Monday, June 13, 2011

French Food

Published: 28th May 2011

Arriving in Paris early in the morning I sat comfortably at a table ina little café for a coffee & croissant.
It amused me to see Parisian’s dropped in, stand at the bar to drinkingcoffee, eat a croissant, read the morning papers, and off they would go. Such is a busy life when you don’t have thetime to sit and enjoy breakfast.

At lunch queues wind around corners at the best boulangerie for themost fabulous quiches, tarts, rolls and salads; eaten on a stool in the shop oron the go in the streets. Breakfast andlunch ‘on the run’ is obviously made up for at dinner when the sidewalk cafesare brimming with customers who live in minute inner city apartments and userestaurants as their social space.

A glance at the many restaurant menus showed consistency in traditional French dishes, but I was looking for a different food experience. Going solo infrance I was happy to gather fresh produce and have it at my apartment where Icould rest my weary body from walking the streets of Paris all day. I find markets and food stalls more exciting than tourist restaurants.

The fishmonger who sets up his stall outside a fashion shop, and thebutcher who has a wonderful selection of meats that are cut or prepared in manydifferent ways, rabbit, different styles of branded poultry (corn feed chicken quail, duck, goose etc). I loved how the fruit and vegetable stalls presented their wares, with masses of punnets of berries, water features to cool the lettuces and signs that tell you where everything is grown or produced. The vegetables are proudly presented as quality and the spring season at present is right for large white and small wild green asparagus and bright red ‘saveurs ancienne’ (heirloom) tomatoes. The Fromageries are to die for with a vast selection of cow, sheep and goat cheeses. Where milk is raw (not pasteurised) the cheese has a sensational creamy flavour. It was the chocolate and macaroon shops that I had to resist.

But now I am in southern France on the Cotes du Azur and ready to experience more regional flavours. I am here for a week with friends at a stunning location just outside the village of La Colle sur Loup in a beautiful house with an olive grove owned by a recognised architect/interior designer Jacqueline Morabito. This very chic house has views over the Mediterranean Sea and across the valley to the ancient
fortified village of Saint Paul de Vence.

Only two hours from Italy the cuisine is a blend of Provencal French and Italian with a growing influence of North Africa. Meals are simple and dishes reflect the bounty of produce from the region. Street markets stock only the best quality fresh products and in true French style, presentation and packaging are foremost.

Our evening meals are usually taken in the garden overlooking the olive grove (the oldest tree labelled approx.1,500 years old) and in this northern hemisphere sunlit evening we sit around a large weathered table to enjoy a simple traditional Nicoise meal. Pissaladiere, roasted peppers with garlic homemade olive oil and balsamic, red tomato and Mozzarella, white asparagus gently steamed and served with butter and parmesan along with a green salad, batard bread and a pinot noir.

Simple but magnificent! I need to pinch myself.

World's Best Restaurants

Published: 7th May 2011

The San Pellagrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurants Award
has surpassed Michelin Star rating as the beacon of the ‘culinary best’ and
this year judged by over 800 industry experts, Danish Noma Restaurant from
Copenhagen seized the top position again for the second year running.

The restaurant they claimed the ‘One to Watch‘ due
to its meteoric rise, is the two Michelin star Frantzén/Lindeberg restaurant of
Stockholm, Sweden. So does this confirm
the suggestion of a new trend to Nordic cuisine? Noma’s Chef Rene Redzepi is noted for his
foraging approach to using quality local ingredients, applying innovative
techniques and a new term ‘emotive’ that arouses memories. However Rene and
many of his contemporaries claim inspiration from the Spanish movement?

The Spanish movement was popularised by doyen Ferran
Adria and his El Bulli restaurant just north of Barcelona. El Bulli (The Bulldog) held number one
position for five years in the Worlds 50 Best Restaurant. However early last year, Ferran opted out of
nominations when he decided to voluntarily close his restaurant for two years
to simply revive his culinary direction. It has taken until July this year to
honour his reservations before actually closing. Yet the Spanish movement is not just about El
Bulli, in the past seven years, two other restaurants from the Basque region
have consistently been in the World’s Top 10: Mugaritz and Arzaks from the San
Sebastian food hotspot region. And in 2009 another Barcelona restaurant, El
Celler de Can Roca rocketed up 21 places to number 5 positions and this year
became the second best restaurant in the world. Proving the Spanish movement is still alive.

Sometimes you just have to indulge yourself and
this week I am off to Europe for a sensory journey around France, Italy and the
new food mecca; Spain. Spending a week
in both Barcelona and San Sebastian and I am going to indulge in some of these restaurants. I can’t believe I was able to get a booking
at Arzaks and at Ferran Adria’s new Tapas Bar Tickets & 41
°. So all I have to do now is
decide on either Mugaritz or El Celler de Can Roca.

In the next few weeks I will keep you posted on
these restaurants and my travels through this page and my blog at

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Port Douglas Carnivale

Published: 30th April 2011

Each year the Port Douglas Carnivale seems to be getting better and better. Last year the event organisers, Port Douglas Chamber of Commerce really started to focus on food by introducing two excellent events; the Food Fight and Palates of Port. This year they have added a Food Fair in conjunction with the Food Fight that have gained noted sponsorship from Taste Paradise, the new regional food brand. You know the event is going to be good when heavy-weight food event sponsors Audi come on board for the Palates of Port. Audi sponsors a number of large southern state food festivals such as Noosa Food & Wine Festival.

Heralding in the start of this week-long suite of events is the classic Sheraton Mirage Longest Lunch on Friday 20 May, and this year is proving to be extra special featuring the first ever North Queensland release of the renown Penfolds Bin wine series.

On Saturday 21 May, the Cancer Council Queensland’s Mossman Port Douglas branch is hosting a Mad Hatters High Tea party at Sheraton Mirage to raise money for Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea. What is really mad is the fact that it will be held in the afternoon? …but all for a good cause!

The Food Wine & a Taste of Port is always a winner, especially if you arrive in time to watch the impressive sunset. This year Craig Squire of Ochre Restaurant is offering his winning Taste Paradise Signature Dish of Tempura bugs, papaya salad, with sweet chilli lemon myrtle dipping sauce.

With the Seafood Extravaganza on Sunday morning at the Meriden Marina Mirage, you may as well start booking accommodation for the weekend. A feed of prawns straight from the trawler goes down well after a stroll around the Port Douglas Markets.

Stay the whole week, as on Wednesday 25 May, 5 Senses at the sugar wharf will take you on a sensory adventure of art for sight, music for sound, cheese for taste, wine for smell, and meeting others adds a nice touch.

Taste Paradise Food Fight on Friday 27 May is great fun where chefs of Port battle it out in a Masterchef style competition, held in conjunction with the Food Fair with offerings from restaurants and providores.

The Palates of Port this year on Saturday 28 May will be held in the magical setting of Flames of the Forrest where eight chefs from Port’s Salsa, Bucci, Flames of the Forest, Bistro 3, Harrison’s, 2 Fish, Port Douglas Catering, & Sheraton Mirage. The first 100 ticket holders to book online and win an Audi to drive for a weekend!

Support our region and go online at for information about these and other events.

Natty Nathan

Published: 23rd March 2011

New to Cairns is Nathan Thompson, Executive Chef of the Cairns Hilton. Coming from South Australia you know straight away that he is going to be interested in regional food. No other state celebrates its culinary culture better than South Australia, and Nathan learned his skills from the best.

Nathan started his apprenticeship at the Hotel School at Regency TAFE. He graduated with a Level 3 Certificate in Cookery, Advanced Patisserie, Chinese Cookery and Bakery. He learned traditional methods from a third generation German patissier; many of these skills have been passed-by in today’s kitchen training.

In 1999 Nathan commenced at the Adelaide Hilton in the same year that the hotel’s Grange Restaurant head chef; the great Cheong Liew received his Medal for Order of Australia (OAM). This medal was awarded for distinguished recognition for “service to the food and restaurant industry through involvement in developing and influencing the style of contemporary Australian cuisine". Cheong Liew taught Nathan about creativity and flavours. After rotating through all areas of this large kitchen under the tutelage of Executive Chef Bethany Finn he learned about process.

“Cooking is about Method, Process & Flavour. If you have good methods and process; you will get the flavour right” says Nathan.

What Simon Bryant taught Nathan was that chefs can’t just stay in the kitchen these days. Simon, who was Executive Chef at the Adelaide Hilton, became well known through ‘The Cook and the Chef’ television program with Maggie Beer. Simon understood that customers in the restaurant want to meet the chef and as Sous Chef Nathan learnt the importance of customer – food - relationship.

During his 11 years at Hilton Adelaide, Nathan was a champion of fresh and ethical foods, supporting the RSPCA’s Choose Wisely campaign to promote free range eggs, and upholding the trademarked Seriously South Australian®, maximising the use of local produce within the hotel. Nathan was also called on by the South Australian Government, to assist with the development of the food chain on Kangaroo Island; working with restaurants and producers, where getting the locals involved was essential to its success.

With qualifications in cookery, advanced patisserie, Chinese cookery and bakery, Nathan recently transferred to the Cairns Hilton and is now seeking out local tropical foods for his new menus.

Passionate Nick

Published: 16th April 2011

There is an interesting fact about Nick Holloway, chef/owner of Nunu Restaurant in Palm Cove; Nick didn’t start out to be a chef …he was studying to be a scientific engineering. Like a number of uni students, he grabbed a part-time job as a kitchen hand in a Melbourne restaurant to make ends meet.

What surprised this keen top grade student that was heading to a professional career; he discovered a new career paradigm. “it was very different! tough work, long hours but it had a certain excitement about it’ remembers Nick. “The chef would throw dirty pans from one end of the kitchen and every time they would end up in the sink in front of me” he added. It was not only the action, timing, fun and comradery in the kitchen that appealed to Nick but this is where his suppressed artistic side could be expressed. He decided to swap university for William Anglis College where he commenced a hospitality course.

It was at an event where Nick was working at Howque Dale in the Victorian countryside where some of Australia’s top chefs gathered, and that he met his mentor Geoff Lindsay. “Blown away” by Geoff’s skills and philosophy of cooking he immediately contacted him and started work shortly thereafter at the acclaimed Stella Restaurant in Melbourne.

Nick never actually finishing his cooking study; it was his artistic creativeness and passion for cooking that came to the fore and under the tutelage of Geoff, where his culinary skills shone. From one mentor to another, Nick moved to the critically acclaimed Blake’s Restaurant where he worked with Andrew Blake before returning to Geoff Lindsay’s new and awarded Pearl Restaurant as head chef. Here he had a chance to really express his professionalism and was featured as one of 13 young Australian chefs by the Lifestyle Channel and made guest presentation television appearances.

With his wife Amy and business partner Jason Rowbottam, they made a sea change to Palm Cove and started Nunu restaurant in 2004. Winning numerous awards at Nunu, it didn’t finish there for Nick and Jason, last year they opened two other tiers of catering in Palm Cove. Numi is a little takeaway with home cooked meals, packaged food and delicious ice-cream for apartment dwellers and The Rising Sun; a fun pub style haunt for locals. Where Nunu reeks of tropical style, elegance and culinary innovation, The Rising Sun is laid back with a modest casual style menu of wide appeal. Their Sunday barbecue takes you around the world from Greece, Thailand, USA, changing every week and with a cool breeze and live music it’s a pretty good Sunday afternoon venue.

A dotting family man Nick makes time to share with Amy and his three gorgeous children. Amy who has also been in the hospitality industry understands Nick’s love of restaurants as a place of creativity, vibrancy, hard work, intelligence and pleasure, and one where his role is to pass on the knowledge.

Nick is one of those passionate chefs who seek out farmers and providores to find interesting and unusual local foods for his menu and has just renamed one of his most popular dishes using palm hearts ‘taste paradise’.

Phil's Philosophy

Published 9th April 2011

This week I popped into see what was happening at the Reef House and caught up with Chef Philip Mitchell and newly appointed and well-known local Kelly Eustace, who has taken over as General Manager. There seemed to be a new buzz to the resort that has put a smile on Philip’s face with a vision of bringing back the former glory to the restaurant.

Philip is one of our regions recognised chefs, being at Reef House for many years now he has played host to and cooked with some of the most popular celebrity chefs such as Rick Stein, Guy Grossi, Neil Perry, Chrissy Mansfield, Stephane Manfredi, Ian Hewitson, Luke Mangan, Manu Fieldel, Gary Mehigan, Miguel Maestre and Ben O’Donoghue. Phil has done his share of guest chef also at some of the best Australian Food events where he has promoted the food of this region.

An Englishman, Phil’s love of travel took him to many European countries where he honed his culinary skills prior to reaching Australia. Phil worked at the best restaurants in Noosa and was executive chef of the Bedarra Resort before being discovered by Reef House.

Phil’s cooking philosophy is about simplicity on the plate and allowing the hero ingredient to speak for itself. His love of seafood is evident on the menu and style is influenced by his Mediterranean experiences using local products such as Vanella buffalo fetta and burrata cheeses for authenticity. But it’s not all about Europe, there are some lovely Asian flavours that balance the menu perfectly for this climate.

Now that the recent hiatus with change of ownership has now come to an end, Philip (and Kelly) will be working closely with the new owners to revive the restaurant to once again be the star attraction of the resort. The Reef House now joins the other boutique property of its new owners; Mt Lofty House in the Adelaide Hills; an area that reeks of regional food prowess. So I think it will be ‘watch this space’ for the Reef House in the coming year when we hope to see some exciting culinary events happen.

Jonssons Farm Market

Published: 2nd April 2011

No doubt you have heard about it by now? You can’t have missed the striking facade on the Cook Highway at Stratford. The Jonsson Farm Market finally opened this week and full credit to Warren and Gail Jonsson who have done a magnificent job of creating a local food produce market.

With a ‘can do’ attitude, it’s been hard for some to keep up with Warren and his vision to provide honest prices for the producer and consumer. Being a cattleman, his extensive butchery offers excellent Tablelands beef, pork, and chicken. But you can also find spitchcock, quail and rabbit in the frozen section as well as a full range of Jervois organic meats, and this weekend will see the first batch of prawns arrive.

There’s a wide range of quality fruit and vegetables including your standard temperate climate varieties. At present, our wet season is a quite time for the most crops of the region, but you can still find a good selection of tropicals at Jonsson’s.

The big surprise is a real showcase of packaged and processed foods from Rainforest Bounty, Kuranda Kandy, Wondaree Macadamias, Tropical Harvest dried fruits, Shaylees Conserves, SpiceZ curry kits, Gagarra Honey, Nerada and Daintree Teas, all the regions coffees, to name a few.

In the fridges you’ll find all the Mungalli and Misty Mountain products, Gallo’s Cheese, and in the freezer is Kuranda Ice-cream and check out the chocolate coated bananas and other fruits by Tropical Harvest. Tableland flowers and a juice bar completes the scene.

The great wall murals at Jonsson’s Farm Market proudly demonstrates that this is very much a family affair and very much ‘local’. Go along and have a look for yourself and support the Jonssons and the producers of the region.

Bring our ya Fruit

Published: 26th March 2011

Haven’t planned anything for Sunday? Tomorrow is one of my favourite events of the region. Market Day at the Feast of the Senses in Innisfail is going to be bigger and better despite what the weather has thrown at the district.

It is usual for the ‘Ultra-Tropics’ to put on a stunning display of its exotic fruits each year at the Market day. However with all crop devastation in the southern region, the Feast of the Senses is asking people to bring to the event (from far and wide) any exotic fruits from their backyard orchard, to make up one gigantic display. They are offering a prize of Clare Richards Tropical Cuisine cookbook for the most exotic fruit received.

Spread along Edith Street will be 72 stalls of laden with regional foods, exotic plant and other general items that you can taste and buy. Look out for the Taste Paradise stall. On centre stage Ajay Zalte of Rydges Resort will be back again this year with cooking demonstrations along with Jordan Lakin of the Barrier Reef Motel and our celebrity chef; Peter Russell-Clarke. You can also catch Peter wandering around between the Elandra Resort and Australian Banana marquees.

Just around the corner in Rankin Street, the family area will be home to the Youth Precinct with ‘Our Kitchen Rules’ competition, artists workshops, busking, circus and street theatre and rambutan stacking competition. (I wonder how many rambutans they can source.)

After looking at all that food you will probably be feeling a little peckish, so head on to the Canecutters Court for some local vittles and entertainment. Landcare have offered two free (1 hour) bus tours that will take you around the devastated and regrowth areas, one at 10.30 one at 12.00.

It’s a wonderful day and this year you can expect the unexpected, so jump in your car, throw the kids in the back; it’s a 1 hour cruise down to Innisfail for the day. At just $2 per adult and unaccompanied minors, $5 for a family, it’s a good opportunity to put a bit of money back into the Cassowary Coast economy. The Feast of the Senses Market Day is held in the main street of Innisfail from 9am – 3pm this Sunday. For further information check out the website

Larry & Yasi - Still a Feast

Published: 19th March 2011

Come hell or high water (literally), the Innisfail Feast of the Senses gets under way this weekend and what a great opportunity it will be to show your support to the good people of the Cassowary Coast.

Starting today with Taste Paradise Food Trails, you will be driven around the cyclone affected areas to taste and learn about the foods of the ‘Ultra Tropics’. On Saturday the tour travels north to take in Mungalli Dairy, Yamagishi Eggs, Mena Creek Eco Gardens and Broken Nose Vanilla. On Sunday the coach travels south to Lizzio’s Banana Plantation, Salleras Fruit Forest Farm and Spurwood Springs. If you can’t make the coach tour this weekend, a self drive tour around the region will take place this coming week.

Special guest of the festival is Peter Russell-Clarke, a very talented icon of the Australian food scene; and the ‘original’ celebrity chef. What this down-to-earth Aussie hasn’t done doesn’t matter. His CV is star studded from writing, producing and presenting over 900 television shows, documentaries and programme segments, to publishing and nationally distributing a magazine. He has been a cooking writer for all the popular food mags, has written and illustrated 25 cookbooks and has recently published an Encyclopaedia of Food. He has been a food editor of a major newspaper and guest on all the national TV and radio talk-back shows. Peter became controversial when his bloopers featured on You Tube. Known for ‘Where’s the Cheese’ is only one of the many food television commercials that Peter presented.

Peter may have cooked the Silver Jubilee Dinner in Australia for HRH Prince Charles as well as having cooked for the Duke of Edinburgh but his style these days is very simple and relaxed.

An avid artist, for many years Peter was the Melbourne Herald’s political cartoonist so you’ll find his quick witted stories will have you in stitches. Peter will be the guest speaker at the Ultra Tropics Gala Dinner on Friday 25th March so it’s sure to be a very funny night. Craig Squire of Ochre Catering once again has created a wonderful menu for the evening in the beautiful deco shire hall.

You can catch Peter at the very popular Market Day on Sunday 27th March where the best of the regions food produce will be on display. This is a day I really love and worth the mere one hour drive from Cairns for a good day out.

In its ninth year, the Feast of the Senses is well entrenched in our region as an event not to be missed. So help support the community and check out the website or call Kirsty on 0413 010 625 for full details of the events that start this weekend and continue through to next Sunday.

If I train them and they leave - If I don't train them and they stay??

Published: 12th March 2011

Gavin King has now referred to the service at a Cairns restaurant, similar to two snowflakes or two circumcisions; no two are the same??? Well Advance Cairns has decided to do something about it and through its food project will assist restaurants with ‘Aussie Host’ customer service training.

Great news, as this comes on the heels of a recent survey by Restaurant and Catering Australia that for every dollar you spend in a restaurant 44 cents goes towards wages and salaries. With staffing costs taking the highest percentage of earnings, you would expect great service, but alas that is not always the case. Finding good staff and retaining them is the bane of the industry these days and no one is prepared to train the itinerant backpackers who are filling the void. But what a vicious circle?

About 15 years ago ‘Aussie Host’; a customer service training program was rolled out across Australia. This one day course taught front of house staff in the tourism and hospitality industry, the art of making service a memorable experience. Something that today is repeatedly reportedly lacking in numerous establishments in this region! Back then many of our hotels, restaurant and tourism operators enrolled their staff in Aussie Host and surely this contributed to a more customer focused reputation in hospitality of the region at that time. Unfortunately management staff move on and Aussie Host was by-passed. It was a couple of years ago that Aussie Hosts made a comeback and although not taken up with the same zest as its former incarnation, it’s still an excellent training course that should be encouraged in every hospitality and tourism enterprise.

As a prerequisite to work in a restaurant, you need to have completed a Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) course. To uphold the reputation of this region, I believe it should be mandatory also for everyone (including backpackers) to have completed an ‘Aussie Host’ training course before serving customers in our restaurants.

Sustainable Seafood

Published: 5th March 2011

This week heralds the opening of the prawn season and fishers will be at sea for the next three weeks before bringing back the first bounty of prawns of the season. These fabulous morsels are the culinary icons of our region and to consume or serve an imported alternative should be deemed as sacrilege.

Strangely enough there is a assumption that our fishing industry does not care about over fishing and the extinction of a seafood, but that if far from the truth. With the exception of a minute number of rogue fishers, the Queensland seafood industry as a whole care very much for the ‘hand that feeds them’ and have self monitored and governed their fishing areas for many years and in 2001 a local group formed Eco-fish to formalise their activities. The Australian fishing industry is possibly the most regulated of its kind in the world and thus we have seasons, quotas and environmental regulations for each fishing sector. Hence the prawn season!

A publication of the Australian Marine Conservation Society’s (AMCS) Sustainable Seafood Guide recently caught my attention with over 100 species relegated to the categories of Better Choice, Think Twice, or Say No. I was surprised to see such a large number of seafood condemned to the Think Twice, or Say No category, so my scepticism led me to investigate.

Fortunately I didn’t have to look very far to find Nick Ruello who lives in Cairns and is a former fisheries scientist, Sydney fish merchant and consultant. For the past 45 years he has worked with many Australian businesses and national and international R & D projects on fisheries management and seafood processing, marketing, and quality assurance. He is a Slow Food member and acts as a seafood advisor on the Ark of Taste program. He is a founding member of the Australian Society for Fish Biology and a board member on two seafood industry organizations. He has an MSc degree from Sydney University and lesser qualifications in various fields.

Mentioning this publication touched a raw nerve with Nick. As he explains “Quite a few of their assessments are poorly founded and many of the Think Twice recommendations are so vague and general they are of little use” Nick gives the example “All trawl caught prawns are relegated to the Think Twice category although Australian trawlers are world leaders in sustainable harvesting, by-catch reduction and minimising environmental impacts and the major fisheries pass the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act assessment”.

Nick contrasts the AMCS approach with the considered, constructive efforts being made by the Australian Conservation Foundation in collaboration with government fisheries managers, the University of Technology Sydney and the seafood industry to guide consumers to more sustainable seafood choices


It is concerning when a ‘guide’ can be published with misleading information that can impact on an industry and on what we feel comfortable with at our dinner table. A full report of Nick’s findings can be found at news page. So in three week, grab a kilo of fresh prawns and ‘enjoy’.

Serious Cooking

Published: 26th February 2011

In most parts of the world’s hospitality sector it is not uncommon to find a more mature workforce cooking or serving your meal, and here in Australia some twenty years ago this was the case. However for one reason or another the industry’s age went into free-fall and only the young were hired.

When I first started in hospitality I was inducted into a team of mature people who really knew their stuff; I am talking about gloved silver service and other skills that these people executed with much aplomb. Chef’s who learned how to bone out a carcase and a broad spectrum of classic sauces. Skills that may not be used in this particular era are dying out. And now even in a time when our television is flooded with cooking shows, there is not the uptake of younger people entering the culinary workforce.

Restaurants are screaming out for quality candidates to join their kitchen brigades and apprenticeships are at an all time low. An industry forum held in September last year identified the restaurant kitchens as in a critical situation.

Tropical North Queensland TAFE (TNQT) has answered the hospitality industry’s call for a greater number of commercial cookery apprentices by offering a free course to jump-start the careers of twelve would-be chefs.

The Certificate II in Hospitality (Kitchen Operations) is a pre-apprenticeship program for commercial cookery designed to introduce students to the culinary world and secure an apprenticeship. This initiative has been welcomed by a number of hotels and restaurants who have expressed their support.

There is no doubt about it, kitchen life is a hard slog but one that has instant rewards, and one that you can take it to wherever you wish. I am sure there are a number of mature age people who enjoy cooking and would grab the opportunity to make a serious step into a commercial kitchen.

Down, Down, Up, Up

Published: 19th February 2011

The state of grocery shopping is in turmoil at present with several factors adding to the destabilisation of the marketplace. Floods have inundated crops in many eastern (and western) Australian food growing regions and now cyclone Yasi has added a final touch to the sugar cane, banana and tropical fruit industry. It is said that the two large supermarkets are now weighing up imports of fruit and vegetables for the coming year. ...and they have now initiated a price war on several grocery essentials.

What effects will this have on Australian produce and farmers? Will there be pressure to relax the restrictions on imported produce into Australia at present? What bargain prices will other countries offer to deal with the two Australian supermarket giants? …and will these low prices set a buying precedent that will continue on after Australia has fully recovered from the floods and cyclone?

Down, down the prices are down and price cutting of milk and other commodities has outraged several agri-food groups, and the Australian Food and Grocery Council; slamming the price blitz as unsustainable for farmers, manufacturers and jobs. Using their generic brand for price cutting, the super two talk about absorbing their own cost so farmers and processors are not affected, well yes they are affected; that is, all the other farmers who don’t supply to the major supermarkets. I noticed in one suburban shop the local Misty Mountain brand has even been moved out of the milk fridge section.

Up, up, the prices are up and bananas have quickly reached $6.96 kg. But why so early after Cyclone Yasi? It appears that at least one of the two large retailers has justified this by posting a note in the store to let you know that they have decided to pay the growers double the original price of their existing stock! Great news for the farmer being paid twice as much, but at these prices great for the retailer whose margin could be close to twice as much as well!

Fortunately our banana industry has expanded across the region with plantations on the Tablelands and a very large one in the Lakelands area. This should mean that reasonable priced bananas should still be available at local outlets and markets.

Chefs Donate Menu

Published: 12 February 2011

Next Saturday at TAFE’s Tropics Restaurant, a Gala Dinner will be held to raise funds for the Premier’s Flood Relief Fund. The organising committee invited me to their planning meeting but hey! only chefs have meetings at 6:00am on a Monday morning. Suffice to say I didn’t make it. But I have kept in touch and found that this event is really turning out to be something special!

So many people and businesses have donated their expertise, produce, prizes (great prizes) or their time to make this event spectacular.

Craig Squire has now joined in with other high profile local chefs Phil Mitchell, Nick Holloway, Grant Jones, and James Saunders to create the four course menu and produce sponsored by Independent Seafood, Morganbury Meat, Simon George & Sons, Mungalli Creek Dairy and Rainforest Bounty. The inclusive price of $110.00 includes five excellent wines sponsored by Red and White Wines to compliment the menu, entertainment and the auction.

The fun starts with the auction, and this has proven very popular in the past when teams of local chefs from Rydges Esplanade, Thala Lodge, Sea Temple PD, Olivers, Chriso and other noted chefs of the region are auctioned off to create a dinner event in your home or at a venue. So if you have a special anniversary, birthday or corporate event coming up, these chefs will ‘just do it’.

Other fabulous prizes have poured in from restaurants, hotels, tourist operators and include 3 nights’ accommodation in a swim out penthouse at Sea Temple Port Douglas with spas and golf thrown into the package valued at $3500.

At $110.00 per person this is great value. Bookings for the gala dinner on Saturday 19th February can be made through A-List Events on 4031 6200. All proceeds will go to the Premiers Flood Appeal.

Feast of the Senses

Published: 5th February 2011

In 2006 at the time of the Feast of the Senses, a group of the agri-food industry got together at a forum in South Johnstone to ignite the industry into working together to put this region on the map as the food bowl of Australia. It was a very enthusiastic gathering and a clear direction was established for the future. The next day Cyclone Larry lashed across Innisfail. The farms in ruin, communication cut and farming families walked off their properties; our plans, people and enthusiasm had gone to mud.

At the 2010 Feast of the Senses there was an air of excitement that finally after four years; crops were starting to reproduce to the capacity of pre-cyclone times. With a heightened motivation within the industry and a new awareness of local and regional foods, an application for government grant was successful to develop and position the agri-food industry into an emerging food tourism region.

A regional food branding was implemented last year and this last week was to be the start of the development of a local food network with forums and workshops planned for the Tablelands and Cassowary Coast. There have been talks with major grower groups who are ready to fully embrace a branding accreditation and strategies that would ensure sustainability of the brand and the network.

Now that Cyclone Yasi has wreaked havoc on our sugar, banana crops, vegetables and exotic fruit crops, does this mean we are back to square one again? what will the future be for our food industry? Well we aren’t giving up! The developmental work will be rescheduled and hopefully from the ashes will rise an even stronger regional food industry.

Personal History of Food

Published: 29th January 2011

Have you ever thought about the foods that made an impression in your life? The food that brings back memories of a celebration, a holiday or a warm fuzzy family feeling? I found an article about this once and thought it interesting to reflect on the foods that have been significant in my life’s journey – thus far. So I made a list of the ten most momentous meals I have experienced and found quite a history story unfold. I won’t go into the whole list but here’s a few of my food eureka moments.

Many years ago a Gianni, a young Italian man who worked for my father came to our house for dinner – that is, he cooked it! It was my first taste of Spaghetti Bolognaise and it was ‘Bellisimo’! Italians and Australian didn’t really integrate in these days but fortunately he taught the whole family how to cook and opened our eyes to Italian produce shops in the Italian quarter where we were able to buy our ingredients or dine in their restaurants.

As a teenager I used to surf and on a cold winters day at the beach you couldn’t get better than a chip butty – Crusty bread, cold butter and hot salty chips. One year at the Yallingup Surf Championship , Zac (a white Russian) would take off in the morning before anyone else rose from their sleepy state, and go out fishing. By the time we staggered out of our tents, Zac had the King George whiting sizzling away in the pan over the fire. Clean fish filleted and cooked only minutes after it was caught; Oh so memorable.

I travelled to Lombok in the early ‘80’s to areas where westerners didn’t really go. As we arrived in the morning at our lodgings situated in the mountains on a picturesque clove and spice farm, the owners slaughtered a chicken for our evening meal. Pluck and hung for most of the day it was then infused with the most memorable flavours fresh from their spice farm. I have eaten in many very 5 star fine dining rooms but this still remains the pinnacle of my food memories.

Living in Melbourne, you really eat well and that I did. There was one restaurant that I still talk about today, that expanded my thoughts about presentation of food. It was especially the way that the oysters were served under their claypot caps. That restaurant was called the ‘Isthmus of Kra’ and it was the creation of a man called Jimmy Shu. Fortunately here in Cairns some 25 years later, Jimmy’s oysters are still served at his Hanuman restaurants and I recommend them to everyone.

Writing the 10 most memorable foods in my life and the stories with them was a fun exercise, so much so that I decided to list other interests; music, fashion and people I have met. Try it yourself.

Flood of Generosity

Published: 22nd January 2011

In the flood ravaged regions of southern Queensland it has been humbling to see the turnout of people willing to help their fellow citizens. Here in the north local food identity Sim Hayward has stirred up a group of people to organise a fund-raising gala dinner event on the 19th February in aid of the flood victims.

High profile local chefs including Phil Mitchell, Nick Holloway, Grant Jones, and James Saunders have donated their professional time and expertise to create a fabulous four course menu of local produce. Fresh seafood donated by Independent Seafood Producers, Succulent Pork compliments of Morganbury Meats, local vegetables and fruit through Simon George & Son, and other products from Bidvest, Mungalli Creek Dairy, Rainforest Bounty and a number of other food producers; all unequivocally responding with a ‘yes, glad to help’

TAFE has offered the venue as well as their hospitality staff with assistance from Skills 360. Arthur Basha of Barnacle Bills has jumped in to the Maitre‘d’s position and chefs and waiters are coming ‘out of the woodwork’ to help.

At $110.00 per person this is great value with beverage and entertainment included. An auction with some fabulous prizes donated from the business community will make this an exceptionally worthy evening. Bookings can be made through A-List Events on 4031 6200. All proceeds will go to the Premiers Flood Appeal.

Clare Richards, author of Tropical Cuisine contemplated what she could do to support those affected by the floods and decided she has one thing to give – her book. So she has decided to run a silent auction of 10 of her books to raise money.

Here is how it works: bids start at $59.95 and are made on the Silent Auction page of her website, with the highest current bid posted twice daily at 9am and 9pm. The auction (presently underway) closes at 9pm (AEST) on Tuesday 25th January 2011. All funds will go directly to the Queensland Flood Relief Appeal. For more details go to

Easy being Green

Published: 15th January 2011

A walk through Rusty’s Market and what caught my eye this week was the amount of fresh greens available. Not your common lettuce, beans and broccoli varieties – but the leafy Asian greens that are on offer. This time of year when the ground is too soggy to grow anything, Asian greens thrive - and are cheap too.

So is there a barrier to buying these unusual green vegetables that are so rich in nutrients of vitamins A & C, minerals, iron, calcium and other trace elements? Let me guess – ‘how do I prepare and cook them’? Answer: Simply. With any delicate leaves; the simpler the better, for taste and retaining nutrition.

Many can be simply eaten raw as in salads; either whole leaf, torn or shredded. Most of them you will find are best when added at the last minute to any stir-fry, curry, stew or soup. Garlic, chilli, and ginger are great partners as are prawn paste (sambal belacan) soy, fish and oyster sauces.

Some of these greens are almost perennial at the markets such as Kang Kung; a leafy vegetable with hollow stems that's often called ‘swamp cabbage’ or ‘water spinach’. But what’s this - Sweet potato greens? I remember my mother growing a sweet potato in our kitchen where its spreading vines engulfing the room like something out of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. Never thought to eat the vine! But similar to Kang Kung these leaves are simple additions to any Asian cooking.

I also found purple stem Ceylon Spinach which similar to the English variety can be shredded and added to coleslaw, great with egg and cheese dishes; quiche, filo pastry as well as stir-fry. Sitting next to the spinach was bunches of Choko leaves; a commonly consumed vegetable of the Asian regions. It is said that the leaves and tendrils have a medicinal qualities when cooked or dried and made into a tea. I even found young Passionfruit Leaves – in the Caribbean and the Maldives they eat the leaves raw as a salad, or boiled. Lastly I spied the hairy Pumpkin Leaves with their curled tendrils – didn’t think they would be much to eat, however I found that they have a flavour elements similar to green beans and broccoli. These vines are used in Asian and African cuisines.

We become so entrenched in our eating paradigm that we often throw away the tasty highly nutritional leaves of a sometimes less tasty and less nutritional vegetable.

The Shelves are bare, but don't despair

Published: 8th January, 2011

Whilst our thoughts go out to those in the flood zone of southern Queensland, we are lucky to have in this region, our own dairy industry, meat and seafood industry and a diverse fruit and vegetable industry that can support our community. Yet it’s when the flooded roads are cut off and the supermarket shelves run bare, that we realise how much food is transported to the region. It is times like these that add to the growing trend (mentioned last week) for consumers seeking local produce.

So how do you access local foods when you have a family to feed? Looking around Rusty’s it is easy to see who really sells local food and who doesn’t? But I must say that Rusty’s stallholders have recently accentuated ‘local’ fruit and veg. and they offer a lot more local processed foods such as milk and yoghurts, cheese and seafood, breads and dips. Perhaps a return to the friendly little butcher and seafood shop where they get to know your name and what your buying habits are, or to the local fruit and veg stall in a shopping centre or on the roadside. A trip to the Tablelands or Cassowary Coast can make a fun day out as well as buying up on some well-priced vittles. Most IGA stores tend to stock local foods and are stepping up to the demand.

How are restaurants coping? ‘Due to floods, this menu item is not available’! Well last year there was a strong swing with chefs to source local foods which has paid off for those who did. Having foods from other regions on a menu can be disastrous in times such as these and the longer a chef has been in our region the more knowledgeable they are to understand the importance of using local seasonal foods.

It’s clear that we do have produce here; it can be a new and interesting experience to source it.

Food Trends for 2011

Published 1st January 2011

Trend predictions in other countries or even other parts of Australia don’t necessary relate to the local scene but can be a good indication of what might eventuate.

For a number of years, world food trends have emphasised ‘local produce’ and Australians are now showing a greater interest in supporting their local producers of fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat and seafood. These consumers understand seasonality and don’t want year round availability such as the apples that are held in storage for up to nine months and gased to ripen. They are happy to welcome fresh and more nutritious varieties as one season closes another one opens. And with seasonality the old methods of bottling and preserving is making it to some trend lists for 2011. There is a certain satisfaction in buying local produce in bulk at an affordable price, having fun preserving it and enjoying the foods beyond the season.

Smaller portions have become a serious trend in Australia. A report showed that of people who make an effort to eat smaller portions has increased by 46% in 2010 compared with 29% in 2009. With smaller portions, the trend is veering away from strict diets to that of a wider range of foods. Eating a little of this and a little of that can offer a more balanced nutrient intake and can even allow for a little indulgence of ‘forbidden’ foods. The rising popularity of tapas bars, mezza and assaggini menus makes this style of grazing a winner in our economy with smaller price tags and a wide variety of exciting flavours.

Due to MasterChef style television programs, our young people are very switched on about food and want more transparency about where (local, Australian) and how (free range, organic) their food is produced. So there is a trend in demand for more transparency and truth in labelling of ingredients and nutritional data.

Apps are a growing trend and for those with an appetite for food, there’s a whole new world of phone applications to be downloaded onto your smart phone device. You can follow a food trail on a GPS, get a recipe from your favourite chef, find the best restaurant or specialty shop, count your calories, all with the touch of your fingertips wherever you are in the world. Watch out for our region’s comprehensive GPS/APPS download in mid 2011.

For restaurants, I noticed that someone predicted ‘dirt’ instead of sauces. Yes dirt, made from crumbled, powdered and dried ingredients to flavour dishes, as done by chefs Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck and René Redzepi at Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant. We will wait and see if this takes off in our region of the world. The trend of ‘Hyper Local’ is about restaurants with their own gardens outside, inside or even on the roof. It’s also about chefs getting back to their own butchering or even having their own farms. Matt Moran has Moran’s Lamb Farm.

There are many other trends that have been listed for 2011 but there is still a strong following for healthy, nutritional, organic, gluten-free, clean and green, sustainable, carbon & mile reduction. But in the end, rustic and simplicity has got my vote.