It is the state’s produce, people and places that drive Tasting Australia’s director Simon Bryant, as he prepares for the 140 events that make up this year’s festival.
Festival director Simon Bryant says he’s in “DEFCON 1 mode” as final arrangements are made for the arrival of more than 30 chefs from overseas and interstate.
“It’s chaotic, it’s challenging, it’s all consuming, and there are days I’d rather be making my noodles, but what drives me is what’s really behind the event — the people, produce and place,” Bryant says.
“We know we have to bring in cooking stars, and that’s brilliant, but it has to be our people and our produce and our place, which really resonates, that’s a no brainer.”
The visiting international chefs are always a drawcard and this year’s lineup includes Christian Puglisi of Relæ, Copenhagen; JP McMahon of Michelin-starred Aniar, Ireland; Norbert Niederkofler of St Hubertus, Italy and Mehmet Gürs of Mikla, Turkey.
They’ll be joined by ‘national champions’ such as Dan Hunter from Brae, Victoria; Paul West from SBS TV show River Cottage Australia and Benjamin Cooper from Chin Chin (Melbourne/Sydney).
“The rock star chefs are great but we really value our local chefs, our local champions who will collab with the international guys,” Bryant says. Event ambassador Duncan Welgemoed (Africola), vegan queen Jyoti Bindu (Pollen 185) and the Singh family (Jasmin) are among SA’s chef brigade.
This is Bryant’s fourth year as Tasting Australia festival director and he hasn’t lost his energy for the event first held in 1997.
“It’s Australia’s pre-eminent food and wine festival but I love the fact it’s all about hands-on, real experiences,” he says.
Big-ticket events are backed up by a wide-reaching program of lunches, dinners, tastings, wine masterclasses and satellite events at venues around Adelaide.
The free festival hub, Town Square, remains a fixture in Victoria Square while the smoky, slow-cooked treats of Charred will be back again, too.
Bryant works with programming manager Jock Zonfrillo from Restaurant Orana while the festival patron is legendary chef Cheong Liew.
“There’s always an element of risk in programming but we’re striking a balance so that the events are accessible but still curatorial,” Bryant says. “On the one hand we’ll bring a rockstar chef from a three Michelin-starred restaurant but we’ll also include a local guy who owns an orchard in the Hills and wants to be involved in it all.
“So, there’s everything from picking strawberries at Beerenberg Farm through to dinners cooked by world-class chefs. We are going for a balance between the cute, approachable stuff and high-end events.”
The big-name overseas chefs attract a lot of attention and Bryant is adamant they’ll be active participants.
“We tell them: bring your knife and bring your boots. You are going to cook and go to the source and get dirty,” he says. “They’re not here to just make an appearance, it doesn’t matter how many stars they have, they’ll be hands on and cooking and I think they’re excited about that.”
He says Tasting Australia will balance the hottest food ideas and trends with the ethos of beauty in simplicity, the best ingredients showcased in their natural glory.
“I believe you can be motivational and inspirational as a chef but things have to be relatable and achievable as well. Who wants to eat five-day sous vide and tricked-up prawn, there’s a place for that kind of highly experimental cooking, but I love the raw simplicity and bravery of saying, ‘here is a Gulf prawn, cooked in butter, that’s it’.
“I’m proud of this state for making it easy to achieve that raw simplicity. Don’t get me wrong, we have a lot of technical dishes on the menus but I love it when a chef says ‘I’m serving fruit and cream’ and chefs like Karena Armstrong or Maggie Beer and many others have that courage.”
Bryant says the “most parochial and provincial” part of the festival is the focus on SA produce, whether it’s locally-farmed lamb, yabbies, Wagyu beef, native ingredients or mushrooms.
“We’ve all built great relationships with producers in SA. I’m very grateful for the level of support we get, say, if I ring a supplier and say I need 1000 oysters on Tuesday, or get a grower to deliver hand-picked sea lettuce on the morning of a dinner… I love all that stuff.”
Bryant says the food and wine action won’t be limited to the city and the regions will once again play a pivotal role.
“It’s a big state and we’ve relied on the enthusiasm, passion and hands-on turf knowledge of operators in all the regions to come up with some amazing events. The regions are so important as they feed right back into what we are doing at the Glasshouse and Town Square.”
Friday, April 13 to Sunday, April 22