2014 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival wrap-up

Johnny Iuzzini

Johnny Iuzzini

Today's great culinary talents converged at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival to explore the cuisine of tomorrow.

How can we make our food better? There's a lot of high-minded talk at culinary congresses these days. You even hear the word "philosophy" trotted out from time to time. And that's a good thing - just so long as that essential question is still being addressed in some form. With this in mind, we grilled the class of 2014 at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival for their suggestions, abstract and concrete, practical, fanciful and otherwise, on how we can do just that.

Perhaps it was this year's theme of water (following on from earth last year and fire in 2012), with its reflective, Piscean associations, but this year's chefs seemed like a particularly thoughtful and considerate lot. This is not to say that there wasn't the occasional moment of unscripted mayhem (the early morning call to head out to Lorne was, for some of the visiting international talent, something of a challenge after a particularly intensive session exchanging ideas over patty-melt smashes, confit duck wings and whiskey at Collingwood festival favourite Rockwell & Sons), but perhaps it speaks well of the individuals shaping the cuisine of tomorrow.

"The festival acts as a forum for us like-minded chefs from around the globe," says New York-based pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, saluting its spirit of collaboration and friendly exchange of ideas. "We learn so much from each other both in technique and in passion; it's an expression of Melbourne's obsession with good food, a leading international food and wine event with its own original and unique identity."

Christopher Kostow, chef of Napa Valley three-star Meadowood, gave a particularly engaging session at the GT-Langham Melbourne Masterclass. His clear-eyed approach was epitomised by the observation that restaurants are here "to do things for the guest, not to them". Speaking after the presentation, he said that he thinks restaurant food could be improved by a better understanding of the connection between emotion and perception. "With such a focus on chefs as personalities and what's on the plate as the beginning and end of people's perception of a restaurant, we're forgetting what it means to take care of people," he added.

"Our food can be better when we remember our roles as stewards and hosts."

Juan Luis Fernández, of Spain's Aponiente restaurant, punched out some superb food for the MoVida-GT-MFWF reader dinner, and said that the cook is always intimately connected with what he or she cooks, whether at home or in a restaurant. "I always say to cook well and to cook rich, delicious food, the most important thing is to have your love in both your dish and the time you spend cooking it. Cook with heart and cook with love."

Matt Jennings, of Farmstead Inc in Rhode Island, was a convincing advocate of the produce-first line. "These days I think we all have access to equally good ingredients by virtue of things like farmers' markets, the small Asian markets I've seen here in Melbourne and other places where food is delicious, fresh and affordable," he said. "For me, when I cook, the food can never be any better than the quality of the ingredients that you start with. That's the bottom line."

Ryan Squires, chef of Brisbane restaurant Esquire, said that nothing came into his kitchen without being tasted first that day, whether it was blueberries or beef, and Sydney chef Dan Hong said he's always looking for umami in his cooking. The right dose of fish sauce, soy, miso, dashi, konbu, chicken powder, MSG or oyster sauce, he said, "could make a tyre taste delicious".

James Stapley, of Whare Kea Lodge in New Zealand, is concerned that home cooks still don't season their food enough. "And seasoning doesn't finish at salt and pepper," he said. "The lack of acidity generally makes food taste flat; a few drops of really good vinegar or citrus can lift just about anything."

Meanwhile, Aaron Turner, late of Victoria's Loam, and now cooking at Husk in Nashville, said the thing he'd learnt this festival, after a colourful session sharing his Tennessee cooking discoveries at Chef Jam, was that cooking Nashville hot chicken for 300 people wasn't as easy in reality as it was in his head. His corollary suggestion for the home cook? "Learn restraint."


Newsletter

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

Latest news
Win yourself a framed and limited-edition Allie Webb original
07.12.2017
Taste of Melbourne program highlights
30.11.2017
Try before you buy at the GT x STILY Christmas Boutiques
30.11.2017
Our guide to the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2018
29.11.2017
The GT x STILY Christmas Boutique is now open
21.11.2017
Christmas gifts at the GT x STILY Christmas Boutique
17.11.2017
The Gourmet Traveller podcast

Each fortnight we round up the most interesting characters from the food world for your listening pleasure. We chat to chefs, cooks, authors, bar tenders and baristas - anyone who has something new and interesting to say about the way we like to eat and drink.

Listen
Recipe collections

Looking for fresh dinner ideas? Not sure how to make the most out of seasonal produce? Or do you need to plan the perfect party menu? Our recipe collections have you covered.

See more

You might also like...

2010 Restaurant Awards night

The 2010 Restaurant Awards were celebrated in style at Rockp...

2010 Restaurant Awards

We’ve downed forks, the votes are in, and we are proud to pr...

2011 GT Restaurant Awards winners

We’ve downed forks, the votes are in, and we’re proud to pre...

2011 Restaurant Awards nominees

Want a snapshot of the movers and shakers in the Australian ...

2011 GT Restaurant Awards event

Melbourne's Flower Drum was the scarlet setting this year fo...

2012 Restaurant Awards nominees

The hottest (and coolest) places to imbibe and graze have be...

2012 Restaurant Awards event

Australia’s restaurant stars took a well-deserved night off ...

2012 GT Restaurant Awards winners

We’ve cleaned our plates, we’ve drained our glasses, and we’...

2013 Restaurant Awards nominees

If you’re an adventurous diner, times have never been better...

GT 2013 Restaurant Awards event

Gourmet Traveller’s team of 60 reviewers has eaten its way f...

GT 2013 Restaurant Awards winners

We’ve made our decisions and folded our napkins. Please rais...

2014 GT Restaurant Awards nominations

The Oscars of the open mouth, the Nobel Prize of noble provi...

2014 GT Restaurant Awards winners

The reviews are in, the guide is out, the forks are down and...

Brisbane's top nine restaurants 2014

Looking for the best restaurants in Brisbane? Here's our top...

New South Wales' best regional restaurants 2014

Looking for the best restaurants in regional New South Wales...