Wine guru Paul Henry discusses the direction of the now annual Tasting Australia festival.
A few changes were needed once Tasting Australia split from Western Australian-based Ian Parmenter and his Consuming Passions group after the 2012 event. With grassroots food and wine festivals nipping at the 15-year-old festival’s heels, local celebrity chef Simon Bryant and Winehero’s Paul Henry were installed as creative directors while Bryant’s The Cook and the Chef co-host Maggie Beer was named the festival’s patron. In a state that does festivals better than any other in the country, a big task was ahead of them to make Tasting Australia a food and wine festival the state could be proud of. “If there was one signi ficant change, and I mean this with absolute respect to those who guided it previously, I think the one thing that we were absolutely adamant about was that it had to be something that the city owned rather than an organisation,” says the UK-born Henry, who has 25 years experience in the wine industry. Henry says rather than securing big-name talent, Tasting Australia had to be about participation and making it visible, hence the free entry space The Town Square in Victoria Square that once again this year will feature food outlets, cooking demonstrations and panel discussions. “I think that was a very visible statement of intent: that if it’s going to work, the city, or the regions, need to own it,” Henry says. “It also needs to re flect or radiate out from the city and not just be a city-based event.”
Goolwa PiPiCo at work harvesting pipis
The 2014 event was themed Origins, this year’s theme is Landscape while next year’s is Heroes. While the last Tasting Australia featured international guests such as nose-to-tail pioneer Fergus Henderson, reflecting the state’s producers and talent was more important than big name celebrity chefs. “I think the show needed to be more about the ‘content’ and less about ‘talent’,” Henry says. “I think there are plenty of shows, and they work, that are hooked on celebrity as talent. And I don’t think that’s the space we necessarily want to play in. I think the space we want to play in is real people with real lives. Real life not lifestyle. That’s what Tasting Australia needs to be about.” Henry first visited South Australia in the 90s and was hooked on the wine and the produce from that first visit. Did he think anything needed to change from that visit 20 years ago? “I think the only thing that needed to change was that we needed to be better at engaging people and letting them know that all these things were happening here. I know it’s a hell of a long way from what’s been the orthodoxy of modern cuisine, modern restauranting and even modern winemaking, which still infuriatingly, is viewed as European. Although I think that is really changing and that orthodoxy is rapidly moving east for the first time in 600 or 700 years. “In South Australia in particular we generally have, without any sense of hyperbole, some of the greatest produce and greatest producers in the world … I happen to think in terms of winestyle things like Riesling from Clare… I think that Grenache-based blends from the Barossa and McLaren Vale should scare the shit out of producers from the southern Rhone. I think that once we’ve sorted out issues around appellation and what we can call things, I think the world is going to be terri fied and amazed by the cheese we produce in this state. Before I came here, I would stand and swear that there was nothing greater in the world than Welsh spring lamb and that’s been challenged since I’ve been here by what’s been happening in the Clare and the southeast. So, these are all things that are exciting.” When Henry and Bryant took on the roles as Tasting Australia’s creative directors, it was at an opportune time as South Australia was in the midst of a food and small bar resurgence. “I think the catalyst for all of this was actually as something as dull as legislation and ordinance,” Henry says about the resurgence. “It was the change around the legislation for small bars. And that perhaps doesn’t make the greatest story in the world but that is what lit the fire. There’s no doubt about that in my mind. Suddenly people were having informed conversations about where they could go and what choices they could make and how exciting it was not to be retreating after work back to the suburbs, which is a curious and endemic sort of illness that Adelaideans su ffer from, and actually it was worth hanging around or, even god forbid, going home and coming back into the city. That’s fantastic. That’s continued and as someone who has lived in Paris and New York and lots of great and worthy capital cities, I’m very proud to be a citizen of Adelaide.”
Tasting Australia’s The Town Square in Victoria Square, 2014
For this year’s May event, game-changing Adelaide-based chefs of past and present have been named ambassadors: Cheong Liew and Jock Zonfrillo. Liew will be honoured with a dinner at Coal Cellar + Grill where his former apprentices will reinterpret classic dishes created by Liew. “I really think we would not be having anything like the conversation that we do now about food and wine if it wasn’t for Cheong Liew,” Henry says. “So the retrospective and tribute to him I think is really appropriate.” Personally, Henry is excited by American guest, journalist, author and playwright Mark Kurlansky (Cod and Salt): “I can’t give the program away but he’s going to do some exciting things based around his books in headlining restaurants in Adelaide and the regions.” And then there is the Single Sites dinner. “I’ve got seven truly great, in a world-class sense, single-vineyard wines, and the winemakers responsible for them, matched to seven extraordinary chefs. They’re going to work together to compose a one-o ff, one-night degustation where the dish is built around the wine, which in itself is an expression of a single vineyard. That celebration of sense of place is something that you can’t replicate anywhere else in the world. I’ve been working in wine since 1991 and I have always wanted to do this and Tasting Australia this year has a fforded me the opportunity to do it. So, that’s a massive landmark for me personally.” Tasting Australia presented by Thomas Foods Sunday, May 1 to Sunday, May 8 tastingaustralia.com.au