Hospitality heavyweights on their most memorable party

There was a firm knock on the door and within seconds my house was stormed by members of the Perth bomb squad.
Cocktail partyBen Dearnley (main image)

Whether at a boozy birthday bash or on set for GT, restaurant folk sure know how to have a good time. We hear from Australian chefs and hospitality figures about their wildest parties and rock-star moments.

Duncan Welgemoed, chef & owner, Africola, Adelaide, SA

I was invited to a wedding because I happened to be at the dinner where the groom proposed. I didn’t know them at all, really, and reluctantly RSVP’d. On the day, I was extremely sick with the flu and took some antibiotics. Fast-forward to entrées, and I was contemplating how to leave because the food was terrible and I felt awkward being there, but I was encouraged to stay. I started lightly drinking. The next morning, I woke up with the worst hangover and I had no recollection of what had transpired. I had blacked out. Apparently I had become “best mates” with the newlyweds: we had shots and I even danced with both of them. Separately. My inner cringe was too much to handle, and I subsequently ignored the invitation to their baby shower.

Duncan Welgemoed, Africola, Adelaide.

(Photo: Simon Bajada)

Palisa Anderson, farmer, Boon Luck Farm, Tyagarah, NSW

One of the most memorable parties we’ve had at Boon Luck Farm was actually during a shoot for Gourmet Traveller. The day dawned a cracker, all sunshine and blue skies – which gave way to a south-westerly gale. We managed the food shots, but as the guests arrived for our group shot and we carried the 200kg farm table outside, fat drops of rain pelted down, followed by a massive temperature drop. In the shots, we’re standing sheepishly around in the rain with no food on the table, but grinning stupidly. It was a crazy scene that only Fellini could’ve patched together had he been filming in Outback Australia: West African-inspired Thai-Molam music blaring from the speakers, dogs and barefoot kids playing chase, all the accordion doors flung open to the elements. The house overflowed with all my friends and family; plates of delicious Thai-inspired farm food balanced on every surface, and wine was flowing. It turned out to be perfect: rowdy, full of laughter, with the last guest leaving well after sunset.

Leanne Altmann, beverage director, Trader House Restaurants, Melbourne, Vic

A friend spent months planning her 30th-birthday extravaganza at her family’s rural property. But on the morning of the event, it was a perfect storm. First, the chef was ill and unable to make it. Then, some of the key ingredients were left off the bus ferrying food and guests the 90-minute journey out of town. And as we got closer to the destination, the clouds became ominous. Being a group of restaurant and ex-restaurant folk, tables were relocated into an outbuilding, aprons wrapped over party clothes, dishes improvised with garden produce. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation, and it couldn’t have been a more successful day.

Alanna Sapwell, head chef, Arc Dining, Brisbane, Qld

Living with five chefs a few years ago in Brisbane had its perks. For one birthday, they sectioned off the fridge with colourfully wrapped cuts of the Rolls-Royce of pork, beef and other treats. There was

a massive wrapped box on the verandah as well. As I approached it, my brother Paul jumped out! It was a surprise many wouldn’t understand, but it meant the world to me. We set up for the day with fire pits and potato sacks, and dressed in leather for pre-drinks. The sack race turned into a team sport and we set up an obstacle course around the yard using the gates and the Hills Hoist. The plan was to head off to see Cody Chesnutt of “Look Good in Leather” fame, but in the end, we were having too much fun and never made it to Cody’s gig.

Alanna Sapwell

Arc Dining head chef Alanna Sapwell.

(Photo: Pandora Photography)

Amy Hamilton, chef & owner, Liberté, Albany, WA

When I was 18, I lived in a share house in Scarborough, WA, that was the scene of many a bourbon-soaked party. One was a particular blast. It began at the end of the night, with me drifting off to sleep, watching pretty pink fireworks explode above my head. I later found out the fireworks were actually flares stolen by one of our guests from an off-duty SAS officer’s car. The kids who stole them were under investigation for a string of letterbox bombs. You can imagine my hungover surprise at 7am the next day when there was a firm knock on the door and within seconds my house was stormed by members of the Perth bomb squad. One spud-gun confiscation later, we were cleared of any involvement, but it definitely remains one of the more unique party experiences I’ve had.

Jo Barrett, co-executive chef, Oakridge, Coldstream, Vic

A group of us were at a well-known restaurant in Melbourne’s CBD celebrating a friend’s birthday. The same night, rival AFL teams were playing at the MCG – the game was the talk of the evening, and the tension grew as the score got closer. Eventually one team lost and it was open slather on our losing friend. Let’s call him “Sonam”. We finished up, paid the bill and moved the celebration onward, but we couldn’t find Sonam. A few comments were made about his whereabouts throughout the night, and a few phone calls made, but nobody heard from him. The next morning, we all woke up to a message from Sonam: he’d fallen asleep in the restaurant’s private-dining room, was locked in and eventually woken by the cleaners in the morning.

Oakridge’s Jo Barrett (left) with Matt Stone.

(Photo: Marcel Aucar)

Michael Nicolian, co-owner, Continental Deli, Sydney, NSW

I spent a bit of time growing up in Anguilla in the Caribbean. One night, I was at a resort dinner party and one of the adults asked me to go and pick up a few drinks from the bar. I got myself a Coccoloba special, which, to my knowledge, was a non-alcoholic cocktail. The bartender had no issue serving a six-year-old because he knew I was getting the drinks for my parents and their friends. It turns out that the Coccoloba special was, in fact, quite boozy, and the barman had just assumed it was for someone else. I drank it. I got lit, was in bad shape, and had to be driven home. Turns out I was destined to have a career in alcohol.

Emma Farrelly, wine director, State Buildings, Perth, WA

I was in New Zealand on a wine trip visiting a couple of producers. While attempting to get to a wine festival, we realised we had left the car in town, after responsibly deciding not to drive home the night before. We had no transport and since the Kiwis are so friendly, we hitchhiked to the festival. After a day of wine-festival fun, we bribed the guy doing helicopter tours of the region to give us a chopper ride home. It was possibly the most rock-star day of my life.

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