t point out what they look like,” he jokes, and the crowd bursts into laughter. “Aliens!” he whispers. More roars of laughter.
“I want to get people excited about abalone. It’s mainly exported, not found on the local market here and usually used only in the very top restaurants that have an Asian element to the dishes, like Peter Gilmore’s Quay or Tetsuya in Sydney. It’s highly appreciated in Asian cultures.”
“I used to cook them with the legendary Cheong Liew when I worked at The Grange in Adelaide, which taught me to appreciate the its natural texture rather than having it bashed then deep-fried which is how I’ve seen many locals prepare it,” he explains. “Of course, some people want to appreciate it more for the chance of finding a pearl,” he jokes. “In my many years of shucking abalones, I can honestly say, don’t quit your day job.”
We learnt that these Green Lip and Brown Lip Abalone are wild, handpicked by divers in the Southern coast of Western Australia. They are extraordinary specimens in size and quality. With every bite comes a more intense flavour. You can serve it raw, braised, or very finely sliced and flash-fried. Michael served them with a side of South Australian Oysters Angasi and Kumamoto as a bonus. Small, sweet and succulent, bursting with the saltiness of the sea, these were a big hit.
Plates were passed around and hesitant hands reached out to try a piece. By the end of the demo, almost everyone had had a taste and enjoyed the fresh, cooling taste and light crunch of the abalone as they chewed. Some even went back for seconds.
Even Michael’s son couldn’t resist running up for the finale and having a taste himself!
I guess it’s true what they say, you learn something new every day. And that is especially true at the Margaret River Gourmet Escape.
We’re already looking forward to next year!
A big thank you to Lucky Bay Seafoods for generously supplying the Abalone for the demo.