Australia's finest chefs, restaurateurs, hospitality heavyweights and friends of Gourmet Traveller gathered at Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney last night to celebrate the magazine's 50th anniversary, and the launch of the biggest issue in the 50 years of the magazine's history. And what brings people together more than tequila? Tequila, tacos and cake.
To mark this momentous occasion, GT joined forces with Patrón, the world's leading premium tequila, for a black-tie fiesta on a grand scale. For one night only, Rockpool went all out Mexican, becoming Cantina Rockpool, with staff pouring custom tequila and crafting tacos to the beat of mariachi musicians playing from the balcony.
To prep for this once-in-a-lifetime event, Rockpool founder Neil Perry hopped a ride on the Patrón jet into the Mexican state of Jalisco, the home of tequila, tasting his way through the street foods of Guadalajara, walking the agave fields of the highlands and immersing himself in Mexican culture and the artisanal craft of tequila. The fiesta's menu sizzled with Mexican spice - with canapés such as freshly shucked oysters with jalapeño dressing, and tostadas topped with prawn, roasted red peppers and coriander. And it wouldn't be a Rockpool party without a side of fried chicken wings, which came served Eleven Bridge-style, dressed with a tequila butter.
And la buena comida didn't stop there. The regular Rockpool pass turned into a taco station, where guests enjoyed the made-to-order snacks with everything from skirt steak, pickled jalapeño and cucumber to confit pork shoulder, queso fresco and green salsa. Our favourite of the evening? The fried-fish number with burnt chipotle salsa. But it was a black-tie event, after all, and a pop-up restaurant within the restaurant made sure our fine diners had plenty of fine-dining moments. Party-goers were treated to more substantial dishes in Rockpool's private dining room, including charcoal-roasted toothfish with hazelnut mole, braised chicken adobo, and wood-fired beef short-ribs with Puebla mole.
"Gourmet Traveller has been really important to Australia, and incredibly important to me," said Neil Perry. "I first bought the magazine in '78, I was in it for the first time in '82, we got a cover in '89, we've won Restaurant of the Year five times, but most importantly, I met my amazing wife at a GT party 17 years ago."
Alongside the bespoke barrel of Patrón chef Perry blended in Jalisco especially for the party, cocktails kept the party swinging well into the night. The Toreador #2 combined Patrón Silver, absinthe and a touch of apricot and grapefruit, while El Diablo featured Patrón Reposado, ginger beer, lime and a dash of cassis. Celebrity DJ Alex Dimitriades was on the decks, and guests included Kylie Kwong, Black Star Pastry's Christopher Thé and Momofuku Seiobo's Paul Carmichael. Stylist and restaurateur Sarah Doyle, OzHarvest's Ronni Kahn, Long Chim's David Thompson, Africola's Duncan Welgemoed and Adam Liaw also joined us to celebrate the milestone.
When it came time to make a birthday wish, it was with a giant four-tier Lady Baltimore cake, spiked with sour cherries, figs, raisins and a sprinkle of pecans, and covered in blowtorched meringue. "This really is the icing on the cake for us," said GT editor in chief, Anthea Loucas Bosha, as it was cut.
The anniversary issue, on stands Monday 24 October, pays tribute to the evolution of Australian dining, with five decades and 276 pages' worth of stories, recipes and personalities. It's the largest issue of Gourmet Traveller ever to hit the shelves, and includes a power list of the 50 most influential people in Australian food, and a hitlist of the 50 most essential dishes of the moment around the country. Neil Perry, Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander, Christine Manfield, Cheong Liew and Guy Grossi are just some of the top cooking talents who contributed to the anniversary issue, while such younger guns as Daniel Pepperell, Aaron Turner and Mat Lindsay show us the road ahead.
"We're thrilled to be turning 50," said Loucas Bosha, "but this issue and these celebrations aren't so much about us as about Australia and the giant strides we've made over the past five decades in what we cook and how we share good times in the kitchen and at the table. Here's to another 50 years of good times and good taste."
A huge thank you must go to our sponsors APT Touring, Winnings Appliances, San Pellegrino, Cape Mentelle and Chandon S for all of their support.
The 50th-anniversary of Gourmet Traveller, the November 2016 issue, is on sale Monday 24 October.