Last month I was lucky enough to visit Australia for the first time to attend the ‘Invite the World to Dinner’ with the tourism organization Restaurant Australia. I knew it would be a great opportunity to go to cities that were on my bucket list. Amazingly I was able to see lots of old friends and colleagues I had lost touch with, many of whom had moved to the land down under. The trip was two weeks of nonstop touring, eating and soaking up the best of Australia’s food scene.
The first stop on the intense food and wine trip was Hobart, Tasmania. Upon arrival I was taken to Garagistes where Chef Luke Burgess showcased his love for fresh and local products with amazing charcuterie and seafood. This skilled team is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Tasmania. The next morning the touring began with the super knowledgeable Duncan Garvey, the pioneer of French truffles in Australia. The idea of Tasmanian Perigord Truffles was realized back in 1999 and now they have over 20 working farms spread over the state.
One of the best lunches we had was at a winery called Frogmore Creek: a surreal dining setting with avant garde food prepared by Chef Rueben Kopman. After meeting with him I realized he looked too familiar for it to be a coincidence… it turns out I hired him about 10 years ago at Le Petit Blanc in the UK. The next evening was the main event – ‘Invite the World to Dinner.’ All 80 participants were loaded onto boats and cruised through Hobart’s harbour, where we enjoyed fantastic outdoor Aussie BBQ, including giant fresh lobsters. The dinner guests were some of the world’s best food personalities, including Heston Blumenthal and the likes of AA Gill. After reading years of Gills’ work it was fantastic to meet him, even if all I got over Twitter was a cheeky response.
After the BBQ a total of 280 people sat down for a dinner prepared by three of Australia’s iconic chefs: Neil Perry, Peter Gilmore and Ben Shewry. The event lasted late into the evening at the Museum of Old and New Art, which is owned by David Walsh, who is an even more interesting personality. Look him up!
The last stop in Tasmania was at Saffire Freycinet, a beautifully designed retreat on the East Coast. The properties high attention to detail stood out, not to mention the experience of shucking fresh oysters in the bay. Food doesn’t get any fresher than that.
After Tasmania all of the participants of ‘Invite the World to Dinner’ dispersed across Australia to experience different states and cities. I decided to travel to the fashion-forward, café-crazed Melbourne, Victoria. There were many culinary highlights but if you only have time to look up one restaurant go to Vue de Monde. Meet Chef Cory and enjoy what I call a ‘real Sunday lunch experience’. Yes, lunch: not brunch.
Some of the other chefs on the trip; Matt McCallister (Restaurant FT33), Clare Smyth (Royal Hospital Road) and Andre Chiang (Restaurant Andre), were also in Melbourne and so we all met up at Press Club Projects for an experimental dinner. Another notable spot was The Piggery at Burnham Beeches. What blew me away was that firstly, this small powerhouse café serves over 1000 guests on any given Saturday or Sunday. Secondly, they had emus, pigs and a truffle plantation on the grounds.
If you have time, check out Tonka. Chef Adam D’Sylva’s menus have an Indian twist with a refreshing kick of spice. After visiting here we went off into the night to try some of Melbourne’s great cocktail bars.
Early the next morning a small group of us headed down to the Queen Victoria Market, where the quality and variety of products were outstanding and there was everything you could possibly want to buy. The final meal in Melbourne was at the famed Attica. Of course Chef Ben Shewry showed us great hospitality with a guided tour of his gardens, where we picked berries for our desserts. His passion and dedication to food is very evident is his menu where he is consistently pushing the boundaries.
The last leg of the trip was to the famed oceanside city Sydney, New South Wales. By this point I was very full. I started the day with a personalized tour of Sydney with Richard Graham of My Sydney Detour. Check this guy out, he knows his stuff and knows his city. One of our stops was at Pepe Saya. This gent makes absolutely amazing cultured butter: I may or may not have snuck some back into Canada. This guy’s product is the real deal and he’s currently working on a black truffle cultured butter with Duncan Garvey.
One thing I notice when travelling is how many vegetables we have on our plates here in Vancouver. When I arrived at Kitchen by Mike I was ecstatic because I saw large plates full of fresh, ripe veggies. This place is a must-stop in Sydney. It’s very casual but was probably one of the best lunches on the trip. Chef Mike’s also got a new cookbook that’s worth the read.
By this point I really needed to do something other than eat – luckily enough I was taken fishing. To my surprise we were able to take a boat just 15 minutes out of Sydney Harbour with Fish About Tours to catch local salmon, yellowtail and (what I’m most jealous about) local squid. Of course, even being on the other side of the world, I ran into some regulars from Hawksworth Restaurant at Tetsuya’s and ended up meeting them for a very classic tasting menu. The final meal of the trip was at the highly acclaimed Sepia. Everything about this fine dining was on-point: from London-trained Chef Martin Benn’s Japanese influenced menu and execution to the genuine and efficient service.
My trip was a foodie’s dream trip of a lifetime. Thank you to Restaurant Australia for the invitation. I can honestly say that after having this two week taste of the country, I’m already eager to return and experience the abundance of fresh produce available.