Friday, December 31, 2010

National Left Over Day

Published Sunday 26th December 2010

Boxing Day; National Left Over Day. When the tumult and the shopping dies the day after Christmas we are all left with a fridge overflowing with turkey, ham bones, cranberry sauces and puddings, and all those special sweets that laden the table for the festive season.

So just how many ham and turkey sandwiches can you eat in this week? It’s worth noting that turkey should be eaten within two or three days, ham will last four or five days and roast beef or pork should also be used within three to four days. Freezing is the best way to keep them safe and delicious.

The best tip is to portion the meats into sizes chunks that will last you 3 days and wrap separately in plastic and then place in plastic freezer bag. Now you can have that ham or turkey sandwich when you want it. Freeze the meats as soon as possible to maintain the best quality for up to four months in the freezer.

Leftover ham and turkey make great salads and soups and a good addition to quiche, pasta, pies, pizza and casseroles, whilst cooked beef and pork work well with Asian salads, stir fries and curries. Don’t leave the cranberry sauce in the fridge until next year; it can be used in several sweets dishes.

Mix crumbled Christmas pudding into ricotta cream with a bit of butter and sugar and wrap in filo or puff pastry to bake for a strudel. Or mix the pudding with some cream into vanilla ice-cream and refreeze for an ice-cream variation. You can also add brandy to both of these ingredients for more flavour.

So enjoy the festive season and keep your food safe and without waste.

Christmas Gifts

Published Saturday 18 December 2010

I finally got my hands on the finished cookbook ‘Tropical Cuisine – Cooking in Clare’s Kitchen’ when it was launched recently, and what an achievement it is. Clare Richards has done an amazing job of compiling 250 luscious recipes using the most common and the most obscure foods of this region in a 300 page cookbook with stunning images and a great reference A-Z of tropical product. This is a cookbook that every discerning chef in Queensland …and Australia should have on their reference shelf. What a great gift for Christmas.

On the subject of Christmas, you can’t go wrong with a gift of food and wine. It’s something that appeals to everyone and perfect for that person who has everything. To indulge in the decadence of beautiful chocolates, premium sweets, rich fruitcake, sauces and other luxurious foods that you may not normally buy yourself, is a delight when received as a present. Giving a hamper of foods that are specifically from this region adds to the experience.

I recently attended the Club Relish evening at The Edge Food Store, where a wonderful range of beautifully packaged Christmas foods were on show. There is a great selection of local and Australian food gift ideas in all price ranges to choose from and you can buy a ready-made hamper or select your own items and they will gift wrap it.

Mangoes and other tropical fruits are well known to us but to family and friends in southern states, receiving a box at Christmas time has a real Wow Factor. (But check for quarantine regulations first).

Whether you consider a book, a box of mangoes, a beautifully wrapped hamper or a number of food items and make up your own gift or stuff into a stocking, you can be sure you will please the lucky person who receives it.

Soils ain’t Soils

Published Saturday 11th December 2010

Last week over 140 local people turned out on a Sunday evening to listen to a public talk by Joel Salatin of PolyFace Farms in Virginia, USA. His introduction was by the hilarious, very passionate, and hirsute Costa of Costa's Gardening Odyssey who always enjoys coming to this region to learn more about gardening and regenerative agriculture.

Joel’s Poly Face Farm is a small property with an array of animals and food crops that symbiotically produce a richness of food products in a diversified system that is profitable. He calls himself a ‘beyond’ organic farmer as he is not ‘certified’ organic but uses a holistic farming methodology that enriches the soil with compost, natural manure and earthworms and without chemicals or pesticides. Using portable electric fences the animals are moved around the property is succession in what Joel calls a ‘salad bar’ of rich pasture that offers landscape healing and greater nutritional food.

Joel works on the transparency theory; he doesn’t have to have a certificate to tell people about his farming methods, you can visit anytime to see what and how he does it. He sells produce to only people within a radius of his community and doesn’t need the ‘big guys’. His product sells through ‘word of mouth’ and he doesn’t have a marketing plan or an advertising budget for his product…and if sales are down, he can’t blame his budget, he looks within!

He talked about how the price of food has escalated due to the many regulations and control and was amused at the governments concern for safety in not allowing a more nutritional raw milk, yet its okay to feed your kids on multinational brand burgers, sweet chocolate breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks.

Joel is a world-leading example of how a small family farm can become an extremely diverse and profitable Local Food producer, and how the benefits of Local Food Systems can create resilience, stability and abundance for both local farmers and the wider community.

Joel’s parting words were ‘The food we eat is as good as the soil it is grown in or the pasture it is fed on and as good as the farmer who is the custodian of the land’. Eat well!

Save our Honey

Published Saturday 4th December, 2010

Since ‘on the go’ breakfast products have bypassed the breakfast table, the art of smearing honey across a slice of crunchy toast or swirling it on your cereal has shown a bit of a slump. Honey is now also competing with other new highly marketed sugary spreads available. Yet there are great health benefits in bringing honey back to the breakfast table, such as its low Glycaemic Index or GI. (The lower a food’s GI rating, the slower you absorb and digest it, which means a more gradual and healthier infusion of sugars into their bloodstream and helps keep ‘hunger pains’ away for longer).

New Zealand’s Manuka (the NZ name for tea tree) honey is famous for its anti-bacterial power and Tetsuya raves about the Leatherwood honey from Tasmania and South Western Australia where many of the trees don’t blossom till more than 70 years old.

Here in Tropical North Queensland there are a number of apiarist manufacturing honey with very distinct tropical flavours. If bees have access to where a particular blossom predominates, they produce honey with a flavour and colour typical of that plant. Our tropical honey tends to be dark amber in colour with wonderful flavours of red mahogany, Molloy box, grey box, rainforest, macadamia, mango, guava and a number of other exotic blossoms that are unique to this region.

Where larger honey manufacturers blend honey from many apiarists, local honey is often pure honey from one hive. The honey is also most likely to have had less process treatment of preservatives or heat searing so the nutrition and flavour is in its purest form.

However we have one threat to our honey industry that first appeared inside a mast of a yacht here in Cairns in 2007 and that is the Asian honeybee. These aggressive little bees compete with our European honeybees for local flora. They rob honey from hives, which may cause hives to die, but most importantly Asian honeybees are a natural host for mites and other unwanted bee pests and diseases, a major threat to Australia's honeybee industry.

The Asian honeybee has been found nesting in tree hollows, under the eaves of houses, in the recess under the floor of houses, in letterboxes, in a cable reel, and in various other urban locations. It is smaller than European honeybee at approx. 10 mm long, flies fast and erratically, is less hairy than the European honeybee and has distinct yellow and black stripes on the abdomen. So look out for this little blighter and call Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 to help save our local honey.

A Future for our Agri-Food Industry

Published 27th November 2010

Imaging in 10 years time where our agri-food industry will be? With our rich soils, plenty of sun and an abundance of rainfall, will it be the nation’s food bowl? Will we have a food manufacturing industry to support the diverse range of food products available? Will our regional food brand Taste Paradise be as renowned as Food Barossa? …and will our region be internationally recognised as a food tourism destination similar to Provence, Tuscany or San Sebastian? It is said that nothing significant happens that isn’t planned!

Last week I attended an Agri-food tourism field day and Food Industry forum held in the Cassowary and Tablelands areas. These four well attended workshops proved that farmers are interested in the future of the industry.

The field day looked at opportunities to diversify their farming product in a number of ways that included linkages into tourism. Whether it’s selling food at local farmers markets, processing their product, finding a supply chain to local retail & food services, or opening their property for visitation, these farmers were positively encouraged to take the next step; a series of workshops of mentoring their way through a maze of related business development skills.

The forums were about bringing the industry together; development of a local food supply chain that brings regional produce into the Cairns area, to retailers and restaurants, and developing an accreditation framework that links to the new regional food brand; Taste Paradise. The sessions lead by Rose Wright from the Southern Cross University provided a great discussion. This lady knows her stuff when working along the supply chain from farmers to the consumer but she also works on a political level of compliance support and regulatory reform to address the impediments placed on agribusiness entrepreneurs. At the end of the forum it was exciting to see a very positive response from farmers, and it goes without saying the more who embrace this framework, the better chance of success.

Rose is finalising a Regional Food Strategy 2010-2020 in consultation with industry and will facilitate the elements in the region over the next six months.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Good Food & Wine Show

Last weekend was action packed in Brisbane with Lenard Cohen, James Galway, Valentino Retrospect, and of course the Good Food & Wine Show.

With the consumer clearly in mind the Good Food & Wine Show attracted a crowd well in excess of 20,000 people over three days. Many of them; seasoned attendees armed with their shopper trolley ready to ‘buy up big’ at the special prices of a host of gourmet products and wines from across Australia.

With over 300 exhibitors you could taste cheeses, salamis, sauces, ice-cream, coffee, pasta, health snacks, to name a few, and scoop up some lovely gourmet Christmas presents. This year wines from the Barossa, McLaren, and Margaret River joined a large selection of Queensland wines that were of particular appeal in the late afternoon.

There were hands-on cooking, wine and coffee classes but the star attraction was in the 500 seat celebrity theatre where chefs Gary Mehigan and George Colombaris, Matt Moran, Jane Purcell, and Manu Fieldel applied their skills and with a great sense of humour. Matt Moran was particularly entertaining as he butchered a lamb carcass to show the audience that you don’t have to rely on the most expensive cuts of meat. After Good Food & Wine Shows in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, the celeb chefs have developed a fun repartee between themselves. Having his Aria restaurant in Brisbane, Matt received plenty of flack from the Gary and George about the expense of his menu but also a number of referred invitations to free dinners at his restaurant.

The Queensland Government display hosted 26 food and wine exhibitors from 10 different regions of the State and for the first time our own Taste Paradise regional brand showcased 15 packaged foods of Tropical North Queensland.

This annual event is growing in popularity each year and is worth a visit.

Taste Paradise Signature Dish

Published: 6th October, 2010

When you think of a dish that represents the wonderful flavours of this region, seafood tend to come to mind as the star ingredient. Well that's what 22 chefs thought when asked to produce a regional dish for the inaugural Taste Paradise Signature Dish competition. The public have made their choice by voting on-line and the two highest scored dishes will compete against another two finalist chosen by a panel of judges.

With the public voting closed, it was the restaurants from far and wide that gained the most votes with dishes from Cedar Park Resort at Speewah coming in at sixth position, Restaurant 1770 in Cooktown came fifth, Eden House Restaurant at Yungaburra was fourth, and Emerald Restaurant at Green Island, voted third highest by the public.

The two highest public voted dishes; ‘Tropical pan seared Tuna salad laced with a Mango vinaigrette’ by Chriso the Personal Chef’s won top position, followed by ‘Julaymba Journey’ from Julaymba Restaurant at Daintree Eco-Lodge in second place.

Whist the public tended to vote for the dish from their favourite restaurant, a panel of six judges have now voted on another two dish, for their innovative use of local produce.

Mayor Val Shier of Cairns Regional Council, Ross Contarino of Advance Cairns, Jeff Gillies of Tourism Queensland, & Dale Flack of TTNQ, plus two highly professional chef judges; Patrick Biddlecombe, La Chaines des Rotisseur, and Brian Down, Australian Culinary Federation, cast their votes this week.

The Judges chose two finalists; the ‘Tempura bugs, green papaya salad, sweet chilli lemon myrtle dipping sauce’ from Ochre Restaurant and the ‘Tier of mud crab, mango and avocado’ from Kewarra Beach Resort.

Next Saturday starting at 10am at The Farmgate Markets at The Pier, the four finalists will cook off their dish in front of the public and the judging panel to find the winner of the Taste Paradise Signature Dish.

The winner of the competition will receive a trophy as well as a tourism marketing package that will promote their business throughout the next 12 months.

So come along next Saturday to see who takes out the trophy.

Special Dietary Menus

Published: 30th October, 2010

The number of food allergies seems to be growing rapidly in our society and gluten free diets are becoming more popular even to those who don’t suffer Coeliac Disease. At Chelsea Clinton’s (that's Bill & Hillary’s daughter) recent wedding, her gluten free wedding cake made headlines across the nation and bought attention to this dilemma.

Restaurants and caterers are finding there are more requests for special dietary requirements and after a request I made to many of the local restaurants in Tropical North Queensland, it seems most of them are geared to cater for the usual gluten free, lactose free, vegetarian and vegan diets. Many of the restaurants have icons beside the items on their menus or denotations that offers any special dietary dishes.

Whist I sometimes wonder if we are all getting too much gluten in our diets, there are other allergies to foods such as shellfish, nuts, eggs, even fruit, meat and vegetables that can have life threatening effects to some. Anaphylaxis is an issue that restaurants must take seriously. It is too big a responsibility for any waiters to ensure the food from the menu is completely free of the allergic ingredient. When a guest asks for a special diet, there are two reasons why it is important for wait staff to notify the head chef on duty. 1. The chef will ensure there is no mistake, 2. The guest feels confident their request is being taken seriously. It maybe that the waiter returns from the kitchen with menu suggestions, but best of all is when the chef takes the time to come out of the kitchen and speak directly to the guest.

Functions can be tricky, with agency staff serving canapés. They can be unfamiliar with all the ingredients and not aware of the seriousness of an anaphylaxis. At a cocktail reception I witnessed a good friend of mine suffer before me, an anaphylactic shock from food after she was told there was no seafood in the canapé.

Most of our best restaurants and caterers are geared for special dietary requirements, but as a guest, it is always good to let them know when making a booking at a restaurant or accepting an invitation to a catered function; that you will require a special menu.

Tasty Taste of the Tablelands

Published 23rd October, 2010

Nothing brings people together better than food, and what an enjoyable day it was at last weekend’s “Tastes of the Tablelands”? It exceeded my expectations of being one of the best food events in the region and I take my hat off to the organisers and volunteers who made it so. Every year this event gets bigger and better and with 53 stalls, a chef’s cooking competition, ice-carving demonstration and some great community performers, there was something for every one of the 5,000+ people who attended. ..and spending an hour or so on the gate I found there was a good mixture of people from the Tablelands and Cairns region and a surprising number of visiting tourists.

Of course my special interest was with the food growers and producers who displayed, offered tastings and sales of what the Tablelands region has to offer. Local coffee, waters, Indigenous sauces, jams and preserves, fruit wines, ice-cream, Italian nougat and biscuits, spices, fruits and vegetables, dried fruits dipped in chocolate, honey, macadamia’s and peanuts, the list goes on. It was all there – if not sold out. The stall holders all did well on the day.

One stall that caught my attention had books and a display of wonderful food photography from world famous photographer William Yang who was born in Dimbulah. These photos were part of a 2006 exhibition that documented the many cultures of Dimbulah families through their food. The success of the photographic exhibition led some energetic community members to produce the book that celebrates their artisan foods from their ethnic origins. Aptly named ‘Our Celebration – Stories behind the Food’ the book takes you into the homes and kitchens of the community to expose the richness of their cultural food traditions from Spain, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Philippines, as well as indigenous Australia. Looking like they had been designed, photographed and beautifully produced in Melbourne and not our sleepy little farming community of Dimbulah, I just had to buy a book which was well priced at $30.00.

This event organized by the Rotary Club of Atherton truly shows great community spirit and the amalgamation of all the regions of the Tablelands area. I’ll be sure to be there next year.

Taste of the Tablelands

Published 16th October, 2010

One of the best food festivals of the region is the “Tastes of the Tablelands” and it’s on again tomorrow (Sunday 17th October) from 10am – 4pm. This Festival won an Australia Day Award for the best community Event in the Tableland region in 2008, an award the Rotary Club of Atherton is very proud of. Last year 4,000 people attended the festival and this year the numbers are expected to increase significantly.

This great community event is held in the serene grounds of the Chinese Temple on Herberton Road, Atherton, and will once again be a showcase of the very best that the Tablelands has to offer. The day will be filled with cooking demonstrations, music, entertainment, a fashion parade, a vintage car & motorbike display, ice carving displays and children’s activities. The Chinese Temple Museum and the Art Gallery will also be open. All funds raised on the day will go towards community projects organized by the Rotary Club of Atherton.

Just over an hour drive via the Gillies Highway or ninety minutes via Kuranda, it makes for a lovely day out on the Tablelands. Do the circuit and take in some of the other attractions of the region. If you need a caffeine fix, the Mareeba area is ‘Coffee Central’. Drop in to Tichum Creek Coffee, Jacques Coffee or The Coffee works, or meander out to Skybury or Maloberti’s on the Dimbulah Road.

Other stops along the way are Mt Uncle Distillery at Walkamin, The Peanut Place and The Humpy at Tolga and around Atherton you have Gallos Dairyland for a snack, cheese or chocolates. Between Mareeba and Kuranda there is de Brueys Boutique Winery and Emerald Creek Ice-creamery.

A Dining Challenge

Published 9th October, 2010

There is a worthy saying in the restaurant industry when it comes to customer satisfaction; ‘If you enjoyed it – tell the world – If you didn’t – tell us”. Although a good restaurant will always strive for perfection in every aspect, as with any highly human service orientated industry there can be times when they fall short.

This was true just recently at a very long lunch with four visiting friends where we enjoyed a few convivial hours of impressive food, wine and great friendly service. Being a long lunch there was a change of shift and where we had experienced nothing but excellence from the first waiter, the new fellow came in cold with a different mindset to a table of people who were (well) enjoying a mellow afternoon. Now I have experienced this waiter before and he is highly professional and has a friendly attitude. But today with these people – it just didn’t work. However with just one word to this fellow, he quickly apologised and put someone else on our table, and we settled back into a pleasurable lunch. As a result my visitors enjoyed another three meals at this establishment over the weekend.

When things go wrong, a restaurant can be judge on how well they handle the complaint – there and then. A complaint is a plea from a guest who is saying ‘I chose your establishment, something is not right, I am giving you a chance to make amends’. A good restaurant will be thankful that you have given them that chance and will do their very best to make sure their guests leave happy.

With the internet, online website reviews and complaints about restaurants are becoming more prolific. Perhaps valid if a complaint wasn’t handled well, but before an online whinge, a phone call, email or letter to the restaurant manager/owner would be polite. Otherwise it’s a cop-out and downright unfair? No comeback for the restaurateur and unwarranted damage to their business.

If your dining experience does not match your expectations, first give the restaurant a chance to rise to your challenge; before you leave. And if you enjoyed it; then go on-line and tell the world.

Hannah at Permaculture Convergence

Published 2nd October, 2010

We have seen Daryl Hannah featured in the newspaper recently and some of us had probably not take too much notice of why she came to this region. Last Sunday I attended the Australian Permaculture Convergence (APC10) Dinner on a beautiful evening in the grounds of the Rudolph Steiner School in Kuranda where Daryl was the guest speaker. Of the 300 dinner guests most of them had attended the convergence over the past week with Daryl and were privy to some exciting information on permaculture and key-line agricultural methodology that is gaining momentum around the world.

With a stellar cast of international speakers, the convergence was simply about a new (or should I say ‘old’) way to grow our food. “Simply” meaning - less artificial inputs (oil, chemical fertilizers & pesticides, etc) and more natural inputs (bio-fuels, compost, land/soil regeneration) to grow healthy food.

Daryl’s “Love Life” farm in California runs its tractors and machinery on a bio-diesel of used peanut oil, and her sustainable permaculture methods of producing foods and caring for her animals does not buy-in to the escalating cost of petro-chemical fertilizers and pesticides that has most farmers’ in-debt to their banks.

These methods also include the traditional saving of the best seeds from one crop to plant the next crop rather than purchasing GM seeds that are often designed for other characteristics over flavour and with no ability to reproduce future crops. The uptake of using heritage seeds is bringing back the flavour of ‘how it used to taste’ in vegetables that Daryl was obviously familiar with.

It was quite apparent that the surprisingly demure, environmental activist; Daryl had warmed to Tropical North Queensland and to the people she had met over the month in the region. The feeling was mutual for this lady who had a great message to tell about a low impact lifestyle.

This week from Friday 1st to Sunday 10th October is National Organic Week, themed ‘Be Organic: Taste the Difference, Feel the Difference, Make a Difference.’ The annual event highlighting and promoting the country’s growing organic industry, which is forecast to be one of the fastest growth industries in Australia this year. Now in its third year, industry associations the Centre for Organic & Resource Enterprises and Biological Farmers of Australia are hosting and promoting National Organic Week.

Laneway Art and Specialty Coffee

Published 25th September 2010

I have always loved the notion of a specialty coffee shop with superb coffee, interesting snacks & cakes, books, music and art, and now there is emerging a new set of coffee shops in Cairns with identities far placed from that of any coffee house franchise and who selectively choose their coffee beans.

After enjoying a hilarious documentary entitled ‘Exit through the Gift Shop,’ (recommended) presented by End Credits at CoCo, about street art, I was curious to see if Cairns has picked up on the Melbourne trend of laneway renaissance of art and food. So off on an excursion around Cairns I searched for art and cafes of our lanes.

Bang Espresso is not down a lane but does have lane art on its walls at the Boland Centre on Spence Street where owner Roy McPherson set the bar high when opening in 2008 with a feel of Melbourne urban sophistication. Great coffee and food, great music, convivial space and friendly staff. Bang’s coffee blend hails from six different origins and is independently Master roasted in Sydney.

Not quite in a lane but at the corner of an arcade (Mainstreet) is Ever After Cafe Bookstore; another specialty coffee establishment in the Lake Street Mall. Run by mother and son team, Mary and Nick Roberts. Nick has worked as a barista around Melbourne and it has paid off; their coffee was recently praised by an online coffee geek website as the best in Cairns. Popular for brekky and lunch, they have a great selection of books; old and new to browse.

Ah! I find a laneway in Grafton Street with the most fabulous art along the wall and follow it down to Caffiend; a curious little specialty coffee shop run by Ollie and Josie. Ollie really knows his coffee and serves a blend of nine beans. He also has Nigel Giacomi who won the last two years Cairns Barista Competition behind the machine on Saturday mornings. With the same passion he inherited from his previous employer NuNu, Ollie sources local products and produce to make his own jams, sauces for his all-day brekky & luncheon specials.

The renaissance has begun. So watch this space, or should I say ‘the laneways’ as they re-invent themselves into trendy quarters for the next generation of cafes, art and interesting shops.

A Multi-Sensory Perception

Published 18th September 2010

The pleasure of eating food dependents on our multisensory perceptions. Our oral or ‘taste’ sensors perceive texture and temperature, and when food hits our taste buds it registers as sweet, sour, bitter, salt, or savoury (also known as ‘unami’) flavours. But there are other senses at play and the popularity of molecular cooking has highlighted the roles of these multisensory receptors. Ferran Adrià of El Bulli restaurant in Spain quotes ‘Cooking is probably the most multi-sensual art. I try to stimulate all the senses.’

I am intrigued by Heston Blumenthal’s (Fat Duck restaurant UK) exploration of the relationships between the senses and a food experience.

What you see is not always what you get and if you saw Heston’s beautiful fruit on the first series of Heston’s Feast; visually your mind registers ‘luscious sweetness’. However Heston’s mandarins were made from chicken livers, apples with minced pork and plums from bull’s testicles - a real shock to the senses. Here in our region we have ‘miracle fruit’ that if eaten just before another food, it reverses the taste. So biting into a sour lemon produces a sweet taste; confusing our perception.

Heston’s signature dishes ‘The Sound of the Sea’ is seafood served on a glass-topped wooden box containing edible sand and seashells, foam and edible seaweed, along with an iPod for the consumer to listen to the sound of waves crashing on a beach and seagulls overhead. A series of tests on this dish at Oxford University revealed that sound can really enhance the sense of taste.

With taste in the mouth, the olfactory sense (of smell) identifies aroma. The aroma of coffee brewing or a cake in the oven is a great stimulus to the appetite. Once again in Heston’s television show ‘Kitchen Chemistry’ he demonstrated feeding his blindfolded, nose pegged chef a spoonful of mashed strawberries. The chef tasted sweetness and only when he uses his nose, he perceives strawberries.

It’s great to know that eating has so many nuances and using all your senses of visual, smell, sound, taste and even touch can further enliven its pleasure.

Our Price is Right

11th September, 2010

A weekend in Brisbane is a refreshing change, but I have to admit we have it pretty good here when it comes to the cost of food.

A visit to the James Street Markets in Fortitude Valley is always interesting and if you are in the food industry and are a seafood, meat, bakery or fruit and vegetable retailer; it’s worth having a look at what is on offer there. Food is fabulously presented, quality very much assured and with numerous quick and easy take home convenience items. However, you pay for what you get and most meats seem to start at around $29.99kg and rise from there. ..and I was staggered to see our Skybury papaya at $6.69kg where here we pay around $2.59kg.

The restaurant scene in Brisbane is now giving Sydney and Melbourne a nudge with chefs such as Mat Moran and Ben O’Donoghue setting up camp on the river and the Spanish Ortiga this week winning the Australian Gourmet Traveller ‘Best New Restaurant’ award. Trying to get into any of these restaurants on the same weekend as ‘River Fire’ was not an option so we chose a trendy bistro in New Farm. Now some say that Cairns restaurant prices are high, however a dish of swordfish on risotto once you add the (separate) vegetables came in at a hiking $43.00, and the glass of wine that would normally be $9-10 in our region was $14 for the same.

So the reality is that we are not so bad off here and especially if you buy local produce, the transport costs are eliminated from the price.

Kitchen Garden

4th September, 2010

The backyard garden of my childhood in Perth was no different from any other in the suburb. It grew Peach, Apricot, Plum, Almond, Orange, Lemon and Mandarin trees and the large vegetable garden grew broad beans, corn, peas, french beans, spinach, tomato, lettuce, carrots, potato and strawberries. Only the ‘new Australian’s” gardens in their quarters grew anything different. It would take years for us to embrace their cuisine. But this is the way it was; you grew your own food. That notion seemed to fade out for a number of years, but now there is a resurgence of backyard vegetable plots, and even apartment dwellers are not missing out.

City gardens, community gardens and balcony gardens are becoming popular and the Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Program now has over 140 Australian schools involved with the thought that if you can teach children to grow food and learn to cook it, they will have a better appreciation of a healthier diet.

A study conducted by two Melbourne Universities credits the Kitchen Garden Program with creating positive attitude changes in primary school children across Australia. It found that 39% of children reporting they would try new foods, compared with 26% at the start of the Program. 71% of children in participating schools reported they enjoyed cooking, compared with just 50% at non-participating schools. The Program was also considered by teachers to be particularly effective in engaging ‘non-academic learners’.

At present there is only one Cairns school participating in this program and thanks to Annie Wolff at Cairns West Primary School, students there are benefiting from the Kitchen Garden Program. It would be good to see more schools join in.

Whether it’s a school garden, community or backyard garden, growing your own food has something for the whole family, not only the healthy food, but for family interaction.

Word of Mouth

If you are a ‘foodie’ then you will enjoy the Word of Mouth foodie chat sessions at The Pier in this weekend’s Taste Paradise Food & Wine Festival. All sessions are free to the public and start at 9am with a food debate ‘The Kitchen is the Centre of the Universe’. Here a group of determined high school students will debate their case. Whilst Gordonvale High School will argue for the affirmative, Trinity Anglican School team will argue against the notion that a home kitchen is the centre of the universe.

The ‘Future of Restaurants’ should be a hot session for restaurateurs and diners with panelist chefs Craig Squire, Nic Holloway and Leon Walker discussing where their industry is heading and what’s hot and what’s not.

Food tourism is an emerging niche market that is sweeping the world. What we have to offer here for the culinary visitors is astounding, but how do we get the message out to the world? In ‘Food Tourism Ambassador; Is that Me?’ listen to regional tourism experts Jeff Gillies, Jason Chuck & Ross Contarino, show us how we can be great food ambassadors.

An interview with Marion Grasby is surely going to pack the room in a session that will talk about her life and love of food and her rise to prominence.

With climate change, issues of food security, sustainability and the environmental impact of food production, the growth of agribusiness and the homogenization of food production, how can we ensure that our children and grandchildren will be able to eat real food? A panel of lively enthusiast from APC10 will discuss these issues in a session on ‘Real Food’

If you are not that ‘au fait’ with wines, ‘Wine? Wine Not?’ will give you a little introduction to the wine world of Australia and a few tips on matching wine with food in Jane Brentnall’s discussion. And whilst we are on wines, ‘Grape DeVine and Drink Paradise’ is an adjoining event from 2-4pm that for $25 you can taste some of Australia’s great wines from 11 wine companies as well as local beer, fruit wine, spirits and liqueurs from with Pernod Ricard, Yalumba, McWilliams, Red & White, Treasury Wine Estates, Taylors Wines, De Bortoli Wines, Mt Uncle Distillery, Blue Sky Brewery and de Brueys Boutique Wines.

A Special Taste of Paradise

21st August, 2010

What dish could possibly represent the essence of ‘Tropical North Queensland’? A dish with an innovative use of our regional food produce that every mouthful says ‘Taste Paradise’. It’s evident from the 22 dishes submitted by chefs of the region in the Taste Paradise Signature Dish Competition that seafood is very much our local favourite with 100% of entries featuring seafood. So now the voting will probably come down to the other ingredients in the recipes that will bring out the flavours of the tropics in these dishes … and what a diverse range of flavours this region has to offer?

The challenge has been set for our restaurant chefs to throw down the kitchen glove and compete in this inaugural competition where the public can be the judge. On-line voting commenced on August 20 at where you can view all the dishes and recipes contributed by 22 chefs of the region who have taken up the challenge. By voting for your favourite dish you will also be able to monitor the dishes popularity as they clock up their votes. What’s more when you vote, be sure to leave a comment and you could win a dinner at the winning restaurant to the value of $200.

After voting closes on 20 September, the five top dishes will be put to the test when they are cooked up for a panel of food experts to judge the winning Taste Paradise Signature Dish. This will be announced at a gala dinner to be held in October and the winning restaurant will receive a trophy and a fabulous promotional package from Tourism Queensland and Tourism Tropical North Queensland.

Marion Made

14th August, 2010

Yes it’s confirmed, Marion Grasby is coming to Cairns. One of the most popular contestants in the MasterChef series 2 will feature at the Taste Paradise Food & Wine Festival at The Pier on Saturday 28th August where she will present public cooking demonstrations and a chat session; ‘Word of Mouth’.

This day is set to be a ‘foodies’ paradise with more cooking demonstrations by local celebrity chefs Nick Holloway (NuNu), Jimmy Shu (Hanuman) David Bres (Olivers) and Jason Chuck (Eden House) at the Pier centre stage. M.C. Tammy Barker will keep the heat up on stage with the chefs throughout the day from 9am – 4pm. Kids have not been forgotten with a ‘Kids in the Kitchen’ cooking class at Cho Gao from 2-4pm with limited bookings taken on the day. ‘Palate to Palette’ is an art exhibition on a food theme by the Visual Arts Association of FNQ and well known Australian but local contemporary artist Julie Poulsen will exhibit her ‘Menu’s collection at her Gallery Inc. in the Pier. The Farmgate Market has plenty of stalls to showcase local food produce and Apostrophe Bookshop will host ‘Cook the Books.

Between cooking demonstrations pop upstairs to the Shangri-la’s Trinity room for ‘Word of Mouth’ hosted by local personality Juanita Soper. Juanita will facilitate a series of six foodies chat sessions throughout the day with local chefs and identities, to provoke thoughts and humour in fun fill gatherings including The Food Debate with year 12 high school students.

Drink Paradise & Grape DeVine; a wine tasting expose in a the Shangri-la hotel’s trinity room will happen between 2-4pm and is the only event of the day where there is a charge of $25.00 entry, but what good value for 2 hours of tasting some of Australia’s popular fruit and grape wines, beers, spirits and liqueurs.

So if you have any interest in food, spend your Saturday at The Pier.